Friday, 19 June 2020

Touhou as modern Folklore

Modern incarnations of folklore are usually really lame. "Urban legends" are an exemplar set of these which I truly despise. They are usually exceptionally dull and mundane, and they have to be in this era in order to keep the possibility alive that they may be true. Mythic Americana is somewhat more appealing, but the common inclusion of technological and political elements grounds these stories as something of the past, rather than a timeless tales of the old world set both in the furthest past and in the very present.

It is said that the art of oral tradition as the driving force behind the proliferation of European fiction died out in the 1700s due to the mass-production of printed material and cataloguing of lay texts, and that we then entered the era of literature. Within a literative framework stories stay stagnant and unchanging. Dickens' Christmas Carol will forever be the same, his words static. While it isn't true that oral storytelling dies out, it definitely took a back seat. Wives tales and ghost stories still spread out under their own memetic power from person-to-person even today, just as legends always have.

The internet has brought us a new paradigm of storytelling however. While printed material can only be produced with time and cost, and the privilege to publish is thus kept to the literary and academic few, writing for the internet requires next to no resources and thus acts more similar to an oral communication. While text on the internet may last forever in some areas, in many others it disappears under an infinite pile of other data never to be looked at again within hours of its publishing. This extreme speed of text publication and distribution means that only the best things stay around, as dictated by popular rule. If a post is particularly noteworthy, others will save it and then post it later, meaning the best works can be spread incredibly fast and have long staying power. Nowhere is this more pronounced than the bulletin-board forums. These, such as 4chan or her Japanese equivalents, have data turnover of just a few hours, and once a post is gone it is gone for good unless others saved its contents. This creates a framework for incredibly fast oral storytelling, thus leading to folklore built in the same vein as that from many generations ago.

Internet folklore as progenated by bulletin boards has spread across the whole of cyberculture, from simple memes and copypastas to complex mythoses and narratives. The case I have the most insight into is that of the Touhou set of tales. For the whole of the 00s pushing into the 10s, Touhou was the central pivot point around which the cyberotaku culture worked. Everybody understood the characters and what they symbolised, even if they had no real connection to the franchise as a commercial organisation. The original games are simple and light on explanations, leading the fanbase that grew around it to build most of the now immense lore by themselves. If an idea caught on, it became the new canon. From this chaotic miasma clear meanings arose, and specific traits and symbols were attached to each character and their interactions. These naturally built traits then went on in turn to inform the games themselves, giving the subculture a truly folklore-style feeling. Each game outlined a new basic plot and new character designs, which were heavily extrapolated on by fans in both the West and Japan, until they formed a coherent story which had immense meaning to the members of that community since those ideas that were most pertinent to their identity bubbled up to the top, building what I would describe as the most otaku work ever. Soon, as folklore does, Touhou became more than just a set of stories, it became something so close to the meaning behind people's lives that it started to be a lens through which to see the world. The Touhous were gods, living above but parallel to the real world and acting as a heavenly, unreachable paradise.

The relevance of Touhou has slowly reclined over the last decade, and the lore is mostly now unchanging. The core facets of the world and its characters are still important to the 2ch/4ch culture and widely understood, but there will be a time when the relevance of these stories is nothing and they disappear along with their power. I want to record some of the more specific understandings I have of the Touhou cult in further writings, they are stories that are very close to my heart and are closer to me than any other modern mythology. I also want to record it for the sake of posterity. There are highly detailed wikis on the lore, but I want to record them as I understand them and how I think they reflect our shared subculture.

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Thursday, 18 June 2020

Highly Responsive to Prayers

Everyone has people that they respect so much that they wish to emulate that person. Real, fictional, historical; when we see someone we respect it is an instinctual response to want to become like them in some way. This is how children (and adults, but less so) learn moral codes: by emulating a senior's actions and thoughts whenever that person does or says something that catches their heart. What will catch their heart in such a way has some amount of randomness to it, but there is an underlying and objective pool of "good" that they will natural recognise as so, even if they could not come to the same conclusion independently.

The primary way in which we will emulate the good we see in the world is aesthetically driven: we do not and could not describe lexically the essence of the good that we see, but we understand it inherently. This causes us to emulate others wholesale, unable to carve out the pure good and understanding the surrounding decoration of the message as integral to the whole. An example of this is the young boy's obsession with warfare and weaponry. The vision of heroic soldiers and warriors as the epitome of masculine goodness is an inventory of both the moral and personal ideas (the important part) and the aesthetic baggage of swords and steel that are tied to them. This is by no means a bad thing, and as one grows up he will be able to whittle these ideas into purer forms, removing the aesthetic chaff to grasp at the inner core. This process, of course, must then be reversed in order for him to relay these ideas along to others.

I understand this aesthetic resonance by giving it the name "beauty". The beautiful is something that captivates in a way that will always prevail over both logic and animal emotion. It is almost never immediately obvious the cause of beauty, and that lack of understanding may be the very cause of it in the first place. Through beauty is how we respect, and without respect there is no passage to learn. This is why we do not respect or even consider the words of a madman or a layman, for their message is not beautiful. But once that same message is enshrined in the beautiful, it become at once obvious. We don't pay ear to the proselytiser on the street, for common consensus has branded them as unclean, but have that same message be relayed from the pulpit of a grand cathedral and many more heads would be swayed. This effect, of course is countered by the higher beauties. Many today see upmost beauty in science, which, in its diametric opposition to modern Christianity, has neutered the beauty that was once under sole purvey of the church.

Some may argue that this high resonance with beauty is something that is lost in the hyper-logical minds of the modern adult, and is now surely the domain of children and the hopeless romantics. I would say that this is narrow-minded in the definition of beauty. My idea of beauty stands as the very definition of personal taste and of opinion and respect. None may exist without the spark of the beautiful. The word "beauty" is usually used in an old-fashioned sense, most commonly linked with the ideas of the Enlightenment and especially of Romanticism (in Britain). But that same feeling, that same spark we get from these sources can be tagged to many a mundane sensation. The beauty of political rhetoric and narrative, the beauty of scientific propaganda or the beauty of carnally sexual advertisement. All of these things grab our attention and our soul, and if they truly capture it, can give us new outlooks on the world.

Beauty as a weapon is a topic for another time, but sufficed to say that beauty has been a weapon since time immemorial, and it is the only weapon at our disposal we can use to change others' hearts. To seek out beauty is too seek out wisdom, and to deny beauty is to deny the meaning of life.

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