How dare he dislike my gadget!

The bloggers and Twitter users and whatnot are up in arms about an affront to their 2010 sensibilities: Hayao Miyazaki Compares iPad Use To Masturbation. Kotaku delivers the goods in an article that covers a wildly popular animator, a wildly popular bit of new tech, and a wildly popular activity. Think of the page impressions, man!

Now Kotaku is a tech blog, so of course its writers will focus on the tech aspect of the story being told—here the iPad comments from a well-known animator. To its credit, though, it includes a solid paragraph presenting some of the additional nuance provided in the Japanese article it references:

He might seem like an eccentric technophobe, but he is coming from an “All I need are pencil and paper” point-of-view. That might be all he needs. He’s Hayao Miyazaki! And with those simple tools, he can create brilliance. Not everyone is talented as Miyazaki. Later in the article, however, he encourages people to become creators, and not simply consumers. With all today’s information overload, it is easy for people to lose sight of what they need to focus on to advance society.

I thought the following quote, included in that Japanese article, was far more illuminating than the “masturbatory iPad use” one. The interviewer asks whether technology like the iPad could be useful in research, offering a way to view information or even to order printed material for delivery. Miyazaki replies (my translation, which suffers from my not knowing what they were talking about up to this point):

Now look. This is going to come across as harsh, but there are some things you just can’t look up on this gadget. It’s because you totally lack an interest in the atmosphere aboard an atake warship, say, or compassion for the men who toiled sweating at its oars. You aren’t going out into the real world and pouring your creativity into something; you’re just skimming its surface, gripping your iWhatever tightly in your hand and stroking away.

I’m sure there are plenty of people who want to put their hands on the latest iWhatever as soon as possible and gain that feeling of omnipotence. Let me tell you something: In the 1960s there were people who went mad for these things called boom boxes—they were huge!—and carried them proudly wherever they went. These people must all be pensioners today, but they were exactly like you. They went crazy for a new product and felt smugly satisfied once they got it. They were nothing more than consumers.

You mustn’t be a consumer. Be a creator instead.

I’m glad Kotaku did include some of this in its English-language presentation of Miyazaki’s views. It’s disappointing, although hardly surprising, that many of the reactions I’m seeing to it on the English-language web is along the lines of “what a goddamn Luddite” instead.

The publication that carried this interview is a Studio Ghibli in-house monthly mag called 『熱風』 (Neppū). The July 2010 issue with Miyazaki’s comments actually dedicated its special feature pages to five articles on the iPad, which makes it hard to view the studio as a rabid den of technophobes.

Looks like an interesting read, and at just ¥2,000 for 12 issues, delivered, I think I’ll be subscribing soon. But here’s where I suddenly shift course and agree that Ghibli is entirely too technophobic for my tastes: to subscribe, you need one of the postal remittance slips included with each issue of the magazine, or, if you don’t have one, you need to send an SASE to the Ghibli folks so they can send you one of the slips. Meh. I’ll stop by one of the bookstores listed on that page to get a copy myself, or maybe just swing by the studio on my way home to cram my sweaty thousand-yen notes into their hands directly.

(Bonus postscript: It looks like there was a similar flap when Gundam creator Tomino Yoshiyuki addressed a video game developers’ conference and told them to stop creating wasteful, “evil” things. There’s coverage of that in English and Japanese, and, of course, plenty of responses from people who ignore the “strive instead to do something meaningful” sentiment in favor of pointing out various hypocrisies in his stance.)

4 thoughts on “How dare he dislike my gadget!

  1. Nice article, Durf! I agree that the quote that didn’t make the news is by far the most important part of the story that most people will likely not see.

    The way media is organized in both of my countries (I feel invested enough here to call it home at least) is particularly problematic in this sense. The flash and the distraction is starting to become way more important than the message conveyed.

    Of course, websites are no different. All the talk of hits and followers distract from what really needs to be said. Which is that we must be active participants in society or we’ll become participants in our own stratification.

    Thanks for bringing out this new element. I consciously tried to avoid the story, but this made following it all worthwhile.

    (And for the record, I can’t for the life of me foresee needing an iPad. I don’t even have the phone, and I’m still on the fence for that one.)

  2. Some great thoughts man. I had a browse of the original Japanese article online when I heard about it last week, just to check that the masturbation comment wasn’t a mis-translation. It was correct, but I didn’t take the time to read the whole article, so I’m very glad you picked this up. Amazing how a single quote can be easily taken out of context and warped in media. I need to be more careful.

  3. Here’s the problem though. He has automatically made the judgement that the iPad, and other devices it seems, is only useful for consuming content rather than for creating content. This does not have to be the case. We have already seen great paintings being made on the iPad using Brushes and other similar apps. Apple’s iWork software allows for creating written works using the iPad. Who knows what new apps will be written that will give creators new tools with which to work?

    Creators need their imaginations but they also need tools–whether they are using their hands, a pencil and paper, paint on canvas, a musical instrument, or an iPad–to bring those dreams to life.

    His argument to not be a consumer but to be a creator does not seem to be the real basis for his dislike of the iPad. He genuinely does not seem to like technology.

    When Mononoke Hime came out years ago there were several articles from the media regarding the CGI used in the film. Miyazaki was very much against it and was extremely reluctant to use it. He limited it’s use to a very limited number of scenes. Now, I love hand drawn animation and I love CGI animation as well–actually I love stories–but it seems to me that as an artist you want to be able to use any and all tools available to you to create. Why limit yourself by fearing technology?

    In fact, if you look at the themes in the majority of his films his negative view of technology is readily apparent. Laputa had it’s technologically advanced civilization which relied extensively upon robot workers/servants and which ultimately was destroyed. And then there were the greedy individuals who sought out Laputa’s technology for power.

    In Mononoke Hime the opposition between the natural world and technology is even clearer. A town’s use of technology destroys the forest, the animals within, and even a god.

    I think that the truth is that Miyazaki, however gifted an animator, director, and storyteller he may be, he also is very much a luddite.

  4. . . . Which is just fine, in my opinion. The man’s entitled to his views on technology vs. nature, or gadgetry vs. human interaction, or whatever. The thing that prompted me to write this post was basically what I tried to encapsulate in its title: there are people out there taking his views awfully personally.

    You certainly have good points about the arguments he’s advanced in his studio’s movies, though. It is an underlying theme in a lot of his thinking and certainly his anti-iPad screed isn’t entirely inspired by a nation of unthinking consumerism.

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