Step your game up high school teachers and college professors; pick-up some anime and make your socio classes a bit more awesome.
Though I highly doubt that educators would come across this post (but I gotta ask, are any of you guys actually in the education system? xD).
All the same, here’s another Real Talk post! Something I’ve done only once before (check it out if you haven’t yet~), where I try to relate concepts and ideas that I encountered elsewhere, to certain occurrences in anime shows. Whether or not these were actually incidental on the part of the show’s directors and/or scriptwriters is beyond me, but I will reserve the notion that these are just my personal inferences from what I see in specific interactions in a feature.
That is to say, I do not claim that a particular scene actually is representative of some idea. These are observations, on my part, wherein I think a scene or sequence in anime depicts concepts in a manner that makes them a bit easier to understand.
Now that that’s out of the way, I have to admit, I’ve been looking forward to writing this one for a while now. The idea came to me while crossing a street a couple of weeks ago, amusingly enough (and in hindsight a bit of a dangerous endeavor as well).
I would’ve wanted to showcase a different series for my second Real Talk, but I was so impressed with this one that I just couldn’t resist. Another Monogatari feature with another sociological theory; this time around we’re gonna be looking at Koyomi Flower and the theory of Symbolic Interactionism.
*As an aside, Koyomimonogatari is a series of web-shorts that features random interactions between Araragi and the rest of the Monogatari cast.
Symbolic Interactionism is “the process of interaction in the formation of meanings for individuals”. Sounds very Monogatari-ish already, right?
A looser definition of Symbolic Interactionism would be that it deals with the common or shared meanings towards objects that people generate. A huge bulk of sociological thoery in general try to explain why people in a society do things. Symbolic Interactionism argues that we act the way we act because of the meanings we assign (or ascribe) to objects, namely; things, people, and ideas.
For example; when we see a rocking chair we typically think of elderly people; when we see someone in a police uniform, generally we already acknowledge their authority; or even when someone says “we need to talk”, often times we take it to mean something serious.
In Koyomi Flower, Araragi and Senjougahara happen upon a bouquet of flowers across a street. The peculiar placement of the bouquet, and the meaning of such a scene in the context of Japanese culture, led them to believe that a traffic accident may have occurred at the street. The meaning they gave to the bouquet of flowers at the time, was that it was an offering to the deceased.
There are three tenets that further define Symbolic Interactionism as a theory of society. The first tenet is that we act based on the meaning we have given an object. Araragi and Senjougahara, after seeing the bouquet of flowers resting on a curb, both associated it with someone dying on the road.
Senjougahara then recalls encountering a similar scene at their school’s rooftop – a bouquet of flowers placed at the foot of a guard rail. Araragi interprets this as ominous. It turns out that all the rooftops had bouquets placed at each respective guard rail. No one in their school had jumped off the roof ever before. Plus, the doors to the rooftops were locked. Why were offerings placed there? Araragi proceeds to view the bouquet as an oddity that could be driving people to commit suicide.
The second tenet, is that we give meanings to things based on our social interactions. Earlier in the webisode, Araragi pulls Senjougahara out of the road when she carelessly approached the bouquet. Upon seeing the bouquets on the rooftops, Araragi begins to suspect that the bouquets could mean something akin to an ‘invitation to death’.
Afterwards, Araragi relates his findings to Oshino. Oshino almost instantly rejects Araragi’s claim that the bouquets were oddities. Oshino then explains that they were in fact functioning in a way that was the opposite of what Araragi thought – that because the flowers had such a grim meaning for everyone that saw them, their intended meaning instead was to serve as warnings. A crude, but effective reminder of sorts, to make people think that someone already died from there.
The last tenet exclaims that the meanings we give to objects aren’t permanent. They either remain constant, or they change depending on our social interactions. This is highlighted further in the last sequence of Koyomi Flower, when we later find out that the school is undergoing renovations.
The school finds out that someone (Araragi) climbed over the guard rail from the outside. The flowers, which had meant to serve as the invisible fence of the roof, had its meaning rendered null. Thus the school no longer needed to carry out the meaning they ascribed to it, and subsequently stopped putting out the flowers altogether.
That’s about where the episode ends, with Araragi and Senjougahara making a pact of secrecy to escape potential remunerations from the school.
To conclude, although Symbolic Interactionism may seem like it explains a lot about how we conduct ourselves in everyday life, it would be important to note that it is not perfect.
Upon realizing that a bouquet of flowers, as an offering for people who fell off the roof, would normally be placed on the spot on the ground where they fell (and not on the roof), Araragi and Senjougahara come to a conclusion that they misunderstood what was only meant as a warning, for something else entirely.
This scene best describes the main argument against Symbolic Interactionism. Because meaning can change at the smallest scale of interpersonal interaction, it cannot generalize and define the interactions within a society – despite it being the goal of the theory in the first place. The potential for misunderstandings makes it very inconsistent and vague, and therefore might not be representative of society as a whole.
Aaaaand that’s a wrap! This post turned out to be way longer than I expected, but to those of you who made it up to this point, I hope my insights and musings on sociological theory was informative enough, or at the very least intriguing. My sociology may be a bit rusty, but I think I gave it a fair go.
What do you guys think? 😀
For the sociology majors out there, if I got some things (or everything, lol) wrong, feel free to throw those thoughts at me.