The Triumph of Trivia

The assumption is that cyberspace is fast – that everything happens at the speed of light, or at least of fibre optic cable, that news goes around the world in seconds.

That’s only true of the technology. Factoring in the reader introduces the same delays that have always dogged the printiverse, not technical but human. The entirety of cyberspace may be rushing to your internet portal, but you still don’t know about it until you get around to opening the inbox and ploughing through the mail. You can ignore it, while the material world, messy and mundane as it is, pokes and prods and distracts and seduces you whether you want it to or not.

And cyberspace, like physical space, isn’t just fast – it’s vast. The speed of light is fast, but it still takes centuries, even millenia, for starlight to cross the unimaginable distances between galaxies. Out there on the web there are billions of posts and blogs and newsfeeds, all racing around the ether trying to get someone’s attention, desperately competing with the everyday stuff of life like feeding the cat, paying the bills, remembering where you put the TV remote and wondering whether to clear your inbox or go to the pub. Life usually wins, for the same reason that entropy usually wins: cyberspace may be bright and shiny and fun but life is persistent. The lost remote and the bills and the cat and your mates keep coming back; the emails and websites vanish at the click of a switch. The small stuff trumps the Big Important Issues every time.

This morning’s reflections on the triumph of trivia were triggered by a message from an old friend popping up on onto my screen. He wanted to know if I’d read the new Viz Media edition of Miyazaki’s Starting Point: 1979-1996 yet.  I had to admit I hadn’t. I had large sections of the book translated when it first appeared in Japan, because I was writing a book on Miyazaki at the time, but I haven’t got around to reading the Viz version yet.

It will be well worth reading. I’ve been banging on for ages about how we need more of this kind of reflective, analytical and critical work translated to build a better framework for the analysis of anime and manga in the English-speaking world. The sections I had translated and the precis of the rest of the book were intriguing and illuminating. Frederik L. Schodt and Beth Cary are sure to have done a great job. So why am I not reading it right this minute, or at least getting started once I leave the blogosphere?*

Simple: because any given accumulation of trivia trumps cyberspace every time – or, to be specific, because Hayao Miyazaki’s book, great though I know it to be, is waiting in line for my attention behind a couple of irredeemably and deliciously lightweight anime DVDs. I am, for the moment at least, wholly in thrall to the candy-coloured charms of Hetalia Axis Powers and Moyashimon.

I know, I know. Apologists for the evils of fascism may well have a field day with the idea of Germany as a brooding hunk, Japan as a sensitive fatalist, Italy as a charming goofball and Britain and America as self-obsessed squabblers. I don’t want to think how traditional Catholics, not to mention historians, might react to the notion of the Holy Roman Empire as a closet romantic driven to hot flushes at the mere sight of pretty, enslaved little Italy. The scientific probability of anyone being able to actually see microbes is minimal. I should be out there Doing Something Constructive.

But for the moment, the important stuff can wait. I have a date with a gaggle of winningly stereotypical Eurochibishies and dish upon dish of cute, wiggly bacteria.

* blogosphere: a universe with its own internal logic and music. Sounds a bit like a galosphere, but less rhythmic and less tuneful.

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