Since I’ve decided to go back and get some old posts out of my draft queue, I’ve resurrected this post since it surprisingly piqued the interest of someone. In this case, it’s a little socioeconomic look at Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight and it’s possible tie-in with an essay speculating on American culture. Does it work or not? Well it’s not like I will get comments anyway.
In 1995, the political scientist Robert Putnam published an essay titled Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital. In it he describe America’s declining social capital through things like decreasing voter turnout and lower membership in civic organizations. The title itself comes from decreasing membership in bowling leagues while there is a rise in the popularity of bowling. In other words, bowling became a fun thing to do rather than a reason for a group of people to get together.
He sees improvements in society like the increase of women in the workforce and other demographic changes making little difference to counter this trend. Instead, he places the blame on advances that have individualized life outside of the workplace.
Manabi Straight is set in the year 2035 where decades of declining population have had a considerable impact on life in Japan. High school attendance has plummeted to a point where schools are closed and merged with others.
A decline in participation in civil society is also apparent even within the limited scope of life at the Seioh Private High School. Nearly all aspects of life have been individualized to the point where the students’ personal organizers are more like personal entertainment devices. There is also a tremendous amount of apathy regarding how the school is run at the beginning, which has all of one member.
One of the things that drew my interest in all of this was the way the changes in society that came about because of the declining population. The consumer culture that is apparent by mobile devices has to be maintained by lower-wage service sector workers. What better source than teenagers then to replace them and other lower-level white-collar workers? Thus, the taboo against not attending high school must go away.
The gender disparity in the schools probably goes along with a gender bias in employment. Presumably this means that Boys can leave middle school and slot in as low-level salarymen making a ton of money for a 15-year-old. While girls take over sales and other service jobs that are not necessarily desirable but make them a bit of money. Though it probably isn’t enough to entirely justify abandoning the education system, so some actually go ahead and attend high school.
The civil society angle enters the picture because there suddenly becomes a massive segment of the population who have never really learned about government or society in a classroom setting. There’s also minimal incentive to force even the high school students to learn this because they can just go off to earn a decent sum if things get too boring for them.
So ultimately, with the youth of the society of Manabi Straight dealing with the decline in population by becoming focused mostly on personal entertainment and/or making money. Social society also takes a bit hit because government just seems like a distant entity that does some stuff that doesn’t impact students, and working in a team only seems to come from employment. Going to school became something fun to do for individuals and small groups rather than a reason to gather together.
Am I reading too much into this? Is there anything similar that you may find interesting in another series? Are there any other instances of social decay that you can relate to?