What's a meme you ask? Well, essentially it is "an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture" (Merriam-Webster). I tend to refer to them as "internet jokes" or "trending events". In any case, recently one such meme has been brought to my attention, one that may or may not spark some extreme controversy.
Ellen Baker (Japanese: エレン・ベーカー) is a fictional tutor character featured in the 2016-2019 edition of New Horizon. New Horizon is a Japanese to English language textbook published by Tokyo Shosek that is used in middle schools as part of their language curriculum. In the fictitious setting of the book, Ellen Baker instructs her students at Midori Junior High School.
On April 5th 2016, Twitter user @haiyore_audio uploaded several pictures of the characters (Ellen Baker included) from his younger brother's textbook. Within the first 24 hours, the tweet generated over 45,000 likes and a whopping 50,000 retweets, with many people expressing adoration for the charmingly cute female character.
Now, for a bit of context, the Internet has a rather poor habit of perversion when it comes to any particular topic, popular or unpopular, real or fictional. What I'm referring to (for those of you that are unaware) is Rule #34 of the Internet which essentially states that:
"...pornography or sexually related material exists for any conceivable subject. Therefore, if it exists, there is porn of it. If there isn't, there will be, as there are no exceptions."
On April 7th, 2016, Buzzfeed Japan published an interview with Denchubou (電柱棒), the Japanese illustrator for the New Horizon textbook. In the interview he mentioned that:
"Of course, I do welcome the situation (regarding the massive rise in popularity). But…this is a textbook. I’m worried if parents will start to grow a bad impression, or if people start to forget its educational purpose."
- Translated from Japanese (Know Your Meme)
You can check out more of Denchubou's impressive illustrations here.
Now that there has been a massive amount of global exposure with this character, fan sketches of Ellen Baker have sprung up in a wide range of scenarios, some of which are tasteful and humorous, with others being of the more lewd and provocative variety. After images of Ellen Baker went viral on Twitter, articles for her were submitted to Nico Nico Pedia and the Pixiv Encyclopedia, sparking more than 200 illustrations by enthusiasts (Know Your Meme).
The immediate concern is that this globalization of Ellen Baker will bring shame and dishonor to Tokyo Shosek, the publisher. Japanese parents may not want to use the textbooks featuring the character in any of their English classes nor will they want to purchase any future editions of the New Horizon's textbooks. This could be devastating to the company as it could alienate its entire market, through no fault of their own.
Personally, I rather enjoy the the fact that such a dichotomy exists. It shows the creativity of people when inspired to make fan works and shows both ends of the same metaphorical coin (regarding human ingenuity), in that, creation, in itself, can have a positive or negative effect. I do hope to see more artwork (in general) of Ellen Baker in the forthcoming months. It is most pitiable perhaps that something seemingly innocent could become distorted with overexposure to a general audience.
Below I've included a sample of some of the artwork. The first two images depicted will be the illustrator's original depictions with supporter fan works immediately following.
|Original Textbook Artwork|
|Apparently, Ellen Baker is a fan of baseball and the Boston Red Sox|
Original Textbook Artwork (Images borrowed from CrunchyRoll)
|Some fans cleverly depict Ellen Baker becoming self-aware|
of her own popularity, and its unfortunate consequences as well.
|There are real repercussions and legal ramifications|
for instructors that indulge in disreputable behavior.
That's why images like this one heighten the
concern of the original artist.
|The various mediums for which the character|
is depicted even extend to latté art!
|So here's to a "mostly" positive |
impact on English speaking Japanese students!
I've selected only a few of the fan works because I'm trying to keep my blog relatively PG-13. If you'd like to see for yourself some of the NSFW (Not Safe For Work) images, please do so at your own discretion.
(n.d.). Retrieved April 09, 2016, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/meme
M. (2016, April 06). Ellen Baker (New Horizon). Retrieved April 09, 2016, from http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/ellen-baker-new-horizon
Green, S. (2016, April 05). Twitter Falls In Love With Japanese Text Book's Super-Kawaii English Teacher. Retrieved April 09, 2016, from http://www.crunchyroll.com/anime-news/2016/04/05/twitter-falls-in-love-with-japanese-text-books-super-kawaii-english-teacher