hip-hop: political movement or consumer fetish?

In Hip-Hop Japan, Ian Condry makes the argument that the booming hip-hop culture in Japan is not merely a case of mass imitation, but rather, an important creative vehicle of (political) self-expression for young people. Specifically, Condry claims that this thriving community in Japan plays a key role on the global scale in the dynamic evolution of hip-hop, and that this continuous feeding of hip-hop progress cannot be without the vital genba interactions between multiple participants in Japanese hip-hop. I feel like Condry’s position is a bit of an optimistic hyperbole. As with young people anywhere else in the world, most hip-hop fans in Japan probably exist for the purpose of novelty and pseudo-rebellion. In other words, this cultural phenomenon is not unlike the popularity of the Rock Against Bush CDs around 2004-2005 in the United States: generally speaking, young people simply need something to rebel against to feel deviant and cool, and it is not necessary for them to understand their alleged cause at all. This theory of hip-hop’s popularity would explain: a) why the conservative political atmosphere perseveres in Japan (as Nori testified) in spite of the political agenda of the entire Japanese hip-hop community, and b) why there are virtually no hip-hop fans in Japan over the age of 30. Furthermore, the extensive inter- and intra-cultural exchange of information in the global hip-hop world doesn’t, in the end, lend any authenticity to the collective consciousness of the Japanese hip-hop community. Indeed, genba exchanges do not involve any creative contributions to the development of Japanese hip-hop; what happens is usually just the spread of newest musical and material products. In other words, the popularity of products, rather than that of any political progress, is what really holds the Japanese hip-hop community together, and these products are often derived from imitating other pre-existing products. This arbitrary trend to imitate the clothing, mannerisms, hairstyles, pastimes (ex. graffiti), and even skin color of leading figures in American hip-hop is enough to reveal that the lifestyle of the Japanese hip-hop culture (which, according to Condry, is integral to the spirit of Japanese hip-hop) is not only ahistorical, but also irrelevant to the various political causes of the hip-hop artists. Moreover, this irrelevance and lack of cultural coherence suggests that the hip-hop culture in Japan is, alas, nothing more than yet another consumer fetish.

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