Beryl and Addie: An Unexpected Delight

June 8, 2007

Of course, I wasn’t dreading their visit or anything, but I definitely did not expect to sit through two hours of immensely entertaining storytelling. I was all ready to ask Beryl and Addie about their most unusual experience as staff members at the anime convention, but obviously, it would have been like asking a mother to pick her favorite child. It was very reassuring to hear Beryl confirm my theory of the power of “mega-subcultures” being derived from the nature of their various intersections, as well as from the celebration of the minority. As Beryl said, “if we learn about each other’s differences, we start seeing our similarities…and all of a sudden those guys don’t seem so strange anymore. A-Cen in itself is going to be about the celebration of a foreign culture that people find cool. Our facination with Japanese culture is a direct expression of American culture…we’re open to see what’s good about people outside our world. As Americans, we’re always looking for the next fresh thing.” Evidently, the anime culture has persistently leaked into the American mainstream. From my experience at the convention, it is apparent that, as with”the geek,” the otaku has unashamedly embraced its own creation, took back the power of their name, and declared their rightful foothold in the world of “the mundanes.”

Indeed, “art is in the hands of the people now.” We no longer have to be elitist and selectively chosen artists to create.


Xenophobia, cult culture cool, and global immigration of a foreign pop culture

June 8, 2007

Following my questions from last week about the relationship between mainstream and subcultures, I’d like to raise the question of the power of xenophobia. As the Chinpokomon episode accurately depicted, intense xenophobic anxiety usually surrounds the prevalence of an emerging foreign pop culture. Is it possible that xenophobia (not just of the nationally foreign, but also of that which is foreign to the mainstream) is a fueling force for cult followings to become the cool new mainstream trend? In other words, the very definition of various forms of “coolness” is that whatever is trendy is relatively obscure or inaccessible. So isn’t the existence of xenophobia something that could drive the popularity of a foreign conception of “cool”? (Case and point: the minute the South Park parents lost their xenophobic attitude toward Chinpokomon and seemingly embraced it, it stopped being cool.)

response to “From ‘Intersex’ to ‘DSD'”

June 8, 2007

For a lack of a better expression, Emi Koyama’s keynote speech at Translating Identity (“From ‘Intersex’ to ‘DSD’”) simply blew my mind. It is such an exquisitely rich entwinement of various topics of and related to the issue of the term “intersex.” As a gender studies major, I was ashamed by how fuzzy I was about the very definition of “intersex,” so Emi’s list of common misconceptions was definitely helpful. Along with that clarification, I am also glad to learn about other issues orbiting intersex studies, such as “public stripping,” “the impaired role,” and the power of “normalizing medicine.” Some questions that remains are: what are the social costs of intersex/DSD people not forming a political community? Why do so many people, intersex individuals included, feel indifferent to the urgency of solving social problems associated with our anxieties about bodily differences and sexuality? How can pop culture contribute to or inhibit such a solution?

mainstream vs. subcultures

June 8, 2007

I thought the analogy that “butler/maid cafes are to otome as hostess bars are to salary men” is quite fascinating. It never occurred to me that for some people, butler/maid cafes can be as much of an everyday (and necessary) escape into a fantasy land. What is the otome aversion to “reality,” or any other more common form of escape? On a similar note, do mass/mainstream pop culture and subcultures (or high cultures) exist in opposite binaries? Can all subcultures be lumped into one social force opposing pop culture? What does the fluidity and permeability of a culture have to do with the authenticity of its “essence”?

problems with “Ladies’ Comics”

June 8, 2007

 Again, I apologize for posting my reading questions late.

Jones makes a good case for pornographic manga, but I think that “bad girls who like to look” are, in the end, (in the words of Catherine MacKinnon) still vicariously working out the fantasies of men. Just because the ladies’ comics provide a venue for women to express and experiment with various sexual desires doesn’t mean that some (or most) of these desires are autonomously conceived. If, indeed, manga and anime are so integral to the shaping of gender identification and relations between the sexes (as Napier suggests), then wouldn’t it be irresponsible of Jones to neglect the informative aspect of anime and manga? As with any mass medium, shouldn’t we consider the influence of the representation (on the subject) as well as what is reflected (from the subject) in the representation? In other words, don’t social constructions create our identities as much as we create social constructions? If such a construction perpetuates a motif of explicit abuse, is it “ethically” okay to identify with it upon awareness of its effects? And this makes me wonder: what is the mentality of the gang rapists mentioned in the anecdotes of ladies’ comics readers? To link this train of thought to our class today, I ask yet another question: to what extent are the “male” actresses in Takarazuka even more directly living the vicarious life of the masculine fantasy?

eroticism and nonesense

June 8, 2007

It seems like the popularity of manga can be explained not only by its efficiency in entertaining but also by its motif of creating a fantastical hyperbole of the mundane elements of life. Since so much time is spent on manga, it is then, presumably, very important in the shaping of people’s conscious notion of the self as well as the subconscious fantasy. Why, then are eroticism and nonesense so prevalent in manga? What does this prevalence tell us about manga readers, how they are affected by their society, and how they influence the art of manga?

hip-hop: political movement or consumer fetish?

June 8, 2007

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.