2016年4月28日 星期四

Carnival War: A Cultural History of Wartime Japan, 1937-1945

Recently I have read the following dissertation. A dissertation summary and my comments are as follows:

Benjamin Tsubokura Uchiyama. Carnival War: A Cultural History of Wartime Japan, 1937-1945 (Ph.D. diss., USC, 2013).

Dissertation summary:
The dissertation challenges 2 commonly-held beliefs about Japanese war time history. First it disagrees with the view that wartime ideological controlled by the Japanese government during WWII was so complete that modernity and social activities seen in the decades before this War were wiped out. Second, it disagrees that the Japanese state could completely control the public in perceiving matters related to life and death, such as a war.

Uchiyama uses the theory of carnival wars to understand the wartime experience of Japanese through the interplay of mass culture and mass mobilization during WWII. He asserts that total war violence shaped the cultural practices into a style and attitude which he sees as carnival. Using Mikhail Baktin’s theoretical idea of “carnival”, he studies five Japanese media constructed cultural practice and name them the five “carnival kings”. He shows how ordinary Japanese shifted between their identities as both imperial subject and consumers of the mass culture: the “consumer-subject”.

Uchiyama explains that a war carnival was born during the Shanghai-Nanjing campaign in China in late 1937 when new literacy and other social forces swept through Japan (p.32). He refers this carnival as the chaotic media coverage of the military campaign. One war correspondent claimed that his original motive to go to China had nothing to do with patriotism, but simply for “the thrill of war”. Through the thrills reported in the media, the Japanese readers/consumers came into contact the total war in the home front. Reporters from different agencies tried to be the first to arrive at the battle sites to do reporting and to break the news (p.56). This media frenzy gave birth to carnival war. Its violent nature would stay in the home front to transform and revitalize the prewar culture of “Showa modernism” into a new mass culture connected with national mobilization (p.70).

The next war carnival was the Wartime Dandy and its story challenged the long-held assumptions that Japanese consumption was basically a female activity. (p.71) The economic and social changes in 1920s that started the men’s interest in fashion would last into the 1930s. This would prepare the appearance of the Wartime Dany, a cultural successor to the Modern Boy of the 1920s. (p.81) 

Wartime Dandy got its energy and vitality from the Japanese military’s repaid expansion in military campaigns that stimulated war time production business. (p.91) Both workers in munition factories and graduates in companies from Japan’s elite universities enjoyed the lucrative employment opportunities. (p.96)

The next war carnival king was the Soldier. Uchiyama describes the iconic Soldier which was represented in mass culture and promoted by the state as a heroic superman figure. (p.128) The tradition that the media praised soldiers who performed high-speed and spectacular feast in battle could be traced back to the Russo-Japanese War. (p.131) During the Shanghai-Nanjing campaign Soldiers were praised for their victories. But after that campaign, Soldiers slowed down in the battlefield. (p.132) The Soldiers after 1938 lost the image of earlier superman depiction. Instead, the government began to depict a sympathetic view of soldiers, stressing how ordinary and human they were, suggesting that soldiers as a model for all citizens to follow. When the soldiers fought hard on the front-lines for the state, so should the civilians do the same at home. (pp.134-6) This helped inspire countless patriotism in the home front through sending the “comfort packages” to war front soldiers (p.146). These packages were merely commercialized and impersonal items which could not leave much impression or felling on them. (p.150)

As the war dragged on in China, the image of Soldiers at the home front changed. The Returned Soldiers were seen with a curious, despised and defiant attitude; a new and awkward relation between Soldiers and civilian was created. (p.159) Cases relating to the Returned Soldiers involved in violence against civilian were reported. (p.176) In conclusion Uchiyama asserts that, on the one hand Soldier was an icon and a living figure, on the other hand it represented the alienation, not national unity between home front and war front. The Returned Soldier was the cultural inversion of the heroic Solder. (p.188)

According to Uchiyama, the Movie Star in wartime, another king of carnival war, was a cheerleader for total war and a symbol of individualism. (p.190) She was a cultural force that tantalized consumers living in the difficult and bleak home front with glimpses of glamour. Movie star provided a view of Japanese wartime mass culture practices and ideologies and showed us how the Japanese connected themselves with total war through mass culture. (190) Uchiyama argues that the increasingly conspicuous presence of the Movie star in wartime mass culture pointed to a competing model for feminine behavior which drew on concepts on  “Good Wife, Wise Mother”, and “working women” of the 1920s which later turned into the “Military Mother”. (p.205) The star offered escapism and desire to the Japanese who were living in a bleak condition of total war.

For the young men and boys in war time japan, aviation in mass culture provided another space for individual aspiration and escapism. Youth Aviator became the last and most powerful king of carnival war when he became the Kamikaze pilot near the end of WWII (p.251). The Youth Aviator as a culture icon first appeared in 1940 in pilot recruitment posters, aviation movies and aviation fan magazines. It offered possibilities of consumption amidst wartime austerity and also created a consumer fandom. (p. 251) Later when Youth Aviator became Kamikaze pilot, some poems they left behind showed that their mind existed outside the state-imposed ideological framework of making sacrifice for nation. (p.303) Yet all came to an end when the American air raids in early 1945 destroyed the material and political foundation of mass culture and the carnival kings were de-crowned forever. (p.311)

Uchiyama, using wartime mass cultural practice in WWII Japan, has proved his case. Regarding the arguments in his paper, I think, even without quoting Baktin’s theory, the dissertation can prove the case on its own. About the general float of the paper, I suppose that it could be improved by writing in a more coherent manner without repeating too much some of the supporting facts, for e.g. on page 110 about the factory youth.

In the article, some terms coined by the writer could be confusing, e.g. the term “consumer-subject”. About the term “war carnival”, I am wondering if this could be switched to “mass culture” or “popular culture” and the like.

2016年4月21日 星期四

Regionalizing Culture: the Political Economy of Japanese Popular Culture in Asia

Recently I have read the following book. The main arguments are as follows:
Book title: Nissim Kadosh Otmazgin. 2013. Regionalizing Culture: the Political Economy of Japanese Popular Culture in Asia. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Main augments:
The book points out that currently little attention had been paid to the economic and industrial aspect of cultural production. The available literature so far mainly focused on contextual analysis or on the process of consumption, for example Iwabuchi’s Reentering Globalization in 2002. (162)

Otmazgin also asserts that currently three major aspects were missing from the existing literature. First, not enough information was given about the organizational aspects of Japanese pop culture in East Asia. Second, existing literature mainly endorsed globalization, and the global-local relations was the only possible frame-work for analysis, missing out the importance of region. Third, the available studies did not systematically analyze the region transformation and their contribution (163).

Building on the work of Castells etc. on media industry, the book favors an integrative political economic approach to study pop culture. This approach studied pop culture by focusing on, and analyzing the cultural industries by using the economic model. (5)

Several key features distinguished the political economic approach from earlier ethnographic and interpretive studies. This approach related popular cultural product as a commodity. It ignored messages and meanings encoding, merely viewed the product in economic terms, such as in monetary value. For example in analyzing TV drama, it payed little attention to its social and cultural message, just focused on the cost, the organization of production, and the distribution etc. (6)

This book looks into the relation between the organization of pop culture and the process of regionalization.  It provides a study on the production, market expansion cum circulation, and the reception of Japanese cultural industries in East Asia. (163)

The central argument of this study was that the activities of cultural industries were underpinning regionalization in East Asia. Regionalization through pop culture was a bottom-up, market-led process.(180) In order to understand how Japanese pop culture reached foreign markets in a massive scale, the book looks at the ways the culture was commodified and organized inside Japan.(89)

The book suggests that internationalization of pop culture was contributing to region building through the impact on business and institution that involved in the production and transfer of cultural products due to the appearance of a regional market. (182) It further argues that other than at institutional level by connecting companies, at personal level regionalization was achieved through offering shared experience that could lead to the cultivation of common lifestyle and conception.(22). Regionalizing involved harmonizing people’s cultural sensibilities and creating shared experience. (181) People saw themselves as members of a wide region that was defined by their appreciation/consumption of the same popular culture. (182) Such a sharing of pop culture created a sense of ‘we-ness’, a word borrowed from Andrew Hurrell (49).

The book suggests that pop culture was a powerful engine that helped make East Asia into a region. The circulation of commodified culture in the region encouraged the creation of shared pop culture markets. (49) Therefore the research done by Otmazgin was to analyze the creation of a regional market for pop culture by focusing on the spread of Japanese music and TV programs. The analysis started with a review of the macro politico-economic conditions that contributed to the spread of Japanese pop culture. (92) It also examines how piracy had help promoting the dissemination of Japanese pop culture, and looks at the relationship between censorship and bootleg markets. It proposes a new framework to see the dynamism of these Asian markets. (92)

The importance of Japanese culture industry’s regionalization was not only in creating new markets but also for Japan to serve as a model for propagating a region-wide transformation. (125) Otmazgin makes a distinction between “content” and “format” in popular culture and focuses on the externalization, adaptation , and reproduction of Japanese “formats” in East Asia. (128) He also asserts that Japanese cultural industry impacted regionalization through its influence on diplomatic polices adaptation within East Asian governments. (183)

“Format” in the context of this book was the wider technologies, capital and marketing that surrounded the production. (130) One famous Japanese format was the production of idols. Japanese style idols were young; usually appeared in certain configuration, such as three-girl bands, or five-boy singing group. (131) J-pop represents another format constructed in Japan. (135)

The book asserts that in East Asia, Japanese format for pop culture production had been adopted and emulated. To-day Japan was still a major source of learning on how to make and handle commodified culture. (158)

2016年4月4日 星期一

Otaku: Japan's database animals

Recently I have read the following book. A book summary is attached.

Book Title: Azuma, Hiroki; translated by Jonathan E. Abel and Shion Kono. 2009. Otaku: Japan's database animals. Minneapolis, MN: University of Michigan Press.

Book summary:
Azuma argues that the consumption of otaku was reflecting Japanese’s transition from modernity into post-modernity. The consumption of otaku was a reflection on the collapses of the grand narrative (the mainstream ideology, religion and common value) which formed the basic component in understanding our modern society. Otaku turned to the consumption of anime etc. for reliance in order to replace the collapse of the grand narrative that had, among other thing, the function of giving a meaning to life.

The book tries to answer two research questions: First: In post-modernity, as the distinction between an original and a copy were extinguished, simulacra increase. If this was valid, then how did they increase? In modernity, the cause for the birth of an original was this concept of “the author”. In post-modernity, what was the reason for the birth of the simulacra?

The second question was: In post-modernity grand narrative was dysfunctional; “god” and “society’, too, must be fabricated from the junk subculture. If this was correct, how would human beings live in the world? In modernity, god and society secured humanity; the realization of this was born by religious and educational institutions, but after the loss of the dominance of these institutions, what became of the humanity of human being? (29).

In answering the first question, Azuma first explains that in the era of modernity, the idea of the world could be grasped through a kind of tree-model. On the one hand there was the surface outer layer of the world, on the other hand there was the deep inner layer (i.e. the grand narrative) (31).

However with the arrival of the post-modernity, the tree-model world image would be replaced completely.  In its place the author suggests a database model (or a reading-up model). There was no center, i.e. there was no grand narrative to regulate world views. There was a distinct double-layer structure. On the one hand there was an accumulation of encoded information; while on the other hand, there were individual information sources. The different made by this double-layer structure was that the agency which determined what would emerge on the surface outer layer rested with the user (who is doing the reading-up) (32).

The younger generation that grew up in the postmodern world image considered the world as a database. They did not need a perspective on the entire world. In the 1980s, they needed fiction as a substitute for the loss of the grand narrative. In the 1990s otaku consumed fiction without any need for the fiction as substitute. They relied on the data and fact in the fiction world. Otaku consumed only fragmentary illustration or settings in the fiction world and made meanings out of them. This new consumer behavior was called “chara-moe” (36).

In other words, the Japanese otaku lost the grand narrative in the 1970s, learned to fabricate the lost grand narrative in the 1980s (narrative consumption) and abandoned the need for fabrication and simply turned to the database in the 1990s (database consumption) (54).

In answering the second question, Azuma asserts that after the collapse of the grand narrative, the otaku built a fake narrative (a secondary projection) and they relied on it as a substitute (73). Yet individual people at the transition from modernity to post-modernity might need snobbism in order to bridge the gap in between. However, in post-modernity individual let the two levels, i.e. small narrative and grand narrative, coexist separately without connecting them. Otaku learnt the techniques of living without connecting the deeply emotional experience of world (a small narrative) to the worldview (grand narrative) (84).

Quoting Kojeve, Azuma defines the difference between human and animal. According to Kojeve, human had desires while animal had only needs. This explained why humans were different from animals because man had self-conscious (86-7).

In the postmodern age, people become animalized. Otaku had undergone rapid animalization (i.e. seek to satisfy the need only). One reason for this was that cultural consumption revolved not around getting meaning through the grand narrative but around the combination of elements extracted from the database (92).

The interest in small narrative had arisen as if to supplement the hollowing out of sociality. In post-modernity, the world might be understood in terms of double-layer structure consisted of small narrative and a grand non-narrative, i.e. of simulacra and the database. It was the small narrative in the surface outer layer that could give “meaning” on life (94).

Azuma points out that postmodern subjectivity was divided into double-layer, the subjectivity was motivated by both ‘the need for small narrative” and the desire for a grand non-narrative. While it was animalized in the former, it maintained a virtual, emptied-out humanity in the latter. The author called this new view of humanity a database animal. (95).

2016年4月2日 星期六

The Soul of Anime: Collaborative Creativity and Japan’s Media Success Story

Recently I have read the following book. A book summary is attached.

Book title: Condry, Ian. 2013. The Soul of Anime: Collaborative Creativity and Japan’s Media Success Story. Durham & London: Duke University Press.

Book summary:
The goal of the book was to examine the world of Japanese animation in order to explore how this cultural movement could succeed in going global. This book was unique in that it used field work in animation studios etc. to explore the social side of media.

The thesis of the book was that collaborative creativity which operated and connected official producers and unofficial fan production was responsible for anime’s global success. Condry calls this collective social energy the “soul” of anime. The implication was that the global success was not solely driven by big corporations.

Condry asserts that anime was regarded as a success by Japanese because it was a sustainable form of creative expression what went global without the push of multi-national corporation (as least during its developmental stage), thus it was a kind of globalized from the mass. He proposes that we needed to follow its production process in order to see the kind of social energy developed in a space between consumers and media.

The book looks into the interplay between anime as a creative platform, and the social context where it gained meaning and value. The idea of creativity enabled us to map the broader connection of anime beyond their media forms. On the point of creative platform I would like to point out that anime is not unique, some other pop culture could have similar function and feature, for example hip-hop.

The layout of the book was: first it talks about the making of anime by looking at how professional animators designed new anime around the characters and their cyber worlds. It looks into the work of Manoru Hosoda to see the steps in creating animation. Then it focuses on the different anime conveying vehicles: from feature films to TV, in the context of transmedia connection, and its relation with manga.

Condry asserts that the concept of collaborated creativity was meant to remind us anime’s influence, by examining what happened on screen or how it was marketed by studios. More important was that anime illustrated the process of cultural production. It provided new insight into the distribution of power in media, both in terms top-down or bottom up forces. We might think collaborative creativity energy as a kind of a soul that runs through media and connecting viewer/consumers (p.110-1).

On the development of robot anime, Condry asserts that the synergies between anime and anime related toy producer was important: toys would expand audience for anime to adults.

Condry points out the limitation of conventional explanation for anime’s success in Japan. Conventional factors would include the Japanese culture foundation, cultural resonance, the vision of individual company director or economy determinism (p.134). According to him one factor responsible for the global spread of anime was “fansubbing” (he calls it a dark force) which was related the anime copying right violation by transnational anime fans. They translated the recent broadcast Japanese anime and made them available on line for free globally in the Internet much ahead of their official release.

On the social side on consumption, the book focuses on otaku (obsessive fans) to see whether it was a case of closed-off niche or an unusual gesture toward mass appeal. It focused on otaku, and their act in falling in love with anime characters was called “moe”.

Condry’s research approach shows that the value of anime arose from its movement and its fluidity: started from a single production location then spread to global. Its value came from its living social interactive relation.

The book concludes that in the often unprofitable Japanese animation industry, the artists’ interest in the trade, their passion, devotion and commitment had sustained this cultural business and made it an important node amidst a networked global media. Anime was at the leading edge of new combination of business and technologies. The book illustrates that what counted as creative in media depended on not only the vision of directors, but also the dynamic/robust media circulation and fans attachments. Anime could broaden our understating of ‘globalization from below’. Culture was no longer bound by geographic or specific ethnic groups. Like hip-hop, anime at first was dismissed by corporate elites a mere a passing fad or unimportant sector of popular media. Yet it grew global by traveling from Japan to the West. Globalization was not always driven by major corporations or the West. (p.215)

First, when I compare and contrast this book with Condry’s book on Hip-hop that I read, I find both book have one common theme: “ploycentrism in globalization”. While the Hip-hop book was about the spread of hip-hop from American black ethnic groups to the youth in urban Japan; the latter book shows that Japanese anime, through the hard work and passion of Japanese artists teams, and aided by the “dark forces” (illegal up-loading by fan groups) had gained popularity in Europe and the US. The flow of both hip-hop and Japanese anime were basically without the guidance of the multi-national corporation.

Second, there is another common theme: the “death of the masses”, a phrase found in Marilyn Ivy’s article: “Formation of Mass Culture”. The fact that from one single cultural practice (be it hip-hop or Japanese anime) consumers could have their own way of appreciating/understanding (in other words to decode, borrowing Hall’s theory) the meaning encoded into the cultural product by producers. The diversity in the ways in decoding by different groups of consumers on the same produce is fully reflected in the phrase ‘Island in Space’ coined by Condry, or the idea “micromass” suggested by Ivy. Both reflected an undercurrent to the concept of mass culture, challenging the concept of “mass” (or a homogeneous group). These ideas pointed out that there was diversity in understanding, in taste and in the preference among individual consumer groups over the same mass cultural produce, and it was a force that could reduce the size of the mass. The idea of “micro mass” or “Island in Space” was pointing to the breakdown of one single large homogeneous group, and the death of “the mass”.