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).
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.