Tuesday, November 11, 2014

COMEBACK LOL [Anti-] ranking post: 6 reasons why I just can't rank members of idol groups anymore.

Hm...I've been dying and coming back a lot over the past couple years, huh?
Grad school has done a lot of things with my life, but I loudly and obnoxiously swear that being patient zero of the zombie apocalypse is not one of them. :D :D :D

Though my efforts at writing papers might disagree...

One of last spring's efforts while it was still far under the word count requirement...
BEE TEE DUBS, no I have not forgotten about the lost Orientalism post...just...let me finish my prospectuses and theses and STUFF LIKE THAT BLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA. ;)


So I was sitting on ze bus this morning, jamming out to Morning Musume '14's latest compilation of awesome, 14章~The message~ (which has been keeping me sane...much to my boyfriend's squealing delight, I'm quite sure...), and I had a poofy light bulb moment!

This epiphany wasn't really the kind you get when you come up with a mind-buggeringly amazing idea; it was the more subtle kind that happens when you finally figure out how to talk about something that's been bugging the crap out of you for AGES. I've had, like, 3 drafts lurking in my blog queue about the super-irksome issue of oshimen/oshihen/ranking, but none of them ever left the draft stage because they just plain didn't sound right to me.

That was before a bunch of awesome people went to the MM'14 concert in New York (still très jealous, guys) and met some of our favorite girls.

And also some of our (formerly) least.

Pictured: Erstwhile Hate Dumpster.
The US fans who attended the event got me thinking with their reactions to meeting the girls, especially in their thoughtful evaluations of which girl got the least reaction from the crowd (Sakura and Eripon, it seems like, followed closely by Riho), who got the most (Zukki by a landslide), and their impressions after meeting the girls at the handshake event afterward (mostly and happily something along the lines of RIHO IS SO PRECIOUS, I SHALL REPENT OF MY SINFUL WAYS). And in the translations of the girls' evaluations of the New York trip, it gave us a little bit of a window into what is different in fan culture in Japan as opposed to here.

Like all idol fans, I will always be drawn to some members of groups more than others. For some groups, the members in whom I am most interested tends to change at the drop of a hat (like Morning Musume, BiS (WAAH) and Nogizaka46). Others wiggle a bit, but always tend to bring me back to the same girl (like Berryz Kobo, SKE48, and Sakura Gakuin (et al)). And still other groups will, for me, always be haunted by the graduation of that one girl whose loss I will never get over, and my attention to the group will never be the same (like AKB48 and Momoclo FFS IT HAS BEEN ALMOST 4 YEARS AND STILL AUGH).

And like most idol fans, I've enjoyed playing a ranker every so often. But I've had a huge problem with the idea of oshimen/oshihen for a long time. And I think now is the perfect time to say why.  Without further ado, here are the 6 reasons why I've decided I can no longer spend precious mental or emotional energy ranking members of idol groups.

6. My (and *your*) reasons for not liking certain idols may never be proven justifiable or not.

First off, like in the case of Riho in New York, it's really hard to gauge how much you like a girl unless you meet them. Who knows, you could be dead wrong about who you think you like and who you aren't so fond of.

Second: In my almost 6 years of being an idol fan, there have only been two girls I have grown not just to dislike or be uninterested in, but outright loathe. Those members are former Morning Musume Kamei Eri and current S/mileage leader Wada Ayaka. I have similar reasons for harboring an irrevocable dislike for both of them, and I know that there is precious little that can be done to change my mind.

With Ayaka, it began with a (possibly) questionably-translated comment she made a while ago about disliking foreigners. I tried to look past that, and see her awesome skills as a leader and mentor to her kouhai, and later as an active part of revamping S/mileage and bringing in the 3rd generation. I tried so damn hard, and if you look back through this blog, you'll find several places where I did so, and valiantly. But in the end, no amount of research showed me anything proving this comment was badly translated, or that it meant anything other than what it means. All I found was a trove of idle speculation. And I can't let go of my resentment based on badly-sourced faith.

With Eri, it was very similar. So...you guys remember this little incident in 2010? Yeah, Sayu and Reina both issued apologies, but I heard approximately JACK from Eri. I have zero patience for racism. Period, end of story.

BUT (seriously, read the but):

This point is not about whether my assumptions about these girls are correct. What this is about is my own inability to prove that my assumptions either are or aren't correct. I read/understand just enough Japanese to allow me to navigate searches, recognize important and recurring phrases and recognize names. I am limited in my understanding.

Furthermore, I don't have time at this point in my life to rectify this. Would that I did, would that I could. I recognize that I myself am an unreliable source on this, and that I can't reasonably expect myself to be right. Therefore, why should I spend time making a stupid numbered list predicated partly on information that might not be sound?

(Allowing ourselves to do this is where all these nasty -isms start in the first place. And I don't wanna be that guy.)

Speaking of information we don't have...

5. Idols are human beings. Seriously.

Have you guys seen the Girls Live footage of Eripon's handshake line? Seriously, Have. You. Seen. This. Be prepared to be brokoro in the kokoro.

So think for a second about the reactions each girl gets at events. How must it feel not to be Riho or Sayu or Mizuki? Some people have argued that, because idol culture is so hugely staged, Eripon's sad face in this clip was staged as well. I can see the point of arguing that, but I'll be honest here: that argument is inhuman and cynical and y'all should be ashamed. 


Come. On.
That face is not the face of someone who is acting sad to get attention. That is not the face of someone who has been told to ham it up for the camera. That is not a publicity stunt, even if, in the end, it was intended to be. (I know; that sounds really confusing, but it makes sense to me) This is the face of someone who is trying very hard to keep herself together to avoid showing the world how awful she feels.

I can't support bringing girls who aren't your/my/our favorites to their knees after a show after not getting as much attention as the others. As heartening as it was to see Suzuki Kanon flip her lid during the reaction she got on stage in New York, it sucked to think about the attention she is NOT getting back home. I can't support that kind of treatment of the less high-profile members, and I won't. 

It doesn't matter if I will never truly *know* the girls' personal heartbreak while they are part of the industry, nor does it matter to me the degree to which being an idol is staged or not. I can't flip that magical "give a shit" switch some fans seem to have. (Sorry, it's true.) Barf.

Which brings me to my next point...

4. Idol culture sets certain people up for failure while propelling others to crazy-go-nuts stardom. And it has yet to apologize either for or to the young women left behind.

We all know this, but the shitty part is that we can't yet say precisely why that is the case.

(Random side note: I love being able to write blog posts like this because I can't yet pepper my academic work with expletives without getting boned for it. Tenure is weird. :D )

One thing we all love about idol culture is how inclusive it can be, and how diverse the girls are. Anyone can be an idol, because everyone has their own talents just waiting to be drawn out. For some young women, being an idol is the perfect way to work this out.

Example 1: Tsugunaga Momoko is taking her idol badassery to the next level by becoming a manager for Country Girls because her time in Berryz Kobo showed both the world and herself what she is awesome at: herding cats and being a great, self-effacing and graceful stage personality. And I admire the crap out of her choice to stay in the industry.

Example 2: Matsui Sakiko may not be most people's conventional idea of a good-looking girl (UGH RAGE FUCK THAT SHIT...er...um...sorrymovingalongnow) or amazing singer, but she works magic at the piano. The idol industry helped her explore that further and showcase it beautifully.

More pianists named Matsui in the world is also a very right and godly thing, too.
But the girls who are left behind and forgotten far outnumber those who succeed, especially in the wake of the -48 epidemic. The stories that have come out recently about "lower tier" members' (the very existence of such a label being in and of itself another value judgement) struggles to make it in the 48 groups or in smaller indie groups scream that something has to change. These young women don't deserve to have to and work 2 jobs and live on the street to make their dream. No one does.

Conversely, idols who become über-popular (sometimes because of OMG DUH TALENT; and sometimes for nebulous reasons I'm not culturally savvy enough to understand) get somewhat of a golden ticket to success.* (I'm thinking about Maeda Atsuko, Yaguchi Mari and Takahashi Ai in particular.)

*But often times, this success is limited to their time in the industry, and it tends not to carry over well because...

3. The objectification of (particularly female) idols hinders their ability to move further in their careers.

When I say "objectification," I don't mean it in the Western media theory sense of viewing people as merely pretty things to look at (although there is a lot Lot  LOT of that going on as well). I'm talking about how idol culture tends to turn idols into ad hoc objets d'art, meaning that, vis-à-vis fan talk and industry presentation, idols are given purpose through being metaphorically transformed into demigods of openly appreciated (and very detailed) beauty.

I have to say that I've always found something truly artistic about how idol culture discusses individual women as being ideals of beauty--whether that beauty is physical, in their talent, in their personality, or in their constructed cultural value as good people. It is artistic, nuanced, and sometimes beautiful and quite positive. There is something particularly moving about seeing these young people on the verge of fulfilling their adult dreams discussed and viewed so thoroughly.

But just because a thing is artistic, poetic, or other such thing doesn't automatically make the thing A Universally Good Thing. Once the shiny box of an idol's role is painted with her talents and personality traits, the girls tend to get locked into it, and it is the more popular idols who become trapped to a greater extent than the less popular ones...

...unless said less popular girls go into AV...

Yonezawa Rumi, formerly of AKB48
If you click the link, you'll be greeted by a prime example of talk that happens when the non-megastar idols get dismissed for not staying in their pure little idol boxes. It has become NORMAL in the idol fandom to think like this, not to MENTION the vomit-inducingly Puritanical way sex is viewed within the idol fandom and idol culture in general.

And of course, there's whole books written about the male gaze and women's sexuality and stigma around sex work and...things that will truly make this post TL;DR if I get started.

Placing such value in popularity and ranking creates the perfect environment for the devaluation of these immensely hard-working young women to thrive. Speaking of hard work and sacrifice...

2. Being an idol is goddamn hard

We've already gone over a lot of reasons why being an idol is no cakewalk. Haven't even mentioned the long hours, countless live events, not to mention those crazy girls like Suzuki Airi and Momo, who juggle university AND their hugely successful idol careers. Good god, I've already almost lost my nut by juggling work, chorale, grad school, etc....bleh.

These girls NEED fan support. They NEED to know they are appreciated. All of them. Not just the ones you're most drawn to.

Plus, those of you with theater experience know that acting is hard. Imagine having to do it 24/7.

1. The concept of oshimen is TOXIC AND NEEDS TO CHANGE.

So yeah, this opinion might get me shot, buuuuuuut

Now, I like some of the awesomeness that comes with the term "oshimen." I like calling Mitsui Aika and Akimoto Sayaka my eternal oshis. I like it because it sounds catchy, it's a fandom inside term, and, well, those two girls will always have a special place in my heart.

But the concept of what an oshimen is, how to oshi, and the stigma around oshihen Need. To. Go. Like, Yesterday-ish.

To oshihen, in really strict (and some a little less strict) idol fan circles, is a sin only outclassed by murdering your grandparents or liking Justin Bieber. And to say that I find that icky is a GROSS understatement.


In a lot of circles, once you pick an oshimen, you pledge to support her all the time, no matter what, to your grave. To buy another idol's fan goods, or attend another idol's handshake event, or (to some) to even LOOK at another idol like she's awesome are verboten. You pledge yourself to her. You are, to borrow a term from geisha culture (SORRY, BUT IT WORKS HERE...), her danna. And if you oshihen, it's like you're actively cheating on your significant other.

Now think about that for a second.  Let that *really* sink in.

It's true that these examples illustrate the most extreme fan behavior. When you get right down to it, all these extreme behaviors border on stalking, if they're not already. To hardcore oshimen, they basically, in their headsmarry their oshis.  Without the girl's consent, the fan makes her the focal point of his life; his reason for being. There is no universe in which acting out this fantasy should be considered right or normal. But unfortunately, while far (far, far) from every fan approaches oshimen like this, this behavior is more or less brushed aside, accepted in a toned-down form, and otherwise not talked about, and thus oshimen is just accepted as another part of being an idol fan.

The narrative of "these women are just the girls next door" is sold by the industry (run mostly by men) and bought in bulk by (mostly male) fans, but it was, at least originally, just meant to create a fantasy playland in which people could escape from their stressful lives a bit. It was meant to be fun and harmless.

It's not anymore.

In its current form, the idea of oshimen is fucked up, and it needs to stop. The definition of oshimen has to change, and fans have to talk about it because the complacency of fans is half the problem.

Need more convincing? How about this: most idols are underage girls. If the lack of consent surrounding stricter oshimen behavior wasn't enough, that should be.

I can't reconcile ranking, popularity and oshimen with my idol fandom anymore. I love the music and the fun culture that idols make, and the theatricality of it all is part of its charm, and part of what makes being an idol fan fun. But if we really love our girls, we need to treat them as human beings instead of goods to be bought, sold and coveted.

Edit: Discuss! Share ideas! Say things! You can do it! :D

Another edit: You are welcome to tell me I'm wrong or be angry at my opinion. Just be classy about it ;)

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Let's talk social science! Part 1: "The body of the colonizer"

This is something of a continuation of my thoughts from the Avril Lavigne "Hello Kitty" discussion.  Possibly NSFW due to some images of underwear models, proceed at your own discretion.

(Love, peace, and inter-cultural chicken grease.)

Before we get started, I'd like us to remember that there have been a number of fantastic posts and perspectives on the topic of Avril Lavigne, cultural appropriation and othering in the past few days, and y'all should take a peek at at least some of them.  I'm trying to curate as many as I can here: we'll see if I can come close to getting them all :P :
I argued in my last installment that while Lavigne's video does engage in a bit of cultural appropriation (coming close to minstrelsy), it needs to be considered with nuance, and considered with Lavigne's background in mind as well before we tar and feather her for acting the weeaboo (a term I find grossly offensive for a number of reasons).

However, even though I defended Lavigne's choices in the "Hello Kitty" video, there is still much to discuss on the topic of cultural appropriation and ignorance (a term which I use in the most literal sense; not pejoratively).  Thus, therefore, hence and suchthings, I'm going to put my professorish hat on and address a few social science topics with a J-pop bent over the next...oh...week or so?  We will see how timely I can be :D

So, we're going to kick off this series (there will be at least one more part, if not two or three) with a somewhat controversial topic.  Why is it controversial, you ask?

Well, if you're reading this, and you're white of European descent, you're about to find out :P  

"The Body of the Colonizer"

(A cuppa for the empire your thoughts?)

When I was in India in 2008, one of the first things my prof told our group was to be conscious of the fact that, as people of European descent traveling where we were, we had "the body of the colonizer," and we needed to be mindful and respectful of that in our interactions with people and places.  This is very useful advice for people like us traveling in South Asia, because much of it (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Singapore, to name a few) was under British imperial control for quite a long time, and life was not sunshine and roses for many people native to these regions during this time.

India in particular was under control of the British Raj from 1858-1947, and before that, controlled by the East India Company from 1600 or so on.  In these nearly 400 years that the people in these regions lived under British rule, they lived with many things typical to the phenomenon of colonialism: things including, but not limited to:
  • Religious conversion (and all the threats to one's livelihood, personal autonomy, and spiritual growth that go along with this)
  • Slavery/indentured servitude
  • The imposition of laws which were based on a way of life that was not that of the land
  • The slow, slow degradation of relations between people of different traditions who already lived in the area.
This is an UBER-ULTRA-MEGA SHORT introduction to what colonialism and imperialism are (two subtly different terms), and the effects it has on the people touched by it.  This is also a prompt for you to go out and do some research on it, since I can't give a very extensive world history lesson in just one post :P  And India is far from the only place touched by European colonialism and imperialist ambitions.  Some other regions of interest:
  • South America: Chile and Argentina are the most famous examples by far, but the tiny country of Suriname also has a very entangled history with Dutch colonialism.
  • Australia and the people of Tasmania
  • New Zealand: If you haven't seen "Cloud Atlas" or "The Piano," well, here's your chance to get a quick glimpse into to mid-19th-century anthropology without sentencing yourself to death by academic writing (Trust me, it's fascinating stuff, but incredibly dry and jargony and racist and....yeah).
  • South Africa
  • Kenya: Wanna know how Nairobi became the capital?  Or what the word "nairobi" means? Well, go read about it!
  • Mount Lebanon circa 1839-1860ish: A good area to see not only what European colonialism's goals were, but Ottoman imperialism as well, which was at least as influential as the Europeans, but most Westerners aren't well-acquainted with that unless they've read a metric buttload of orientalists.
  • Israel/Palestine: See how I deftly avoided a massive Godwin here? (Wait, did I just jinx it?)
  • North Fucking Muricuh: Yeah, bitches, I went there.
  • South Korea: particularly how Christianity took so quickly after the Korean War in the 1950s.
  • And, of course, Japan.  Though this is much more a discussion on imperialism than colonialism.
The hardest thing for many people of European descent to consciously acknowledge when traveling abroad is not the fact that icky things happened between people who look like us and people who look like them; but rather that these things are still ingrained in the collective memories of other cultures; and that sometimes, trying to do as the Romans (or Delhites, or Johannesburgers, or Singaporeans, or Tokyoites) do just may not be enough to erase all prejudice.

Or annoyance.

Or fear.

To have the body of the colonizer means that one looks like part of a group of people who exert/had exerted undue power or dominance or lots and lots of influence over another.

As a person of European descent, I look like British women who employed Indian maids in their wealthy households.  I look like Dutch women who hired African people to work her (husband's) land for little to no pay.  I look like the the people who owned the sugar cane fields in Hawaii in the early 20th century.  I look like the disrespectful, ignorant American women who saw photos of geisha after the war, thought their outfits were lovely and exotic, and put on "kimono," etc., for costume parties or for fun or to make themselves look worldly and well-traveled.

And so does Avril Lavigne.

And so, quite likely, do you.

(What's pink, black, white, and obnoxious all over?)

Here we see the interaction (read: T-boning...) of two cultures who have a tense shared history.  

"...But wait...Avril's Canadian, not American!" you might say.  

Well, at first glance (our *first impulse;* that evil, seductive little trickster to whom no sentient being is immune), that doesn't matter.  On a philosophical level, it might, but immediately, it just doesn't.  That argument simply has no place here.  Why? (And here's where, for the sake of simplicity, I'm going to get super pretentious...) Because she is phenotypically similar to a people with a history of conflict with Japan.  

We're going to get super cuddly with this fun little technical word because, well, it's a lot more concise than "she looks different" or "she's not part of their race ethnicity," or worse "she's white."

Avril's phenotype matches that of Americans, and is also somewhat similar to the Portuguese researchers/missionaries/traders who started nosing around in feudal Japan in 1543.  (Note: this is a group of people whose appearance is VERY well-documented by Japanese writers of the time.) 

Let's go back to our other buzzword: cultural appropriation.  The reason that using/being outwardly fond of images that don't match one's phenotypically-assumed culture (yes, that's really all I think it boils down to), especially if *your phenotype has had a tense history with *their phenotype (PHENOTYPES ERRWHER, YOU GUYS), is problematic (holy shit, this sentence is already 4 lines long...) is because of how the colonizers tended to regard and use the cultures they encountered.

A very simplistic definition of cultural appropriation is "is the seizing of another culture without their consent. " (source, and great article, though the author uses the term "Orientalist" somewhat incorrectly. #foreshadowing) The word "seizing" is a bit absolutist and lacking nuance, but in some cases it is absolutely true.

And in some cases, a definition that sounds startlingly close to a definition of rape is exactly the kind of wake-up call our culture needs. 

(No means no.)

The ignorant use of cultural iconography reflects a time when that kind of laissez-faire attitude toward the exotic other was the norm in Western cultures, and while these attitudes are changing; while other cultures are no longer widely regarded as "aww look at the cute widdle primitive people," cultural appropriation is still a problem that needs to be addresssed because we are taking that for granted.

For a very long time, Western colonialists had a nasty habit of talking about the cultures they encountered politely as being "quaint," "exotic," or "unchanging;" and not-so-politely as "backward," "barbaric," or "simple."  Many writings by early European explorers, imperial ambassadors, anthropologists, tradesmen, travel writers, and even novelists will speak of South and East Asian cultures as though the people are children or highly intelligent animals, and that attitude has not completely disappeared in some circles.

The reality of the world we live in is that if you are of European descent, you have an especial responsibility to be aware of that fact; to be aware that we have the body of the colonizer.  (This is not to say that this is right or good or beneficial to the progress of humanity, per se.  It just *is.*)  And this, right here, is why we find ourselves so concerned with Lavigne's video.  And whether or not our criticisms on that matter are entirely founded, we should be concerned about it anyway.  We need to be critical about these things.  


(Kaylee the cat seems to think there is!)

There really is a happy part for us young Euro-type folks when it comes to fucking up the cultural appropriation *thing.*  


**I went to a conference on activism as an undergrad way back in 2009, and one of the workshops I went to was about diversity.  Even in Wyoming, only half-ish of the people who went were Euro-types.  But we had a blast.  We did exercises in pairs to demonstrate a metaphor about white privilege, and we talked about it without judgment.  But after talking about history and civil rights and everything in between, I became very, very conscious of the color of my skin and the shape of my eyes.

And it hurt.  A lot.

I went into the bathroom and cried for a while (yeah, I'm a bit of a touchy-feely super-sensitive type like that), and when I was certain I didn't look all puffy and shamey anymore, I walked out...just as one of the workshop leaders walked in.  She was Native American and worked for the counseling department, and was just an overall awesome person.  And when I saw her, the waterworks started all over again.  Yeah, it was kinda gross :P

She asked me what was wrong, and I just told her that I felt horrid about...well, what I was, basically.  I told her I hated the history of people who looked like me, who lived like me, who had access to the kind of lives that I might have.  And all she did was put her arms around me and say:

"That is a history.  That is not your history."**

Stay tuned for part 2: "Orientalism"  :D  LATERZ!

BiS' last hurrah...

(Pictured: the current incarnation of my abandonment issues)

For those of you who've been waiting to see resident paradigm-subverters BiS in bikinis on the beach making all cute-like, take a moment to appreciate "FiNAL DANCE," and revel in all its idoly glory.

Because it's our last chance :(

(And is Nozoshan not just the most adorable thing ever?! #biasfreeposting)

The video is a great way to look back at all the awesome PV moments BiS has had over the years, so you should watch it, if nothing else, for that.

I will admit, I have been so busy behind piles of grad school that I haven't had time to look into exactly why this wonderful group is leaving us forever crying into our oshi towels, but I've never been so sad to see a group go.  BiS has been one of my favorite idol groups for a long time, so I figure it's okay to make a tribute post without much research this time :P

BiS brought a gritty kind of weirdness to the idol scene, which along with their awesome metal-punkish sound was one of the things that drew me to them.  Their music is pretty fantastic, and not just by idol standards, and that kind of quality has proven itself to have staying power.  (Not to mention being a really refreshing pocket of fresh air in a market suffocated by the miasma of the 48s.)  BiS has also given us a wonderful soloist in the form of Terashima Yufu, who was my oshi until she graduated.  And y'all should check her first single out (released in February this year): she has a really gorgeous voice and an anime-ish sound which reminds me a little of another awesome band you guys should check out: fhana.

Avex has been very kind to us fans on this occasion, and made a pretty complete playlist of all BiS' singles, so if you have not yet gotten addicted to these girls, here's your chance to start!

Best of luck in your futures, ladies.  We will miss your awesome faces :P

Friday, April 25, 2014

Kitties, kawaiis and half-shaves, oh my.

(If you're uncomfortable with sexual topics or controversy or bad words, I'd stay away from this post.  I really have no idea why I'm putting this warning here now...as opposed to every other post with strong language and sex and sarcasm I've ever done...I'm in a mood today :P )

(You know what?  I WILL take that cupcake fight!)

Can I make a confession, guys?  I've...kinda sorta...beenlisteningtothissongonrepeat IT'S CATCHY AND FUN, OKAY? JEEZ  :D

I remember back in 2002, when I was 15, a junior in high school, and dating a particularly...um...bad match: Avril Lavigne's "I'm With You" was my melancholy self-indulgent coping teen anthem of choice.  Now, in 2014, this song which seems to be about about slumber parties and mutual masturbation (OH NOES, THE LYRICS HAVE BEEN DECODED, HIDE YOUR KIDS) just kinda sounds nice and is a mindless kind of addictive that I can just zone out to while doing my homework in the espresso.

You know what the only thing that really worries me about this song (or video) is?  The fact that Lavigne's material in 2002 and 2014 is disturbingly...similar.  I mean...a 29-year-old woman singing about girlhood slumber parties? ...I dunno, I'm not so much a fan of that.  My 15-year-old self might have been able to relate to it on a level, but my 26-year-old self?  Noooooot so much.  Lavigne has been content to hang out in the milieu of early 2000s youth culture since her debut, and that bothers me a bit.

I'm even LESS a fan of the "like a fat kid on a pack of Smarties" bit.  There is a lot of waxing sociological to be done on the subject of fat shaming, but I'm not going to go into that right now. I just kinda wanna bop Avril upside her half-shave and ask "Dude, what was that about?"  If you're singing to young people in that age group (the people who speak your language, anyway, since we're also going to be addressing such things here), the very LAST thing you should be doing is giving them cultural justification for bullying.  Some similes just need to die, and this is one of them.

However...racist is the last word I would use to describe this song and this video for a number of reasons, and anyone who is familiar with me or my writing will know that I have absolutely no patience for that.  (Hence my continued and intense dislike for the un-apologetic Kamei Eri and Wada Ayaka).

(OH THE APPROPRIATIONEY HORROR!!!!  This comparison brought to you by every J-pop fan in the world forever.)

Okay, let's talk about cultural appropriation.  So...yeah...anyone remember this?

(Complete tripe, courtesy of 2010 T-ara)

You wanna talk about cultural appropriation, disrespect and insensititvity?  Then talk about this piece.

Particularly in the US, discourse around cultural appropriation and fetishizing the exotic other has gone mainstream, and this is a very, very good thing.  Both of these phenomena have a history of trying to put lipstick on racism, and bringing them to light and forcing people to talk about them is awesome.  But there comes a point when nuance becomes *a thing,* and the sooper-smart-and-worldly-you-guys Tumblr exegetes need to cram their holier-than-thou bullshit up a sun-deprived orifice of choice.

Now let's make sure we are completely clear on what "nuance" means.  I'm going to use a super graphicky and high-tech screenshot of the definition of the word, because...well I dunno...looking at how super-formal the format of dictionaries is and how the phonemes are included in definitions makes me feel all smart and transcendent and...I think it looks fucking poetic, okay?!

(Yes, I recognize that I am being a condescending git right now, but just work with me :P )

The spectrum of the meaning of cultural appropriation contains many shades of the "ism," and just as many shades of hypocrisy.  One minute, a person (usually of the on-the-internet persuasion) will be talking about (for example) how Lavigne is using Japanese culture to get attention, she's doing it all wrong, she doesn't get it, she...this that and t'other because they respect the culture or some such and by goll, they know what they're talking about!  

And the next, they will be pointing to a very clearly European descent white girl and looking down their nose at her because she's wearing a hijab or a Hindu head scarf or a mini skirt and thigh-highs or some such else.  

Yes, I have actually seen this happen, and I have actually known people like this. And I also have first-hand experience:

This is a photo of myself taken in 2009.  Notice the bindi on my forehead.  You know, the thing that least "matches" my European ethnicity?  I posted this photo on the forums of an MMO I was playing at the time, and a...discussion...about cultural appropriation ensued. But it was not the socially-conscious kind we'd all like to think discussions of such a type are.  No, you know what happened?  I got called a "sand-wigger."  I ask you this: how the hell is that not exactly the opposite of what it means to be culturally conscious?

On one hand, talking about cultural appropriation has brought our attention to ways in which the naive and underinformed use of other cultures' iconography can be hurtful.  But on the other hand, the very term "cultural appropriation" can be used in an equally ignorant and bigoted way, and I think that's partly what is happening with Lavigne's video.

Now here's where I'm going to be kind of  arrogant and compare my situation to hers. I still wear bindis on occasion because I really dig some of the cultural lore behind them, but mostly because I just like them and think they're pretty.  I also got said bindis while I was in India for three weeks in 2007, after studying Indian women's issues in my spare time and in a class I took for my gender studies degree.  Indian culture is something I find incredibly beautiful and interesting (for the most part, but that is far, far beyond the scope of this blog entry), and I feel a connection to it.  And to a qualified extent, GET it.

What is wrong with that? 

Objectively, ethically, logically, what, I implore you?  I'm all ears.  Just don't expect me not to roll my eyes.

Avril Lavigne is very public about the fact that she likes Japanese culture, as many. many people over here do.  And people who've kept up with Oricon over the years will know that she is a Big Fucking Deal in Japan.  She has a lot of fans over there, and she made the "Hello Kitty" video with the help of Japanese choreographers for those fans to thank them for their support over the years. Lavigne kind of "gets" Japanese culture in the same way that I "get" Indian culture: no, we are not insiders.  We do not have an inborn personal connection to a heritage of beautiful cultural symbols.  But each one of us is kind of connected to it, and she is more so because she is actually known over there; she is a public figure.  I'm just some schmuck :P  I don't blame her for being defensive about the backlash.

(Matsui Rena approves.)

No, neither one of us gets our itty bits of cultural appropriation "right." I mean for gods' sake, she puts sake over ice in the video.  Like, totally ew.  But: I also don't wear salwar kameez or sarees each day I choose to stick on a bindi for the sake of pretty, nor do I pray in Sanskrit (or pray at all), nor do I do yoga as often as perhaps I should.  I also have a very prominent tattoo of Japanese character, and one of a Hebrew letter, which would make anyone who knows even the smallest thing about Judaism laugh. A lot.

Also: how about all that English we see in the lyrics of every idol group we follow?  What about their own kinds of cultural appropriation?  Cases in point:

Remember when PASSPO put out their "world music" singles, which included the "L.A. metal" styled Next Flight, or the above example, the German-metal-themed "WING?"  And remember how talking about the musical and aesthetic stylings of each piece was really fun and awesome?

Or, for a more recent example of the use of very non-Japanese iconography in idol music, how about Tokyo Girl's Style's latest, quite, lovely offering, "Juujika ~Eiga?"  I'll just let you watch it, I really don't need to explain it: http://youtu.be/5QjACk4qM6g

What about all those fashionable bikinis with the American flag on them?  (So totes against the flag code, y'all :P ) Or the British flag?  Remember when Christina Aguilera, a decidedly white girl with no connection to Latino culture, used a butt-ton of Spanish and Latino imagery in certain songs on her "Stripped" album?  How about this beautiful use of Native American chanting (on one of my favorite guilty-pleasure albums, Creed's "Weathered"):

We don't get shit right all the time.  But no one really does, and that's part of the beauty of a global village.  We are all getting things wrong together, we are all understanding them and learning about them together, we are all creating new culture and common ground together.

I ask you again: what is wrong with that?

Is "Hello Kitty" an amazing piece of artistry?  No, not really.  But the reaction to the cultural imagery Lavigne uses is 10 shades of stupid.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Berryz Kobo confuses the crap out of the universe. And also fatness?

(Day 134: The lovely adult women of Berryz Kobo continue to blend with the natives.  No one suspects that they are not, in fact, obese hippos.  Except Tsunku, maybe???)

When the live footage for Berryz' new primary A-side, "1-Oku 3-Senman Sou Diet Oukoku," ("130-Million Diet-Minded Country/Kingdom") was released, I could not help but be a little confused.  Berryz has always been the "strange sounding" group in Hello! Project (ok, well, at least since the girls hit puberty >_< ), but this...



Yeah, I don't really have a word for what it was.

The sound of the new single was nothing short of spaceballs weird.  Not even an unpleasant weird; the kind of weird that makes a statement and forces you to listen to it whether you like it or not.  There is just *something* about certain ways of arranging and keying music that leaves even the most geeky of music geeks without a way to describe that feeling one gets when the mere sound of a song leaves one with more questions than answers.


So, beyond the sound, the most talked-about thing in this song is, of course, the lyrics.  They are catchy, of course (NENGARANENJUU!!!!!!!), but...well...


What the hell is going on with the lyrics, anyway?  "Everyone is on a diet all the time"//"Run for health"//"Run to eat"//"When people turn 60 they are all, like, FUCK I'M OLD AND I STILL NEED TO BE SKINNY FOR REASONS BUT NOT JUST THAT BECAUSE SUBTEXT" (rough paraphrase :D )

(These lyrics, you guys.  Momo just can't.)

So what do we make of this song?  This really is a one-of-a-kind thing from H!P.  The lyrics talk bluntly about Japan's eating/non-eating habits, and especially these days with "chubby" (LOL WUT) idols becoming more prominent (e.g. Avex's new group "Chubbiness," Suzuki Kanon being named a favorite "fat" celebrity...), this is a big deal.

But why?

That's what I want to know.  Why?


Was it *gasp* a clever Tsunku ploy to further shame the "fat girls" in Berryz?  (In case you missed his "heavy weight members" comment in a press conference a little while ago, you can see the translation here.)  

(Pictured: MOO. Like, totes.)

As unlikely as that is (really, it is very unlikely), I can still see it being a possibility.  Fat shaming is a thing in the idol world and the idol fandom, and we all know it (even though I would hardly consider any of the girls considered "heavy" by Japanese fans to actually be that, and most foreign fans would agree).  But come on--forcing the group to perform a song like that out of shame?!  That's a bit far fetched.  Thank His Noodly Appendage.

Social commentary, perhaps?  Maybe subtly remarking on the frightening fact that the incidence of eating disorders among young Japanese people has skyrocketed in the past few years?  Eh, more likely, but also doubtful.  But honestly, if any idol group started to make songs involving social commentary of any kind, I would kind of expect it to come from H!P.  

(Or BiS, but I digress...)

Why? Well, maybe because half of H!P has been in the industry for 10+ years now: it's kind of like having tenure--once you're that established, it doesn't matter how bad your reviews are, you're there to stay unless you blow up a bus full of nuns in the parking lot of a puppy shelter.

Or maybe it's just a fun song about culture and running around outside and eating healthy and enjoying life and things!  Wouldn't that be nice?!

I think so!  And I am delighted to say that I find this to be the most likely theory, in spite of my own overly critical face.  Honestly, I can see "1-Oku 3-Senman Sou Diet Oukoku" existing for a little of each theory, plus some other songwriterly shenanigans I can scarce begin to imagine.  

In any case, Berryz is off to a freaking bang this year.  I loved all of Morning Musume's redonkulass triple bloody A-side, but Berryz has me much more interested so far this year.  Which is really awesome.

Because seriously, ROCK Erotic is kind of a terrible song.