Thursday, August 7, 2014

Soft Power or Soft Porn?


UnCool Japan 

What does Japan fear most?  Earthquakes?  Typhoons?  Nuclear disaster? The Chinese?  No -- it's being 'uncool".

As a result, the Japanese government  is big on "soft power" these days  -as in  Cool Japan,  a massive 'nation branding" program funded with a slush fund of at least half a billion dollars.  

"Soft power"?  Close to  "soft porn" sometimes, but -- hey -- you gotta work with what you got. This (apparently) is how Japan intends to rule the world.

 Ummm...this is also the country famous for having the lowest rates of sex in  Asia.

Where dancing and vaginas (really!) are illegal.


Where Did It Start?

As usual I am confused -- and lazy -- so I turned to Wikipedia:

In a 2002 article in Foreign Policy entitled "Japan's Gross National Cool," Douglas McGray wrote of Japan "reinventing superpower" as its cultural influence expanded internationally despite the economic and political problems of the "lost decade."

Surveying youth culture and the role of J-pop, manga, anime, fashion, film, consumer electronics, architecture, cuisine, and phenomena of cuteness such as Hello Kitty, McGray highlighted Japan's considerable soft power, posing the question of what message the country might project. He also argued that Japan's recession may even have boosted its national cool, due to the partial discrediting of erstwhile rigid social hierarchies and big-business career paths.

Right! Japan is projecting a modernist image.  Got that!  I'm educated.  I watched Kill Bill, too.

Yeah, "Cool Japan". Japan's message .  "Perfectly reproduced" thanks to ad companies.   But it  was invented by a foreigner - imported -- we'll ignore that.  

Personally, I think McGray was in the pay of the North Koreans.  There is nothing "cool" about adolescent violence porn and pedophilia.

But I digress (as usual).

Blame the Brits

As in all cases of cultural dissonance, one can just blame the Brits, who invented it.

"Cool Japan" was not exactly original to McGray, who was clearly thinking of  "Cool Britannia" -- a slogan invented by Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band and popularized later by Ben and Jerry Ice Cream.

 Once again, since I am an unhireable academic,  I turn to Wikipedia.

The phrase "Cool Britannia" was first used in 1967 as a song title by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band  The phrase "Cool Britannia" reappeared in early 1996 as a registered trade mark for one of Ben & Jerry's ice-creams, and as used by the media and in advertising, it seemed to capture the cultural renaissance of London at the time (as celebrated in a 1996 Newsweek magazine cover headlined "London Rules".   The election of Blair's Labour government in 1997 on a platform of modernisation, with Blair as a relatively young Prime Minister, gave the idea fresh currency.

The use of this term was similar to that of "Swinging London" for the boom in art, fashion and popular music during the early years of Harold Wilson's Labour government. Such a parallel was apt as, like Blair, Wilson was considered a relatively young Prime Minister, his administration ended an extended period of Conservative governments (tarnished in the latter period by scandal), and his early tenure coincided with a period of economic prosperity. Many of the creative industries labelled as Cool Britannia were avowedly inspired by the music, fashion and art of the 1960s.

To the extent that it had any real meaning, "Cool Britannia" referred to the transient fashionable London scene: clubs included the Ministry of Sound and the underground megatripolis at Heaven

 "Cool Britannia" was just a buzzword or buzz phrase that captured the already international success of British pop culture --generated largely by individual creativity.  "Cool Japan", however, was a slogan promoted  by ad companies look Dentsu.

"Cool Britannia" was generated bottom up: Britain had a genuine "youth culture".

By contrast, "Japan Cool" was created by a cohort of middle-aged men in white shirts and ties. Whereas   British creativity began "underground" -- as adolescent rebellion and non-conformity: Japanese pop culture is formulated in elevators, as conformist and control, a way of brainwashing the young.

AJB48 Singer Shaves Head In Penance for Breaking Dating Rule

The iconic J-Pop group AKJ48 who covert on state in their underwear can't even date, their lives micro-managed by middle-aged salarymen in the the wings.

The British, for all their faults, actually have sex.  Japan is a jerk-off culture--literally.  Which is not surprising:   all social control begins with sex. And what are you left with, when you can't do it/

Fifty Shades of McGray

Yes, Britain was cool. Japan?  Un- cool.

Let me count the ways..... (Well, some of them, tediously)

First of all, promoting yourself as "cool" is just so "not there". 

Second, it is uncharacteristic of the traditionally modest Japanese.  It makes them seem like cultural whores-- just trying to look "in" when they are pathetically "out", flashing your privates on the street.  
Third, in no way has there been any "discrediting" of Japan's "social hierarchies" or "big business career paths" -- whose power is increased by inequality as social mobility is reduced.  Everybody still wants that stuff -- high paying jobs and status--  just it's not so easy to get.  The Iron Triangle lives on.

So, maybe McGray was a wee bit overenthusiastic.  Overwhelmed perhaps by the charms of Hello Kitty?   On the other hand,  his ideas won a him some trips to Japan and air time on NHK.  And the idea really got on.  Oh, if I could only be more like McGray.

Just keep in mind that budget -- a half billion dollars, probably more.  No money for survivors of the Fukushima disaster of course.

They are not photogenic.  And the TV stations and ad companies will do an ISIS on you if you talk about them.

 The Obvious 

McGray is a smart man.  He  noticed the obvious.  Which, for Japan watchers, is actually a rare quality.  
No, that is NOT Douglas McGray (But could be)

a.) Japan has lots of young people.  And the girls are cute
b.) As in other countries, ad companies and media market cultural commodities to the     younger demographic to meet their need for denominators of  "coolness'.
c.) While these commodities piggy back local culture they also referencing international cultures.
d.) As a result, Japanese pop culture is sometimes appealing while seeming "original" (temporarily).
 e.) This appeal makes Japanese transient pop culture products marketable

As an intelligent man, McGray put forward his observations in a form that his audience -- Japanese business and government -- would buy.

Had he not -- no one would have paid attention.

But the fact remains, Japan's 'coolness factor"-- understood as J Pop, manga, anime, cosplay and the like -- does not make the country more likeable or powerful.  It communicates no values. It stakes out no position.  Sometimes, it is   entertaining; other times, just oddly adolescent, occasionally, contemptible and fetishistic.

This not in any shape or form "power"-- it does not enhance the national brand.It is a scam.   Not to say that it doesn't have its fans.

"Cool Japan" - A Scam

Asharq Al-Awsat, the leader and "Caliph" of ISIS is (apparently) a fan -- although his bedroom is probably different from the one in the photo above.  He uses a Hello Kitty notebook to brief his hordes on the best ways to murder people!   He likes Hello Kitty -- but - of course -- he hates Japan.   And he would stone AKB48 as shameless sluts without hesitation.  Maybe he likes cats.  Maybe it was the only notebook around.


Japan Cool'  is merely corporate welfare -- with the beneficiaries,  advertising companies and TV stations and their ilk.

As I have said, the "culture" that is being promoted is in fact a commodotized set of products created by ad companies and then sold to the impressionable young.   It is trendy -- and temporary.  Here today, gone tomorrow.   


AKB48 Japan's  Goodwill Ambassadors
"Cool Britain" -- in some perverse way -- showed off the power of the young -- and the immaturity of older people -- it generated not just creative concepts -- but creative values.    "Cool Japan' showcases the immaturity of middle-aged, middle-class people, recycling worn-out memes.

The values?  Un-cool and maybe a little sick.


What the World Sees

It's not like the rest of the world doesn't notice.....

Yup,  the Kawasaki Penis festival....
On the other hand......
Japanese Vagina Artist Jailed
'Nuff said.

No comments:

Post a Comment