Monday, March 30, 2015

Why Cool Japan is Uncool

Last time we talked about PR as a primal activity, in which human beings try to project an image of themselves for some kind of advantage.  We do it. Chimps do it.

It is inherently strategic.  But there are better or worse strategies. And sometimes less is more. 

In the case of "soft power", however, governments' attempts at public diplomacy are inevitably complex:

a.)    Political —somebody is trying to control somebody!
b.)    Reductionist.  Japan is reduced to girl bands and idealizations of the service industry
c.)    Derivative.  The concept of Cool Japan was borrowed and formulated outside of the country
d.)    Deceptive.  The program does not communicate values—but tries to sell products—primarily J Pop and tourism.
e.)    Costly.  One billion dollars.
f.)    Ineffective.  The program does nothing to enhance Japan’s image abroad or improve its clout.

Cool Britannia

But what about Cool Britannia?  It was a success, right? 

Yes, indeedy. But consider the context

And consider also if the critera for governmentally mandated "soft power diplomacy" apply....


Cool Britannia was not created or organized by the Government, although one can see it as influenced by the actions of government in changing social rules -- which allowed it to develop organically.  

Cool Britannia was very much an expression of actual culture—especially, the 1960s youth counter culture—which was about freedom of expression and opportunity, creativity and individuality -- demonstrably cool things.    

In the UK, the advent of the counter culture appeared along with socialist reforms, which whittled away at the restrictions of the class system.  For the first time, education and opportunity were within reach of the young, no matter what their stations in life—and there was a burst of non-conformist originality which continued -- even with the advent of the Dominatrix Maggie Thatcher, and her foot sucker, John Major.

Margaret and John in their younger days
So “Cool Britannia” was political—but anarchistic, if not libertarian and sexy.


 In addition, Cool Britain was  expansive and inclusive— focusing on “out of box” values most obvious in the young – but not just in the young – linking to a much older tradition of respect for eccentricity.


An expression of  local social evolution -- this more fashionable and creative England was -- arguably -- influenced by global trends -- but it was still distinctively British.  The Beatles did LSD and meditation in India and John had Yoko – but they were still Liverpool Lads. 


Nor was it just deceptive marketing of consumer products—pop music or tourism—rather, Cool Britannia communicated values—creativity, nonconformity, originality, freedom, individuality—expanding the national persona.  It was crazy sometimes -- but that was not necessarily made-for-marketing weirdness.


It was also not expensive to the tax payers.  It mostly paid for itself.

The government did not jump on the band wagon—until the movement (if you can call it that)  was almost over and the UK was becoming…well… un-cool—thanks to Thatcher’s version of fifty shades of grey—which would be expanded by George Bush's Toy Boy Tony.  

Cool Japan

Now compare “Cool Japan”.

Politicized—and corrupt

The Prime Minister shills for pre-teen proto sex bands and the Japanese service industry, with its transparently fake omotenashi concept.  Yeah, he needs the political support of the ad and media companies and the big promoters for the Olympics.  Political?  Big time.   And make no mistake -- the bottom line is the profitability of big players in advertising and the media.

Reductive—and conformist

And “Cool Japan” is narrowly reductionist, as you would expect, in a highly conformist society.  The social values and trends seen in anime, manga, J-Pop, and so on are superficial, and often imitative, if not infantilized.  How many anime and manga characters have big, round blue eyes?

Japanese pop-art is to “culture” has many of the characteristics of good porn—it’s designed for frustrated people with no other outlets for emotional expression.

And Japanese movies?

When was the last time  Japan produced a good feature length film?   “Shall We Dance” maybe?    Australia and Scandinavia with much smaller populations produce  superb movies, one after the other -- not to mention,  interesting TV series that are remade for the American market.

Most Japanese movies are so bad—that foreigners scratch their head and judge them good—since they just can’t understand them—and think there must be some method in the madness.   Beat Takeshi (Kitano) a genius?  Really?

Japan arguably has never had a “youth movement” that really generates popular culture. Rather, popular culture is the creation of advertising and media companies. It’s a top-down system appropriate to a conformist culture that values order above all else.  Creativity is largely in adaptation, not in origination.  This is not to say that the Japanese lack creativity  -- just that independent originality is one of those nails that has to be beaten down flat into the wooden floor of social consciousness.

When you recycle shit, you can grow flowers -- but in Japan shit is not recycled -- popular culture is the same fecal matter again and again. 

Derivative – made in the USA – for fetishists

Cool Japan is also derivative—predictably the invention of foreigners.  

First came Colin Gray’s article which borrowed from Bhutan’s concept of Gross National Happiness to assert Japan’s “Gross National Cool”, keeping in mind that “cool” for the Japanese does not have the association of individuality or originality or  non-conformity that it does in English—but rather regimented conformity to match a trend of trends.    This too was a rip-off of Bhutan's concept of Gross National Happiness.

Then, New York Times coined the phrase “Cool Japan”—pointing out the popularity of Japanesey things in the US—from anime to manga to sushi to martial arts—failing to mention  (of course) that the trendiness of Japan was part and parcel of the overall popularity of foreign or exotic things  from Indian food to African design to Australian movies—to Brazilian jiu jitsu to the Dalai Lama -- and --oh yeah -- the fun of dropping bombs on swarthy people in the Middle East.

The foreign view of Japan has remained unchanged: Japan is exotic—weird.  Japanese culture—wonderful for cultural fetishists.  No, we don’t want to understand—because then there would be no magic. It's inverted racism, of course -- but at least inverted.

Such things encourage the grey-haired guys in Japanese ad companies from convincing their friends in the  political class to throw money at “Cool Japan”.

If the foreign world really does not want to understand the Japanese—that’s hunkey-dorey-daijoubu with Japan, which in fact doesn’t want to understand itself.  Ambiguity is protective -- a social foreskin.   

Here we have “tatemae” (face) on an international scale.  Misdirection.  Misinformation.    At some point, of course, the pendulum will swing and the world will learn to hate the Japanese again.

Costly– the rich get richer

"Cool Japan" is both expensive and ineffective.  Spending a billion dollars is a boon for ad and media companies—but they were rich any way.  All that cash will not improve the returns on Japan’s export of fetish products—nor will it bring in hordes of fetishist visitors.  Korean run sushi bars in LA do not generate revenue for Japanese consumers.

What Cool Japan Does Communicate

Ironically, “Cool Japan” does indirectly communicate a lot about Japan—just not what the Japanese want it to—diminishing the country, presenting a society that is conformist, infantilized, rule-driven, and uncritically unaware.  

The image of “kawaii” (cute) and the ultra-bloody, violent images of anime and manga are immature—if primal.  And perfectly match the refusal to own up to WWII atrocities as well as the popularity of rightwing ideologs such as Abe. 

Here’s the thing.  The harder you try to hide – the more you reveal.    The more you pretend, the more likely you are to be found out.  Sham is a shame game.

“Cool Japan” says little about who the country is – but it says a lot of it what it is not.   

Ultimately, "soft power" can not be communicated  by government programs using the media advertising-- the cultural personality of a country is simply too complex - rooted in history on the one hand --and dynamic and evolving on the other -- and simply put: not one thing.

Pickup Artist Group

Government programs that try to project "soft power" -- are all smoke and mirrors, about as "authentic" as a guy trying a line on a pretty girl in a bar.    

But at least pickup artists know that a pose is just a pose. A line is just bullshit.

"Cool Japan" is the guy on a expensive date unaware that he is just posing -- and his date is too. 

And the only one who will  really benefit from this charade is the restaurant, when the bill is paid.  

Spend your money on something that matters. 


Monday, March 23, 2015

Cool Japan as Dating: PR as Primal Behavior

PR as dating….?

Is this just whimsy?

No,  “persuasion” and identity dissociation are primal behaviors intricately tied up with reproduction and the continuance of the species.   

The “dating” metaphor is high appropriate to any form of  non-coercive suasion.  


Take Japan’s hugely expensive Cool Japan program.  That idea here is to make Japan attractive to other countries.  The Japanese have a lot of cultural penis envy – as any foreigner in Japan knows.  

They lost WWII – that’s one thing.  They have an image of their men as short-legged, short-dicked, short-minded compared to Europeans and Americans.  Who really likes the Japanese?   Nobody, Abe thinks. They just like our money.  Or—our women.  We are always second best.  How can we get what we want?

What does Japan want?  

A banana?  Specifically, the one that the US has.  A big one!  Which means all the goodies that come from being Number One.

Now, a male bonobo who sees another male bonobo with a banana, will play cute.  He may attempt to seduce him for that banana. Bonobos are bi or polysexual.

Strategy: if you can’t beat’em – beat’em off.

Of course, a bonobo might try to distract his friend and steal the banana:  “hey look, is that a snake in the tree?”  But there can be negative consequences .  Introducing a nubile young female -- is OK if you have one around. 

There are lots of options.  They all turn on deception.  By and large though, seduction is the main method – projecting a false – or least secondary identity, which brings us back to the dating paradigm. 

When you go on a date, the girl’s sexuality is her banana.  Although her sexuality is a projection of her low cut dress and push up bra—often as imaginary as whatever Japan thinks the US has that they don’t.

You do what you can to persuade your date to screw you – with unfortunately the result that you may really and royally get fucked. 

In any case,  just as with a bonobo, that involves deceptions, misdirection and projections of a “you” that isn’t “you” – or more correctly just a part of your inner community of roles and selves.

So too with Cool Japan.  Cool japan is obviously not all of Japan.

Is Japan a cute, horny pre-teen?  Is it ‘selfless’ warmth and hospitality?   Well, yes, it includes these aspects – but is not defined by them.

Japanese men, in particular,  have a streak of pedophilia and also desire to appear “selfless”, an important thing in a culture of conformists -- but that is not all they are.

Still,  to the extent that PR is primal -- infantile values tend to float to the surface.

Japan wants the love of the World.  Why?  because it wants to fuck the world.  That is, it wants the world to buy Japanese things – and, if possible, it wants to steal from other countries economically or politically with “favorable” deals.  

So the Cool Japan identity is reductive and simple – good for ad companies – and Japanese fantasies about themselves – if quite inappropriate internationally.


If this were a Date… Japan would be a total loser pretending to be “Cool”. 

But then again, this is a date with a billion dollar budget. 

Direct annual investment only

That kind of money buys a lot of forbearance.  The emperor has no  clothes?  Who the fuck cares –he’s paying for the parade and the party too.  

The world cheers and tries not to look at the tiny dick.


Saturday, March 14, 2015

PR 'z Us : Spin as Dating

Nope, all you need is not love. It’s an emoticon.  

All human relationships are based on the selective control of information and ideas -- and also on misinformation, disinformation, deception, misdirection and manipulation.  Human beings don’t much like reality – their social systems depend on virtuality.  

 #I contain multitudes 

Here’s the thing: ‘identity” is not who you are – it is who you pretend to be, depending on the situation.   Hence, the popularity of smartphones and social media, which protect you from the embarrassment of face to face interaction where people might find you out.

How many times to you have to say, "That isn't really me". Or: "I wasn't myself today".   Or (more often) "I was drunk".  Sorry, it is all you, all the time.

 Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)  is normal!    

People diagnosed with this multiple personality  disorder are only different from you and me insofar as they aren't as good at it as you are.  They are  socially challenged.

You act as if we were one person with a fixed and singular identity, dealing with other people -- who are doing the same thing. And you can switch instantly if you see the need. Somebody with DID (the "disorder")  doesn't switch interactively -- and therefore do it inappropriately.  Other people notice.  "He was a different guy". And so on.  

If you're good at this stuff, people don't notice the transition. Barack Obama looks like such a nice guy.  But he still drops bombs on babies.

Identity is always a social transaction.

“Hi, I’m Dr Jekyll and I’m a doctor” you say, as though that summed you up.

 Sorry: your name and profession are just details, like your choice of a tie or your underwear.

 In each social situation, we automatically adjust “identity” to meet expectations and needs -- transactionally -- watching to see how it works on our counterparts. 

“Normal” people -- or "normapaths" -- have a greater degree of choice, given that each of their constituent identities is aware – not completely aware, of course – but more aware of itself and the “others” with which it interacts than, say, Dr. Jekyll and his Mr. Hyde.   . 

PR is reflexive – but it always involves choices

“Hello I’m Dr Jekyll and I’m a doctor”, maybe a true statement.  But it can also be misleading because your name and job say little about “you”, your being.  There are any number of ways you could introduce yourself.  You make choices, partly consciously, partly unconsciously. Certainly, Dr. Jekyll did.

He could have said, “Hello I’m Jekyll. I’m a doctor and I'm polite and well-educated. But I have alter ego, Mr. Jekyll whose primal and animalistic and violent.   Now this is honest but not appropriate to professional situations-- although it might work marvelously well in a bar full of twenty-somethings. 

Does Barack Obama say, "Hi, I'm Barry and I kill babies"?
Choices, choices…. Hyde doesn't do choices. He doesn't do "spin".  That's why he can't fit into normal society -- other than the club scene.

 Barry, by contrast, does do choices.  He uses "spin".

 “Spin” is lube.   

We all know that public relations in any of its form helps us it us fit into tight places. And generally someone gets fucked.

But "spin" is much, much more.  It defines – and is defined by -- the actors in any social interaction -- and also determines – and is determined by agency – goals and methods. 

You may not be into anal -- but you do use the lube.  

Take dating....

Suppose you have the hots for a certain girl. You really want to get laid.   And the girl is, well, hot….

You go for the "Date", a time-honored ritual of social dishonesty.  

The foreplay before the foreplay before the foreplay....

 Italian food.  Nice place, soft lighting. 

No, not the place in the photo.  A place where you can wear soft, huggable beige sweater. You are approachable and non-threatening.  You avoid cologne – wear a grapefruit-scented lotion, which studies indicate is appealing to a majority of women.   You’re clean and neat and have an expensive – but tasteful watch. You look upper-status and indicate subtlely that you have a good income.   

You choose a restaurant where you know people, where you can predictably “run across” friends.  They say, “Hi” -  yeah, you have friends and a social identity.   People seem to like you. All these things combine to communicate a socially validated identity. 

    Identity…. You:  Nice Guy. Her: Nice Girl.
    Goal:  Seduction
    Method:  Promise of long-term relationship, stability,etc.   

   How might this go wrong?

 The problem is that real “being” is not the same as “social identity” -- "being" is what you are -- and not a matter of choice.

 Social identity means adopting a.) a role  b.) a script c.) appealing to audience needs

Successful social identity however means first of all appearing like you are not playing a role or scripted -- which actually meeting the needs of your target-- which means knowing them -- something not always easy to do. In addition, you must be consistent -- it is better not to get found out.

Now maybe you met the hot girl at work and she seemed like an “ordinary” middle class girl.  Dresses politely, talks politely.  You assume that she is looking for a high status guy to marry.  

But what if she has another side?  What if she figures that nice guys and sex don’t go together that she must bait the hook and fish carefully for Mr. Right, withholding sex.  That would mean a lot of expensive dates for you, a relationship  that is hard to get out  of– and lousy sex, if any. Probablity: 25%. Not a lot--but high enough to consider.

While she’s dating you, she might be screwing some “bad boy”.  A little rough, black leather.  Somebody hot.  Why is Fifty Shades of Grey so popular –with women?  

  Everybody lies as Dr. House says.  

Now with the "Date" the immediate outcome will be positive enough, in all likelihood, although you most likely will not get laid that night. 

If you do get laid, you may be in for than expected.  After all, you were implicitly promising a lot more than a one night stand.

But maintaining your role of Mr. Nice Guy -- means more dates, more lies.... and oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice... spin. 

Don't date. Go for coffee instead -- and communicate honestly.

Everybody lies, yes. And--eventually--everybody finds out.

In other words, while public relations and "spin" are essential to social relationships, it is best to keep things simple and as close to the truth as possible.

Bernie Madoof

The relevance of this fact in commercial advertising and public diplomacy and other areas is huge.Again, keep it simple and honest.

Call it the Ouch Factor -- that is, the truth is a pit bull -- it can a great companion -- but treat it wrong and it bites.

Of course, there are always exceptions.  You're always going to have use "spin"  -- but try not promise more than you can deliver.