Category Archives: Anime

Cultural Slumming

americans_in_japanThe cultural slumming of the American otaku is somewhat different from slumming as defined in the last post.

NYU professor Tavia Nyong’o, who is teaching a course on sub-cultures, referencing a book by Ken Gelder, (Subcultures: Cultural Histories and Social Practice. London: Routledge, 2007) says that otaku culture is a slumming based on our modern capitalism. She also references Peter Hitchcock (“Slumming” in Passing: Identity and Interpretation in Sexuality, Race, and Religion, Sanchez and Schossberg, eds. New York: NYU Press, 2001), saying a “slummer is a person who can [sic] “fantasizes what the culture otherwise hide.” Nyong’o also asserts that otaku as consumers are no different than slummers. In other words, their persona is fueled by the desire to acquire goods and trinkets that somehow help create the persona. Or is it more than that?

The difference between slumming and experiencing a culture is, in my opinion, a matter of perspective and how you approach what you are doing. Are you going to a place just to get as much stuff as you possibly can? Do you just want a stamp in your passport? Do you want to pretend to be something you are not? Or are you fascinated by something that you have encountered? Do you want to know more about some aspect of that culture because you love the people, the place, the smells, the sights, the sounds? For some of us, our international travel experiences are a mish-mash of all of the above. Studying abroad exposes you to so much for just a few months; you are bound to come home changed and have new tastes and desires.

4 Gregs – American Subculture?

picture-12I just watched “4 Gregs” from the folks at Homestarrunner.com.

One of the “Gregs” (There are four guys named Greg who hang out and do geeky things together) is “Japanese Culture Greg.” He keeps calling out Japanese pop-culture words like, “Otaku,” and “Akihabara,” and recommends doing things like looking at vinyl figures. In this parody, the Japanese (pop) culture Greg has been lumped together with Sci-fi, Gaming, and Computer geekdom Gregs. Is this how many Americans see folks who enjoy Japanese popular culture?

More interestingly is that the J-culture Greg is not “J-Pop Culture Greg.” I wonder how much popular culture is seen as the end-all of Japanese culture? When American Otaku go to Japan seeking to embrace their Japanese brethren, Japanese society does not know what to do with them.

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Take note: the beginning of the video starts with the word “Kawatta” to describe the foreigners who come to Japan for Otaku culture. Kawatta means, “Strange,” or “Weird.” They don’t know how to understand them, or why foreigners would come to Japan to participate in a culture that they consider odd, an aberration of the group social norms. (For more on this, see Otaku no Video and Genshiken.) It seems that this participation by foreigners in an aspect of Japanese subculture is something that makes those in the mainstream culture uncomfortable. Subcultures are often understood, but when they get exported, and then reimported, a strange thing occurs. It’s almost like a genetic mutation or new child culture, born of two cultures. Some American fans may spout Japanese words they hear, or imitate what characters do in the animation they see, since this is the only brush with the culture that they have experienced, and it’s fun. It’s like imitating lines from movies (and you all know you have!)

For the Americans who enjoy Japanese culture of many forms, there is a sort of camraderie among members of the sub-culture in-group. Perhaps this type of community – an affinity group, really – is something that those on the outside, those who cannot understand, secretly desire while loathing it?

It’s like Americans who obsess over Paris Hilton. Many love her while hating her.

Everyone wants to experience authentic relationships, in whatever form they may be found.

Some good Haruhi Coverage

Two years ago, The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi bounded across my radar screen. I watched all the fansubs and read some of a Haruhi Japanese novel as soon as I could.

I was vastly impressed with the depth of story and the metaphysical questions engaged in this shojo series.

Yappari, it’s caught on greatly, including people imitating the dance moves found in the opening sequence. To see the extent, here’s a story about Haruhi Day 2008. (I gather it is at one of the NYC Kinokuniya Locations.)