I realised throughout the process of writing my symposium I have a few times linked my development to my google docs version however this has been updated. So I decided to break my final script down, show references and write about how I got to these ideas. I also never blogged my individual photo analysis. I went into writing my symposium full on without taking breaks to document my development. It worked in my favour as I am really happy with the script. However it meant I didn’t document it each thought process. I am now going to break down my script, explaining parts I don’t feel I previously posted about and linking the explained parts to the relevant posts. I am also doing this because I have done over 100 posts of research since the summer and this will help you see the relevant bits.
How I got to this point
Before I begin I must to establish where I stand. I am a fan of Japanese pop culture. Some might even call me obsessed. However I have never been to Japan, everything I experience as a fan and as a Westerner is through the media, and for that reason I have a very specific view, an “outsiders” view if you like. The voices which authoritatively inform me are global companies, Sanrio, makers of hello kitty. Shoneen Jump, manga distributors. And cartoon network, the only channel in the UK that shows anime. All of these companies reflect my interaction with Japanese culture and they all have one thing in common. Making money. As a country our interaction with Japan is based on consumerism. Edward Said calls this Western consumer driven view of the East ‘Orientalism’. And we are Orientalists.
This point was always going to be my starting statement, after talking with Shaun Hydes he made me realise I cannot talk as if I know everything about Japanese Culture, because I don’t. I experience it as a westerner. This led me to the work of Edward Said – ‘Orientalism’. I tried to appropriate Said’s work to fit my own life. In the book he talks about the Orient as a whole, including central Asia. I narrowed it down to Japan and thought about the most influential companies in the UK regarding Japanese Culture.
Inside this electric city lives a collection of vibrant and unique social trends that are driven by aesthetic values and mass-culture patterns, otherwise known as Popular culture.
My understanding of Pop culture from William Gibsons book ‘Pattern Recognition’. Particularly taken from the scene in the bar where 2 characters discuss how they are employed to socialise with people and implant mass culture trends.
One of these cultures takes it’s influence from Japanese comics (Manga) and animation (anime). Kawaii culture (cute culture) is occupied with all things sweet and childlike. This highly visual culture dominated Japan in the 80′s and still holds it’s place as a popular culture today. The consumers of Kawaii are young girls. Rarely do we see a culture in which the power is in the hands of young women. In the West we have boyband culture which sells to young girls through admiration and obsession. But Kawaii culture is different. It sells cute plushies, frilly dresses, glittery stickers and big eyed dolls to school girls and young women.
Most of this came from my knowledge of Kawaii culture as a fan. However I read texts like ‘Cuties in Japan’ by Sharon Kinsella to backup my knowledge.
Seems too adorable to be true? Like most cultural trends there is a dark undertone. Sex. Here we see Laura Mulvey’s male gaze come into play, twisting this culture into a multi-gender experience. The audience not only being young girls but now men too with a sexual desire. Around the same time Kawaii came into existence, a sub-culture with a darker roots sprung from the world of anime and manga too…
My Laura Mulvey Male gaze reference came from Spencer Murphey’s lecture for Phonar. I then appropriated it to fit Otaku culture. I had been thinking about the contrast and similarities between Kawaii and Otaku in tokyo for a while now. It only seemed naturall for me to break my talk down this way. I knew I had to provide context so I decided to document 2 cultures, with the knowledge in a few paragraphs on I would be bringing them together in regard to consumerism and manipulation of Popular culture.
Otaku a word surrounded by Taboo, in Japan it’s usually associated with men who have an unhealthy obsession with an object. In this case I use Otaku to describe someone obsessed with anime. They are considered social outcasts, men who have relationships with the characters and fantasy worlds they see in cartoons, enjoying the company of fictional women rather than real ones. Drawn to the unrealistic depiction of women in anime Otaku’s obsess over erotic figurines and sexy posters.
Like my description of Kawaii Culture most of this came from my knowledge as a fan. My work with Phonar also helped me inform this paragraph, as well as an Interview conducted by respected otaku’s in Tokyo.
The combination of Kawaii and Otaku creates a perfect recipe for selling, bright colours and childish aesthetic appeal taken from Kawaii culture, sexual imagery and cartoon styling taken from Otaku culture. Companies soon clocked on to this perfect hybrid, noticing the trend becoming more and more popular and appropriated the imagery to fit their product.
This is a key part to my work. It really helped writing about a subject I know so much about. I didn’t find this idea from anywhere. It is my thought process, a concept I came up with as I began to piece together my research, realising I couldn’t fit these advertisements I was looking at into either Otaku or Kawaii, they were a cross over of both. This then formed the basis for my whole project. Looking at this hybrid and questioning it’s depiction and moral grounds. In a way this is the first point I came up with, I then went back to the introduction and rewrote it, knowing I had to define these two cultures as separate things, then show how companies have used aspects from each to create a new visual aesthetic.
Artist Takashi Murakami came up with a “catchphrase” for this merging of culture and consumerism, “superflat”, he suggests that society has become two dimension and that Japan lives in a flat superficial world, everything is made for mass consumption, and the only voices heard are the global giants.
My earliest researched point, Murakami’s Superflat. I’ve used it as a way to reinforce my previous point, and give the listeners a word they can associate the hybris of culture with, making it clearer for them to understand.
I aim to explore this notion in regards to photography. Do creatives living in Japan not question the combination of sex and adolescent representation as a moral issue? or has consumerist culture and Murakami’s ‘Superflat’ world become so dense that there is no voice for opposing opinions in the art world anymore?
Finally my last point in my introduction. I knew I needed a way to bring this all together. the majority of my intro is stating fact, so I now needed to ask what am I going to do with these facts? Let the listeners know where this is going. I added this point in quite late. I struggled for a while to find out what my end point was. I didn’t have this point at the start, I came back after analysing the activists work and added it in to point out from the start where I aim to end up.
At this point I must differentiate between the representation of adolescents and the use of adolescent values within representation. In exploring the use of adolescent depiction I am not talking about young girls who are portrayed in a sexual light through advertising, I am talking about women who are being encoded with childish aesthetics in order to play off popular culture imagery and sell products.
Another point I added in a bit later. I thought people might assume by discussing Kawaii and Sexual representation I was talking about young girls depicted in a sexual way, which I really wanted to stay away from. throught my speach I have 3/4 points which I have put in to keep my talk on the right lines, bringing it back to the title, keeping it along the right lines if you like. I will point out the others as they come up. I like to call these points Anchor Points.
Through work like murakami’s the audience is assumed to be so mesmerized by the Kawaii aesthetics and pretty colours they do not notice the explicit sexual references and submissive angles. The authority of the brand protects the inappropriate nature.
Beginning to analyse the work. Start to enforce the idea that advertisers make assumptions and hint towards the idea of a passive audience. Again I didn’t use anyone elses analysis of Murakami’s work, in fact I found it hard to find someone who picked holes in his work. he is too well respected by all the big names in the art world. I did however look at these images in more detail, in my original script I talked about the Britney Spears images directly, but soon decided to cut that out, I only had 10 minutes and I wanted to use the images to support my own findings rather than the talk become centered around analysing images.
I am not attempting to make an attack on Japanese popular culture, like I said before I am a fan, What does concern me though is the manipulation of popular culture through monopolising companies, encoding models with sexual and adolescent representations within the same image.
Another Anchor Point. Reinforcing my position that I stated at the beginning in order to defend what people might see as attacking the culture itself. As this isn’t my intention. I knew at this point I had to remind the listeners I am talking about the manipulation via companies, not the cultures themselves.
Professor Judith Williamson literally wrote the book on decoding advertisements, in this book she wrote that “Advertisements obscure and avoid the real issues of society”. In regard to the images we are seeing here, I don’t agree. Rather than avoiding the Issues in society, these advertisements are enforcing them.
The quote came from Jib Fowles ‘Advertising and popular Culture’ I didn’t instantly think I would use it, but I did note it down just in case. Then when i started to write about the depictions advertisers were using I began to see it as a moral Issue, adverts I had previously bought products because of, like Gwen Stefani’s perfume and M-A-C x Hello Kitty products. The quote came back to me, and not in a good way, I realised in this case Williamson was wrong, what I saw through these adverts is that they were enforcing the problems. I knew I had to include this because it would be quite a strong point, especially with my audience mostly coming from the media department in Uni I knew they probably all would have read this book, Williamson’s work is highly regarded so I assumed she doesn’t often get taught as being wrong.
Saying we know you will subconsciously accept this advert, with the questionable white substance that has nothing to do with the product, because you are consumers, you are used to this sexual references even if it’s selling a Hello Kitty product.
I then though this strong point needs an example, I couldn’t say Williamson was wrong without giving evidence and explanation This M-A-C image was perfect, the first time I saw it I admired it, my favourite make up company, my favourite character and a well recognised photographer. Then after looking at the activists work I began to pick it apart. Why is there that white substance? Yes it’s probably milk and HK is a cat, but along side the latex, trashy lighting and sexual reference it seemed to represent more than that to me, and backed up my ideas about Williamson’s work so well.
Unfortunately for the advertisers there are contemporary practitioners in Japan who are not accepting it, and refuse to live in a superflat world, being saturated with this consumer culture.
Anchor point. I wanted to bring back the superflat terminology, again to help the listeners identify all my points with that word. It also take me back to my original questions I asked in the intro. Purposely using the same terminology to hint to them this is when I start to answer the questions. This whole consumer vs activist tension came about because I originally just wanted to explore work like Murakami’s but I quickly realised there were no “art” photographers. All the photographers I could find were selling something, for a while I saw this as a dead end but then it transformed my talk. it became the whole point of discussion.
In March 2012 16 artists from Japan displayed their work in New York, in the hope the exhibition would open the West’s eyes to more than just superflat artists and their consumerist values. The exhibition entitled ”Bye Bye Kitty!!! Between Heaven and Hell in Contemporary Japanese Art” makes a direct attack on Hello Kitty, Japans most consumed character. Suggesting an end to an era.
I wanted to reference this exhibition in particular because it was quite a direct attack. I looked at quite a few analysis of the event. When I found the exhibition it was like my breakthrough, I had been struggling to find someone who openly opposed superflat. Then when I came across this I realised there were people out there but Superflat and consumerism is so dominant it took 10 times longer to find them.
Featured artist in the exhibition Makoto Aida who’s work aims to “further express Japans twisted parts”, produced a series of photographs prior to the exhibition which confronts societies acceptance by creating a character that conforms to advertisings values, and then by stripping away the characters context. The character painted onto the naked womens torso isn’t contained in it’s original space, nor in it’s consumerist place, it has not been manipulated by companies, protected by the product and glossy pages. It is out there, painted on the skin of a young woman. This is Aida’s attempt to instantly shock the spectator and make them begin to question what is considered normal or acceptable. Aida’s position as a male commenting on the depiction of women let’s him critique his own life as well as making others think about theirs. In a conversation for “Bye Bye Kitty” about his constant use of young women in his art Aida says this, ”I am not motivated from within to draw mature women. I think it’s a little bit of a condition which I have. I feel as if my condition is a shared condition among present-day Japanese society.” Aida openly identifies himself and other men in the condition of the pervert, using his experience with that role to point out where the problems lie, not only with the representation of women but the interpretation by men. Some of his non-photographic work tackles this role on a more head on way.
I had done a lot of research into Aida’s work which you can see here…
Japanese school girl confidential
An Interview with Adia
I used all this research to bring my own analysis together. I quickly found myself talking about context and how Aida had manipulated it in order to create shock factor. I can’t really point a finger on when I started thinking about this, I guess it would be as I started writing. I intentionally didn’t do a single post on either artists I didn’t want to over think it, I just started to write what I noticed in regards to the advertisements I had seen. It’s fair to say I analysed it quite late on but I think this was the best way to do it for me. It would have been distracting and useless to analyse it before I had started writing about what the advertisements had been doing, because I am talking about how these images oppose this directly. Analysing it before hand would have been distracting and I know I would have started talking about points which didn’t matter in relation to the whole talk.
Mariko Mori isn’t featured in the exhibition, her work however has similar values as Aida’s, but instead of removing the context from the subject, Mori adds a signifier too it. The silver suit worn under the school uniform in Mori’s image entitled ‘Love Hotel’ is more important than it might seem at first. Without that silver cyborg suit the image is an open book, depending on the viewer it could connote either positive or negative feelings, it would simply just depict a woman dressed as a schoolgirl in a hotel room, bringing forward the idea of sexual intentions. Add a company logo and it could be a double page spread advertising a ‘Love Hotel’. But by placing that little silver suit in Mori has created a visual fragmentation piece, forcing us to break the image apart to make us think about why the suit is their in the first place. Whether it be a visual metaphor exploring the search for individuality or a way of discussing the robotic nature of women in a consumerist culture, it doesn’t matter. As long as the silver suit makes you question normality and yourself Mori’s work has achieved it’s goal as an activist piece.
Similar ideas began to spring to mind about mori’s work. Paul had pointed me towards her as I was struggling to find photographers who’s work didn’t appear to be me grasping at straws. Mori’s images quite nicely complimented Aida’s and used similar techniques of context, but were different enough to add variety. I remember when I started writing about this image. With the idea of context already in my head I had started to pull the picture apart. Struggling I read an article on the cyborg nature of the woman due to the suit. I suddenly realised the suit was there, then I though why is it there? what would this iage say if it wasn’t? This is when the role of the suit became clear and I began to discuss it’s role as a fragmentation piece, as this is what I saw it as in my eyes.
It seems there are photographers trying to break through the suffocation of ‘superflat’ and who are challenging what they see as problems within the society, and not just in regards to the representation of women, Bye Bye Kitty features the work of unique artists who all tackle different problems within consumerism using their medium to create visual impact within the viewer.
The two I looked at in detail used the effective technique of manipulating context to provoke change, however there are many other techniques that can be utilised.
Anchor Point. Answering my original intro question. I also used the remainder of Bye Bye Kitty work to enforce the point in my title that this is just an example. It can be applied to a lot of different issues. I feel this was important to do because the Issue is so much wider, for the sake of the talk I had to be specific. I also wanted to give people other places to look, the activists work is meant to inspire change, and this section was created to inspire change too, give people places to research and go from here. Mimicking the activist work in my talk.
As individuals we choose wether to go along with what’s expected of us, enforcing the consumerist value, a world monopolised by a few products, humans becoming cyborg, like mariko mori’s depictions. Or we can use our voice and our talents to confront this, keeping our world dimensional, with layers.
I then decided I needed to relate it to everyone, not just Japan. I opened it up knowing we live in a consumerist culture too and that people would be able to recognise some of the ideas I’ve been discussing within there lives too. Also adding to the provoke change aspect.
On a personal level the activist work keeps me grounded, It’s probably important to mention and maybe shocking to hear that I am a consumer, hypnotised by Japans colourful advertising. Before doing this project, I was unaware I consumed so much, I was passive, not questioning things I now see as inappropriate. The activist photographers work has forced me to step back and become conscious of my position.
Anchor point. I started with my position, so it felt natural to end with it, but explaining how I had changed opinions. Like I had gone through the journey with the listeners. I also though it was key to include because I didn’t want to come across as someone who isn’t a consumers, I wanted to identify myself with the listeners.
Marshal McLuhan once said “One thing about which fish know exactly nothing is water, since they have no anti-environment which would enable them to perceive the element they live in.” The activists work is the anti-environment, it takes us out of the water, away from our consumer lives. Then drops us back in, with a more conscious outlook on what we previously accepted as normal.
My final point, added at the end. You can see how I came about this quote and why I thought it was relevant here.
I hope this has given an insight into how and why I have used each point.