During my study break tonight I decided to make my usual internet stop by International Wota which is basically a torrent site of information from a few dozen different blogs with updates on J-pop idols with an emphasis on opinion/editorial pieces about fandom and idol life. I was really pleasantly surprised to see that the top article was a piece written about cultural imperialism whether or not Japanese music can really be understood by its Western fans. Overall I think it's a pretty well thought out critique, but there are a few points that I've thought about before, that I don't feel are fully explored in this piece.
When I was an undergrad I remember having a lot of trouble with Gloria Anzaldua's work on Chicana feminisms, not because they weren't well put, but because as a white woman in a liberal arts university I wondered if there wasn't something subversive about translating the Spanish sections of her prose into English for my own study. It seemed to me that language, Spanish, might be being used by the author to not only allow some readers access, but to also suggest that certain passages were written explicitly for some women and my or any other traditional girl in academia's comprehension was besides the point.
I guess I should also mention at this point that I have absolutely no problem with seclusion. There are times when I seriously consider my possibility of living as a lesbian separatist or perhaps something less involved in a co-op since I hate fending for myself so much. I specifically choose to work in an all female environment, because I feel I can express myself more freely there. It drives me absolutely nuts when I hear criticisms against all girls schools, female only spaces, and the like. So the concept of any other cultural/political/economic minority secluding themselves, through language or space, shouldn't be met with suspicion. Not every word or thought or action has to be altered/translated/appealed for the benefit of my white, Western understanding.
So what the fuck does this have to do with anything?
First of all, America is built on that sort of acceptance; anyone can be American because our culture reaches beyond our borders and influences every aspect of non-Americans. But second of all, while Ayumi can conceivably “become” American, an “American” can never conceivably become “Japanese.” You can study the language, you can visit the country, you can live there for twenty years and make it your home, but if you weren’t raised there, can you really embody the true spirit of someone who’s gone through the cultural process of growing up in a country that, though very Westernized, is still undeniably different? Will you ever be more than just a gaijin oddity?
So I of course have issues with the author's inclusionary idea of "America" as an encompassing hug toward all foreign populations (besides the point), but completely agree with the point that the author is subtly but could less subtly point out about Japanese homogeneity. I'd point out however that I tend to see American influence as more of a battering ram of social diplomatic force than something that reaches beyond borders. Besides, if we want to talk about how American music is so universal we can simply look at the amount of energy Time Warner or IMG expands into promoting its Western artists in Japan and call it a day. If Avex or Hello Project had these resources I'm sure I'd be discussing Aya Matsuura during my next lunch break at work and not in the incredibly pathetic way I normally am. In like, you know, a popular relevant way.
Like any art, music is not made in a vacuum. In fact, if the purpose of art is communication (of ideas, of feelings, of shared values), music speaks directly to the social environment in which it was begat. That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it and discuss it on a (relatively) superficial level (as many J-pop blogs do), but as Americans living across the ocean (even with really reliable Internet access), does it mean we’ll never be able to truly grasp its central conceit? And if it’s feasible, does it mean we repair, from the ashes of so many trivial Hello! Project and Johnny’s fan blogs, this unique community to which all J-pop fans belong? Or do we break off and revolutionize the way the world perceives Japanese popular music forever?
So here's where I'm like wait what? While I think that the idea of promoting Japanese pop music to my personal friends (which I'm constantly doing), is all great and good, I don't see how the large scale promotion of Japanese music by Western music critics to Western audiences doesn't entirely miss the point the author is trying to make about Western imperialism. If a Western music critic cannot (as this author frets) ever truly understand (probably true) the cultural context in which Japanese pop is produced, why does that have to be a stopping point for criticism in how it fits into a subculture of American youth? The author repeatedly states that it's troubling to review something that doesn't fit into ones personal culture, but in a way the fact that this or any blog about foreign music is telling to how the age of digital communication has altered the consumption of culture.
If I am not sure that Gloria Anzaldua is actually writing anything she's intended for my audience, should I stop reading? If AKB48 sing a song about underage prostitution for gifts in Shibuya and I don't quite understand the context in which that's become such a phenomena am I still allowed to think it's a good song (not even to mention enjoy the uniforms in the video, but the post on that kind of Western imperialism is coming!)
So there's also a bunch of shit on intelligent blogging in there too that I don't even really want to touch, because after this entire critique of something I mostly like (surprising to some after reading everything above), I feel like that's so besides the point. I know I've already conjured up a great feminist academic above as though she were even comparible, but for fucks sake this is Japanese pop. Yes it's important, but it's also about having fun. I'm sorry that so many fans of it are kind of weird and also are super into eating Pocky and watching anime and saying "Kawaii desu!!~~" all the time and I try to work hard at for whatever reason making sure that isn't the image I give off.
That being said I'm done with this post and here is what happens when you become a Japanese pop star, in case everyone wasn't clear before:
I debut in less than a month now. I'm nervous.