Signal Boost: Haute Couture and Sailor Moon

US American reporter and translator Angelica Frey posted an article yesterday on “Sailor Moon’s Fashion from Christian Dior to Theirry Mugler” on Jezebel. This is a great read on the intersection of East Asian storytelling and graphic novels, European fashion, and the US American market in the 1990s. If just one of those topics interests you, I highly recommend her article on Jezebel.

Link:https://theattic.jezebel.com/the-haute-couture-history-of-sailor-moon-1844488914?utm_campaign=Jezebel&utm_content=1598886989&utm_medium=SocialMarketing&utm_source=facebook&fbclid=IwAR2uAsHH8vdbHWB7sklYKZbG1gB-8whTy69wU595Xu5apsZlqdI6NQdWcWw 

A stylized drawing of Sailor Moon wrapped in pink ribbons

Thai Protesters use Harry Potter Symbols to Rebuke Government

Image of Thai protesters with Wands Up Harry Potter gesture from The Guardian

Image from Photograph: Sopa/Rex/Shutterstock via The Guardian

A series of protests and rallies have spread across Thailand, condemning the government. The protesters, many of them high-school and university-aged young people, are using art to circumnavigate the lèse-majesté laws in place, making it a crime to defame, insult, or simply criticize the royal family. By using the images, symbols, and narratives in Harry Potter and the Hunger Games, protesters can critique a government which has acted in eerily parallel to the books’ plots:

  • King Maha Vajiralongkorn was crowned King Rama X of Thailand in 2016, and later the Palace led a campaign that changed the constitution to give the king increased emergency powers.
  • The Thai Crown is closely linked with the Thai military, as the king now has personal control over several influential army units and the Prime Minister previously led a military coup
  • Police have increasingly harassed activists
  • Nearly ten dissidents who have fled the country have “disappeared,” and at least two are confirmed dead
  • Public school students face stricter behavior and personal appearance guidelines set forth by the government.

The imagery and language of Harry Potter are being used by the protestors to call out their government. Many protesters use “Wands Up” gestures using prop wands or glowing cellphone flashlights to evoke imagery of the final battle for Hogwarts against the Deatheaters in the penultimate book. Some dress in Gryffindor colors or witch/wizard robes. A few dress as Deatheaters and hoist gilded gold framed images of Lord Voldemort– gold being the color of The Crown in Thailand.

The youngest protesters also use other art forms to tell their stories. The New York Times published a photograph of high-school-aged children performing the Mockingjay Salute. Their article also explains a piece of performance art by one such child protester: she was tied to a chair, a pair of scissors on her lap. Audience members (fellow protesters) are instructed by a nearby sign to cut her hair to the government-mandated crop length– even with the bottom of her earlobe.

Hundreds of young protesters use pop culture iconography, imagery, and narratives to indirectly criticize their government that limits free speech. It is indisputable, at least in Thailand, that art continues to be a powerful tool against oppression.

 

Sources + Read More: 

 

BTS and #BLM: Kpop Fans are Not New to Political Organizing

BTS at the 2020 Grammy'ss

Last week, Kpop band BTS (formerly known as Bangtan Boys and Beyond The Scene) and its fans made global headlines as they raised over $2 million in donations to the #BlackLivesMatter campaign. The band itself donated $1 million and has been vocal about denouncing racial oppression. On June 4, they tweeted, “We stand against racial discrimination. We condemn violence. You, I, and we all have the right to be respected. We will stand together. #BlackLivesMatter” (Source) James Corden even covered how BTS fans are diluting white supremacy hashtags by drowning out hate with their love of the band.

Reporter Yim Hyun-su points out in a Washington Post article that Kpop fans have a well-established history of social justice initiatives and wield social media hashtags with lighting strike power. Their social media campaigns have not only a global reach but also activate global collaboration in a matter of minutes. The online activism of Kpop fans is not to be underestimated.

Hyun-su continues to analyze why the many stories of Kpop fans mobilizing don’t get the coverage that similar stories of streaming/vlogging fans or videogame fans do.  While acknowledging the often problematic landscape of fandom communities, he posits that the barrier to Kpop fans being recognized is classical sexism: the popular image of a “fangirl” is not in alignment with that of a social justice warrior.

Maybe one day, perspectives will mature to a more holistic comprehension of these fandom identities.

To read Hyun-su’s article, visit here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/06/11/surprised-seeing-k-pop-fans-stand-up-black-lives-matter-you-shouldnt-be/

#AintNoCinderella: The Power of a Selfie and a Slogan

Earlier this week, the hastag #AintNoCinderella went viral in India following an incident of a young woman being harassed and then victim shamed. Varnika Kundu went out on the town on Friday night, August 4. At the end of the night, she was harassed by two young men who then followed her when she fled in her car, attempting to make her stop and trying to enter her car several times. She wrote about the harrowing experience in a public Facebook post, thanking the police who helped save her from being kidnapped and urged women to be vigilant against attacks.  One local politician victim-blamed her by stating that she should not have been out late at night.

Public outcry against misogyny and classism was immediate, and only increased in fervor once it became clear that one of the two young men allegedly involved was the son of another local politician.

The viral hashtag #AintNoCinderella, often accompanied by selfies of young women in clubbing outfits, has become a rallying cry by young Indian women to exercise their basic human right to safety no matter what time of day. Every tweet is a micro-effort to battle violence against women, and the overall effect is bringing to light the persistent issues of classism and sexism in a country that had elected and reelected a female head of state in 1966 and 1980.

 

Sources:

China’s newest pop idol band tackles traditional gender norms

No really. This is not an April Fools joke.

Acrush is a group of young Chinese women gathered together to appeal to the boy-band, pop-idol demographic that has previously been dominated by young men from Japan and Korea. China has long been trying to improve its public image and ameliorate the reputation of having a staunchly conservative and controlled artistic sphere.

Acrush, however, is not the first androgynous women on the music scene. In the early 2000s, Han Hong crossed over from folk music to pop charts with her song Heaven’s Road (天路 ), about the trans-Tibetan railroad. Hong’s signature masculine/androgynous style caused a very negative reaction, which can be partially attributed to rumors of her being a homosexual. (Homosexuality was officially attributed to mental illness until 2001.)

Acrush’s agent and publicist has been very careful to remark that the young singers in the group are not attracted to the women whom their image is designed to attract. While Acrush may be challenging traditional sexual identities that have confined Chinese women, they are simultaneously reinforcing traditional sexualities.

Acrush promotional photo from their American Twitter account.

Update 4/7/17: Many news sites are referring to Acrush as “genderless.” It’s important to note that the band are calling themselves “meishaoshian” 美少年, which is denotatively a gender neutral term for “beautiful young person,” but connotatively refers to beautiful young boys. It’s also noteworthy that the Mandarin terms for he (他) and she (她) are phonetically identical (tā).

Update 4/8/17: As much viral attention Acrush has been getting, China’s major news network, CCTV, has not mentioned Acrush in any articles.

Read more:

 

 

Compare/Contrast: Youth in Politics

Today, NHK and BBC are running stories about young adults in politics, but the pictures are very different. In the UK, Millennials are feeling the Brexit burn, while 20-somethings in Tokyo are disengaged from politics and passive towards policy changes.

Read more:

There’s no such thing as “Just Singing”

A Taiwanese, ethnic minority, children’s choir is disinvited to China after they sang the Taiwanese anthem at (Taiwan’s) President Tsai Ing-wen’s inauguration in May. The Puzangalan Choir was to travel to China in an endeavor to garner funds and visibility for a trip to an international singing competition in Hungary this fall. President Ing-wen has pledged a little over $15,000 USD when she heard about the cancellation.

Taiwan and China have a varying opinions on the sovereignty of the small island 110 miles off the coast of mainland China. However, that short distance is misleading, as Taiwanese government, freedoms, and art are leagues away from the People’s Party strict mandates in mainland China. Asian drama fans will note that television from mainland China is often overregulated to the point where the plot and characterization suffers, while Taiwanese dramas are rather enjoyable.

This political maneuvering is another example of a long string of contentious relations between Taiwan and China. It’s truly unfortunate, if not appalling, a children’s choir was the target.

Source: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-36547305

Source: AFP

Poignant Article Bridges Past and Present of Japanese-American Relations

ForeignPolicy.com today published a beautifully written inspection and reflection on the US’s role in shaping Japan in the 20th century. In “Hiroshima, My Father, and the Lie of U.S. Innocence,” freelance writer Jerry Delaney details his journey through memory and research of the post-WWII Tokyo trials: as a boy, Delaney lived with his father who served as a judge in the historical trials that were woefully incomplete, inadequate, and politically motivated. As a man, Delaney searched through first-hand accounts of the war crimes committed by both the US and Japan in the early 20th century to answer his daughter’s questions of familial involvement in this dark chapter of history.

This article gives new insights to those already knowledgeable of that era while being presented in plain yet artistically structured narrative for those unfamiliar with these histories.

A must-read for understanding today’s Japan.

Reconciling WWII Human Rights Violations through Art

Dark Pasts, Bright Futures: Reconciling WWII Human Rights Violations through Art  

 

“Art shows us who we think we were, who we are, and who we are on the brink of becoming.”

 

It is a common point of frustration and complaint among young American scholars in Germany that the Nazi regime is erased from public discourse and apparently public memory. I remember quite clearly, one day after a lecture in my DAF (Deutsche Als Fremdsprache) Twentieth Century German History course at Universität Stuttgart with other foreign exchange students, a diatribe among my colleagues as we walked back to the S-bahn. One of the young men was incensed by the way the professor had glazed over direct questions about the hateful, inhuman Nazis.

The rant is a familiar one to any American holding even a passing acquaintance with modern day German society. My mind drifted to a previous semester’s reading while still in the United States: Harald Welzer and several others had tackled this cognitive distancing with a book entitled “Opa war kein Nazi” or “Grandad wasn’t a Nazi” in 2003. My lingering impression of that work was the enormity of reconciling the image of your loving grandpa, who spoils you nonstop, with someone who may have committed atrocities or at least turned a blind eye to them.

Past hurts are often the deepest. How do we tend to them? 

The-Railway-Man-Poster Poster

 

Memorial Day Sunday, May 25, 2014: Christ of the Hills Church, Hot Springs Village, AR

After applauding for the men and women who had served in the military, the congregation of this Methodist church began singing a patriotic hymn, and my eyes wander over the people around me as the familiar words tumble out of my mouth with rote certainty.

Some of these individuals were members of the G.I. Generation and fought in World War II. I had recently viewed The Railway Man in the theater, a film starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman. Based on an autobiography, the protagonist Eric Lomax had suffered inhumane indenture and torture at a Japanese prisoner of war camp. The Japanese beat the prisoners. The Japanese treated the prisoners as slaves. A young Lomax was waterboarded on screen. His psyche was shattered by what he experienced in the War. Much of the frame of the story takes place in the years after the war as the survivors carry on with their lives. One of Lomax’s friends and fellow comrade from the FEPOW camp, described their common struggle with “battle fatigue.” (“Battle fatigue” is the antiquated term for the psychological difficulty soldiers have with reacclimating to civilian life after traumatic experience. We now refer to this as PTSD.)

 

When we surrendered, the Japs said we weren’t men. Real men would kill themselves or die of shame, but we said “No. We’ll live for revenge.” But we didn’t. No, we don’t live. We’re miming in the choir. We can’t love. We can’t sleep. We’re an army of ghosts.

Stellan Skarsgård as Finlay, The Railway Man

 

Hatred and revenge tear at the minds of the survivors of the war. They don’t escape the memory of the inhumanity of man. Tragically, this story is not unfamiliar to the American audience. While The Railway Man is a film based in autobiography, other permutations of the same story have come to the silver screen with a perhaps disturbing regularity.

In 1983, David Bowie (well known to my generation for handsomely daring a young girl to traverse “through dangers unknown” to protect her baby brother) and Ryuichi Sakamoto (well known to American Otaku for his breathtakingly beautiful orchestral compositions) starred in the Japanese-British film Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence. Based on the novel The Seed and the Sower by Laurens van der Post, this film even-handedly shows the psychologically destructive force of war on both captor and captive in a WWII Japanese prisoner of war camp. In the film, all men are oppressed by the experience, reducing them to their basic emotions. Sex, shame, violence, hunger, grief, self righteousness, and survival are all touched upon in a disorienting pace. Once again, the white POWs struggle with the Japanese concept of honor and shame in the face of human rights violations: the trailer remarks, “They were all honorable men, but oh what deeds could be done in the name of honor.” This film once again showed the American audience atrocities committed by the Japanese on Allied forces, but it wasn’t the first major motion picture to do so.

bridge_on_river_kwai-3

The Bridge On the River Kwai premiered in 1957, won seven Academy Awards, and is a considered classic in American film. Based on a novel of the same name by Frenchman Pierre Boulle, a white officer played by Alec Guinness pridefully bears starvation and entrapment in an enclosed cage as he refuses to give up the rights guaranteed to himself and his men in the Geneva Convention. The most fantastic and exaggerated telling of the goings-on in labor camps, the men prisoners arrive at the camp whistling a cheerful tune, and at the end of the movie, depart in the same manner. The captive Lieutenant Colonel bests the Japanese Camp Commandant through pure stubbornness in the face of darkness and death.

These three films, while the chronologically first two are based on novels and the third based on autobiography, are remarkably similar. All three are set in prisoner of war camps. The Railway Man is set in a construction camp for the Burma railway, which is the same railway to traverse the bridge over the river Kwai in that film. Despite the fact that Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence mostly takes place in the hospital wing of a labor camp, human rights violations are a reality for the captives.

These three films touch on our legacy of pain from World War II. Our past hurts are the deepest. Their scars invisible, hidden to the casual everyday observation, only to be drawn out in these works of art. The men who lived these circumstances survive still. How do we honor their sacrifices? How do we acknowledge their suffering with dignity? How do we show them respect, but by looking unflinchingly at what they have endured for our sakes? For our freedom? For our prosperity?

Photo credit: fictiondiversity.com

How do we rectify the horrors committed on us in the past? One answer to this unanswerable question is to acknowledge and remember the horrors we committed on others. In 2011, I first heard George Takei drumming up interest in his self-proclaimed “legacy project”–a musical reflecting his childhood in a Japanese internment camp in Arkansas. Growing up on the East side of the United States, I have no memory of learning about Japanese internment in my primary education. My first acquaintance with it was in a human rights course in college, and I gained more awareness from visiting museums in Oakland and San Francisco when I lived there shortly in the winter of 2005. The barbarity of our own government towards its citizens hovered in the periphery of my mind, but I was all too aware, then, of my peers’ ignorance of this truth.

 

Teen Wolf Season 3 PosterTeen_Wolf_S03E18_1080P_KISSTHEMGOODBYE_NET_2689

Now, Americans are much more familiar with this uncomfortable part of our past, and, thanks to Takei, interment is in our society’s consciousness. The latest, and perhaps largest, incorporation of internment into our popular culture was season 3B of MTV’s most popular young adult television show, Teen Wolf. Running January through March of 2014, this season’s story arc incorporates elements of Japanese culture and folklore into the previously established Western supernatural myth structure. A mainstream, young adult audience was presented with the world of oni (Japanese demons), kitsune (trickster fox spirits), yakuza (mobsters), and more. This introduction makes future stylistic or cultural influences from the land of the Rising Sun more accessible and familiar to them. Furthermore, the crux of the season hangs on events that occurred at a World War II Japanese internment camp in California. “The Fox and the Wolf” (episode twenty-one of season two) is an episode conducted almost entirely in flashback, showing the young viewers the hardships endured by displaced Japanese at the hands of often corrupt if not unnecessarily violent military personnel. At one point, the white captors steal much-needed medicine from the internment camp to sell on the black market. For the first time in American television, historical human rights violations by representatives of the US government are presented to a teenage audience. These young people will not only grow up with a more realistic image of our country but also more mature patriotism towards it.

Teen Wolf is not the only piece of popular culture that has ridden the wave of awareness of Japanese internment. On Independence day of this year (2014,) the edutainment giant TED released an article listing ten pop culture artworks reflecting this dark chapter of America’s past. Perhaps the most surprising entry is a song written by a former member of the band Linkin Park telling the story of a family being in an internment camp.

The main antagonist of the aforementioned season of Teen Wolf is an ancient evil spirit possessing a teenage boy. The spirit wreaks havoc on the community, and “draws its power from pain and tragedy, strife and chaos.” In several occasions, it goads characters to draw from past hurts and anger to break into violence. This spirit in many ways symbolizes the destructive force of hatred in societies. “Sometime the hating has to stop,” says Eric Lomax, as he pieces his life back together, confronting the revenants of his traumatic memories from World War II, emerging from the experience in friendship with the Japanese soldier who was his captor in the POW camp.

How do we address the horrors of the past? Reconciliation is the hardest part of conflict resolution. Honesty is not easy. It is not easy to remember the wrongs we have visited on others while someone perpetrates atrocity.  Dialogue is not easy. Winston Churchill once said, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” The way to honor the pain of the past is to strive not to be inhumane in retaliation to inhumanity, but rather to seek the humanity in every person, no matter his/her actions.