#AintNoCinderella: The Power of a Selfie and a Slogan

Earlier this week, the hastag #AintNoCinderella went viral in 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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

What makes Transnational Media Tick? Pt 1

 

What makes some art transport profitably overseas and others not? This was the subject of a thesis I wrote while studying at Universite Paris VII Diderot: I used comparative analysis to create a list of commonalities of the successes of Edith Piaf and Daft Punk as artists who gained popularity both within France and the USA. These included: being influenced by diverse artists outside of their immediate cultural sphere, maintaining creative rights, ability to connect and maintain relationship with audiences, continuous transformative creativity while maintaining recognizable fundamental identity.  I posited that meeting these criteria would bolster the chance of  success in both countries.  

These qualities were in regards to particularly music and specifically France, but when dealing with the dissection transnational media, larger forces are at play. Japan and America already have a close, strong friendship with a stronger trade relationship between the two. Our positive relations are so strong, even other countries have taken note. Danish-produced webcomic Scandinavia and the World published a one-cell rendition of this mutual love in 2012 entitled “Fangirls.” SatW features the misadventures of humorous characters who are anthropomorphized nations. In this comic, a female Japan and a female America, each toting artifacts and accessories of the other’s culture, exclaim, “Oh my god!!! I’m your biggest fan!!!”

Our love of Japan is so strong it is frequently manifested in our popular culture. Outside of the internment awareness campaign of George Takei, elements of Japanese pop culture are often cultivated, integrated, or alluded to in our film and television media. In this year’s Hannibal, a highly critically acclaimed NBC miniseries featuring Hannibal Lecter and characters from Thomas Harris’s The Red Dragon, the second season is completely structured after traditional Japanese Kaiseki dinner, with episodes named after course dishes, including Sakizuke, Naka-choko, and Mizumono. American viewers are now aware and curious about this element of Japanese cuisine. Shortly after the season’s premiere, Kaiseki dinners were in high demand, resulting in many societies for the promotion of Japanese culture  and other groups affiliated with Japan to feature them during fundraising banquets.

Another American television series to integrate Japanese culture is the ten-year running Supernatural. It has featured several “monsters” based on Japanese folklore, including Buruburu and okami. Additionally, it has referenced Japanese films like Godzilla vs Mothra and Battle Royale, as well as the recurring mention of hentai by bad-boy protagonist Dean. Additionally, this spring MTV’s Teen Wolf featured a Japanese centric season (3B,) which employed elements of Japanese mythical yōkai creatures, kitsune (fox spirits) and oni (demons).

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Beyond television, American film elevates Japanese culture in increasing frequency by paying homage to Japan’s style and imagination. Pacific Rim (2013) and the Transformers film series (2007-2014) both borrow heavily if not directly from Japanese media. These homegrown pastiches and tributes to Japan edify and proliferate its “cool” public image.
Looking back at Japan’s exportation of media to America, we can break down successful works and franchises, taking them apart and seeing what makes them tick for the two peoples. (Continued in next blog post.)

Disappearing Women: Part 3

Step Three: Gender Identity Displacement

When women and girls are confronted with role models that are only destructive to their psyche, the simplest solution is, oddly enough, to become men. Imagine parts of your identity as building blocks: one for assertiveness, another for demureness, one for pride, one for humility, one for social capability, another for gestures and physical communication skills, and so on. Some of these traits, society teaches us, are rewarded in men and others are rewarded in women. In this final category, a female target audience empathizes with a male-gendered protagonist (or sets of characters) with feminine identity components. Since these female stand-ins are in narratives for female audiences, the plot or major force driving the plot is often romance, and so we have two (or more) male-bodied characters in a romantic situation. In Japan, this genre is established in print and television media as “yaoi,”, but in the USA, “slash” is limited to the fanworks (fan fiction) and grassroots interpretative reactions to male -dominated character dramas.

Fascinatingly, yaoi and slash originated within years of one another in Japan and the US. In the late 1970s, doujinshi mangaka parodied the contemporary boy’s platonic love stories, spinning them into romantic and sexualized versions. Also in the late 1970s, female Star Trek fans began writing fanfic about the protagonists of their favorite starship. Stories would be about Kirk and Spock, abbreviated K&S if the relationship remained platonic, or Kirk slash Spock, abbreviated K/S if the relationship became romantic/sexual. This coined the term “slash” for the future generations of fan fiction writers to codify their works.

In Japan, yaoi has become a well-established genre, even becoming a major avenue for media exportation, reaching its most recent peak in international popularity in 2009-2010. There are thousands of yaoi titles, but I will review a couple here briefly. Yaoi follows formulaic character roles: the protagonist is almost exclusively the uke, the “receiver” or bottom of the sexual pairing, and the main romantic interest is the seme, or the “attacker” or the top of the sexual pairing. Ukes are drawn effeminately, with large eyes characteristic of female or prepubescent boy characters, and often have feminine personality attributes. In Junjou Romantica, Misaki (girl name for a boy character) spends much of his screen time cooking, cleaning, or thinking about dates. In Okane Ga Nai (1999-present,) uke Ayase becomes a domestic partner for the the seme Kanou in lieu of working a job. The roles these male (uke) characters play are traditionally facets of femininity.

Slash is harder to define as it remains a grassroots literary movement with, as of yet, no institutionally-backed artifacts. Like yaoi, slash is most often slanted through the point of view of the more effeminate, “bottom” character. These slash protagonists retain parts of their feminine identity while still being able to succeed in their professional lives and hold equal footing with their romantic partners.

Yaoi has been popular the world over, and slash is on an exponential growth of popularity over the past four years, gaining legitimacy by leaps and bounds over the past ten months. 

Disappearing Women, Conclusion:

In a country where a woman is shot and killed for talking back to a catcaller–in a country where a woman has to carry around her college mattress in order to get a fair acknowledgement of her sexual assault claim–in a country where there has yet to be a female president, American women are overburdened with the realities of a world set against them. They burn to fulfill their aspirations. In the quiet of their private lives, they turn to art to assuage the hurts of daily microaggressions and larger structural oppressions. Even in fantasy, they cannot fathom nor imagine a realistic female character that would believably solve the problems of micro-sexism and macro-chauvinism and accomplish their own personal goals and have a well balanced family life. Such a woman is unbelievable. Such a woman is unimaginable. So we turn to male characters, who wouldn’t have to deal with the problems we face. By displacing elements of our feminine gender identity, we are able to more easily process other elements of it. When we engage in these narratives, we suspend the feminine gender building blocks of “unhealthy beauty ideals,” “sexism in the workplace,” and “the dangers of travelling alone.” With these parts of our identity temporarily displaced, we can focus and process other elements of our lives and our feminine identities, like “sexual agency,” “building healthy, equal, and sustainable romantic relationships,” or “balancing professional ambition and personal life.”

 

Disappearing Women: Part 2

Step Two: Feminine Bodies, Masculine Masks

Title of this section is after Fanon’s Peau Noire, Masques Blanches

Our next category has fewer examples, but they are still a salient contribution to the self-image of women in the two countries. If women must give up part of themselves to be successful in a man’s world, then why not simply have it all by disguising themselves as men?

The manga ran 1996-2004, the 2007 drama was so successful that it was remade a mere three years later with a new cast but same set. The remake features a new subplot twists in which the school is facing financial difficulty, explaining the poor condition of the buildings and interiors. ouran1youre beautiful

Japanese examples which have seen international success include Hana Kimi (aka Hanazakari no Kimitachi E and Ouran High School Host Club, which both feature female protagonists who must crossdress and pretend to be male students in order to accomplish their goals.  This theme pingpongs around Asia, with Hana Kimi being remade in Korea, Taiwan, and Indonesia. The Korean television series You’re Beautiful, about a girl posing as her twin brother to be in a boy band, was remade in Japan and Taiwan. Even mainland China sees a version on this theme with My Bratty Princess (2005) in which a princess disguises herself as a ruffian to take down nobles a notch and redistribute their gambled money to the poor.

mulan twelfth

Western examples of cross dressing female protagonists are fewer, but just as impactful.  There are many permutations of and allusions to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, and even Disney has a princess who cross dresses to find a “reflection of herself” that she feels is authentic (Mulan). The best playwright of the English language and the second largest broadcasting company in the USA certainly influence our culture on a massive scale.

Now we have female role models needing to pretend to be men, outright, in order to qualify for a possibility of success. With this even more broken self image, we see the need for women to completely put away their female identity in order to exist in certain spheres. This sets the stage for our third category.

 

Honorable Mentions for Feminine Bodies, Masculines Masks:

  • Victor, Victoria- In which a female singer crossdresses as a male singer who crossdresses as a female singer.
  • 2004’s ½ Prince, a Taiwanese Manhwa comic in which a female protagonist is granted the chance to be a male character in an MMORPG, in which all players’ avatars must be representative of their birth-assigned genders. ½ Prince became an underground international success.

Victor Victoria12 prince