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).

pacific_rim_ver12_xlg transformers

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

Disappearing Women: a three part study

Disappearing Women: Tracing Femininity and Women’s Gender Roles through TV and Film Media in the US And Japan

PART 1

In America,

books teach us how to imagine,

tv media how to interact,

music how to feel,

and videogames how to think.

 

I first gave this talk in January of this year. I was grappling with the multifaceted and often oppositional if not antipodal portrayals of and messages about women in visual media, which featured female protagonists and feminine target audience. After ruminating on the idea, I saw the emergence of three categories divided along the lines of how the protagonist dealt with the idea of femininity and her struggle with her  feminine identity. I saw a lessening in the depiction of women’s physical attributes/identity, while the mental and emotional side of women grew stronger. Lets trace this disappearance.

 

Step One: Breakthrough Women Breaking

 

The strong female protagonist, with whom the female target audience identifies, struggles with doing it all, and suffers a break–physical or emotional–from overexertion. The character tries to balance personal and familial life with professional ambition, and something has to give.

Popular in the US and Japan. In Japan, the manga began in 2000, anime ran 2006-2007, drama 2010.Popular in Europe, especially France, and Japan. In Japan, the manga started in 2000, anime 2006-2007, drama 2010.Popular throughout Asia, inspiring manga-based anime and j-drama in Japan, as well as dramas in Hong Kong, South Korea (2009), Taiwan (2001-2002), Indonesia (2002,) and Mainland China. In Japan, manga was published 1992-2003, anime 1996-97, film 1995, drama 2005-07.

In Japanese media, we see several examples of this in a range of popularity and across demographics. Japanese media targeting female audiences are split into two demographics: shoujo, which targets girls ages eight to sixteen , and josei, which targets women ages seventeen to fifty-five. Examples of shoujo media with this theme include The Wallflower, a story (released as a manga, anime, and j-drama) of a woman who hides away her femininity in her pursuit and love of all things horror. Also Kaichou wa Maid Sama (manga and anime) and Hana Yori Dango (the manga, anime, and j-drama of which have been popular for over two decades) both feature high school-aged female protagonists who at one point suffer exhaustion from working jobs, having active after-school lives , and studying, to the point of being hospitalized/given medical care to heal.

source: shinealightrose.blogspot.comanego

 

gokusen

For the josei demographic, we have the series Pride, where a woman has a good career and supportive friends, but lacks romantic development, eventually descending into a relationship with domestic violence; Anego, in which the career woman protagonist outright says her professional life gets in the way of her securing dates; and Gokusen, where the female protagonist must hide her familial life to keep her dream job as a teacher of high school students.

DevilWearsPrada-Web mona movie-dreamgirls-poster-backgrounds-wallpapers

In US media, the examples abound. With the narrow category of female protagonists who sacrifice personal/familial life for their professional development, there are major motion pictures such as The Devil Wears Prada (2006), The Iron Lady (2011), and Zero Dark Thirty (2012). Widen the scope of the dilemma and even more popular films fit this category: In Mona Lisa Smile (2003), the female characters are presented with a choice of professional (academic) ambition or familial life, but no depiction of a balance of the two is portrayed. Dreamgirls’ (2006) empowered women protagonists could have good careers or good family lives (i.e. good husbands) but not both. The first three installments of the Twilight saga (2008-2012) in an artistic twist of this theme, set up the choice of financial security or family (i.e. the ability to bear children.)  Even the acclaimed Frozen (2013) featured a female protagonist who, for 95% of the film, had hide her emotive side (often seen as a feminine trait) in order to be a good ruler.  

With all these examples of women having to give up part of themselves in order to be successful, are we addressing the struggles of women or teaching our daughters that they must adapt themselves in order to survive in a man’s world.