utopian pleasures and commodity ideals

Jonathan M. Hall jmhall
Sun Aug 9 14:42:56 EDT 1998

Hello KineJapan Readers,

I've been eavesdropping on the list for more than a month or two without
making the required introduction.  So as briefly as possible, I shall.  My
name is Jonathan Hall, and I am currently working on a dissertation.  My
work largely focuses on psychoanalysis, "queer theory" (for lack of another
similarly concise word), and non-normative articulations of sexuality in
Japanese film and literature.  In terms of film, I work most centrally
around Matsumoto Toshio, as well as in recent film.  Well, that was easy
wasn't it--why did I wait so long?

Anyway, what prompts my sudden desire to auto-introduce (something akin to
self-destruct--with a high-tone beginning to beep) is a more pressing
desire to comment on a few topics in the recent discussion of
"infantilism."  First of all, I think we need a better word if we are to
take the topic seriously.  Infantilism already contains such a pejorative
sense, and I don't think it a word worth resuccitating in some resistant
form.  Isn't "childlike" a less loaded, more accurate term--more precise,
and as an adjective, it is descriptive.  I think Aaron's suggestion of
reading childlike behavior as a kind of resistance is very useful, so I
take it as a starting point.  But I wonder whether we can delineate so
easily between the "radical" kind and the "cute" kind, as Aaron would like
us.  Who is to make this distinction? And on what basis?  According to this
logic, isn't the purported male gaze given the last word--in the sense that
what it finds cute is not radical ... Of course, this hearkens back to
debates in feminism from the 1970s around what constitutes "real"
resistance.  While those were important debates, I would hate to see them
rehashed here.  Instead, I wonder if, like in the 1970s feminist debates,
aren't we possibly indulging here in a kind of utopian radicalism, where
forms of resistance are separate and distinct from modes of complicity? 
Indeed, Shinohara's transformation might be viewed more productively as a
modulation, not a slip or fall into commercialism from a higher position of
resistance.  How, I believe is the question, do we define the continuum?

This brings me to David Hopkins' parenthetical comment on male
homosexuality in manga.  I had a hard time understanding for whom male
homosexuality was unreal.  While avid fans of male-homosexual scenes can be
as homophobic as their neighbors, I doubt any would consider 'it' unreal.  
I have always read such manga as a demonstration of the very proximity of
male homosexuality to notions of femininity in public fantasy, hardly a
question of its status as real/unreal.  Anyway, it is hard to locate the
fictive elements of these fantasies only in male homosexuality.  What of
their settings on slave planets, 19th century Paris, or Russian kingdoms? 
Are these somehow more real than the male homosexuality?  Male
homosexuality works, I would argue, precisely because it is nearby and
plausible, allowing for the easy metonymical jumps that the Freuds (Anna
and her dad) describe as the grammar of fantasy .  

Elsewhere, I deal with the relation between female consumers and
hegemonically produced modes of resistance (Gramsci/S. Hall: where hegemony
always manufactures its resistances--though I would add, not all
resistances.) My object was the early 90s gay-boom film, and as a
self-promo (a feature that incidentally drives a lot of Japanese tv these
days---thank god, though, I am given more than 30-seconds in a changing
booth before the curtains go up for you, the studio audience), interested
KineJapanners can read the piece in Japanese in a chapter of the just-out
anthology  _Jissen suru sekushuariti._  Still, what I tried to do in that
piece was to discuss hegemonic discursive modes rather than the particular
psychology of the female consumer.  For to do otherwise is to repeat the
blow, where the female subject is again reduced to the abject, this time by
the writer's pen, according to whom she "escapes" via the public fantasies
she purchases in book, manga or film form.  This is all the more apparent
when we consider that a not so-insignificant part of the audience or
readership is exactly not the "female" consumer.   I like to think that
modes of spectatorial identification are far more complicated than the
one-to-one escapist logic allows.  Rather, I believe it important to ask
what the public fanatsy must exclude to maintain its coherence ... whether
the individual male or female spectator actually does exclude these more
radical options remains a completely different question.   Recent critiques
of shojo-manga from a gay-male perspective have been limited in their
political potential precisely because they have been grounded in a limited
sense of spectatorial identification and an identity-political notion of
positive images.


univ. of california, sta. cruz/ univ. of tokyo

At 23:22 9-8-1998 +0900, Ono Seiko and Aaron Gerow wrote:
>David Hopkins wrote,
>>Infantilism in females is an interesting ideal. Of course, for male fantasy 
>>purposes, infantile women are not challenging or threatening to masculine 
>>superiority (unlike those pesky real women). For women, seeing the way real 
>>women are treated in society compared with the way young girls are treated, 
>>it is hardly surprising that some would choose to playact this advantageous 
>>role. (I've heard a similar argument as an explanation for the prevalence of 
>>male homosexuality in shojo manga--not real, somehow, like heterosexual 
>>activity would be, and so a way to escape from adulthood.)
>It is thus possible to see the assumption of a childlike image as a form 
>of resistance.  More extreme forms of infantalism, like the wearing of 
>baby-like clothes that was in a few years ago, or more eccentic modes of 
>childlike behavior, best epitomized by Shinohara Tomoe, actually have 
>very few fans among men.  Assuming such an image can thus serve both as 
>escape from adulthood and as a barrier against masculine, heterosexual 
>sexuality.  (It is interesting how Shinohara's image thus needed to be 
>remolded in order to fit the construction of women prevalent in 
>televisual consumer culture: i.e., her TBC commercials in which she 
>"reveals" really is "beautiful."  Her previous image was harder to 
>Other forms of infantilism (the "cuter" forms) are more likely to mold 
>the self in the image desired by the male gaze.  One can then aslo ask 
>why the childlike woman is desirable in contemporary Japan.
>Aaron Gerow

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