utopian pleasures and commodity ideals

Ono Seiko and Aaron Gerow onogerow
Mon Aug 10 20:01:06 EDT 1998

Thanks to Jonathan for raising a lot of very interesting issues with 
regard to spectatorship and fantasy.  He rightly caught me for being 
simplistic in my comments on the "childlike women" issue, but I am glad 
those comments spurred Jonathan's.  Still, there are some comments I 
would like to add on my own.

>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 ... 

A very good point, and in fact I am increasingly suspicious of making 
distinctions between "radical", "progressive" and otherwise.  So much 
depends on your point of reference, as Jonathan points out.  However, 
while I agree with Jonathan's point here, I do not think the male gaze is 
given the last word here.  The male gaze itself is constructed by a 
variety of factors that should be taken into account (which I did not in 
my very brief comment).  How that gaze is received is also an issue. 

>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?

It would be interesting to consider Shinohara's transformation as 
modulation.  In some ways, it is: TBC had to create levels in Shinohara's 
character (ditzy on the surface, beautiful underneath) which did not 
exist in that character before or in the models their other CMs offered 
(where surface beauty is character: Naomi is the ultimate example).  But 
in judging whether or not it is productive, I think the point is not 
simply making the theoretical move to find productive elements 
(resistance) in all forms of popular culture.  This is a debate that has 
been going on in communication studies for nearly a decade (especially 
over John Fiske's work), but I do sense there is an unfortunate tendency 
in recent pop culture studies to automatically assume "resistance", even 
when there are lot of factors which undermine that.  The reader is 
assumed to be "free" to read the text in whichever resistant way they 
want to, when clearly there are many factors which shape and guide their 
reading.  The fact is that many people read the way they are "supposed 
to."  Alternative readings are important, but it is also necessary not to 
be blind to the power structures involved in directing and guiding 
reading.  There is the Gramsci/Hall position Jonathan cites, but those 
two, I think, recognize the power issues involved.

This in Shinohara's case, one must carefully analyze the conditions which 
structure her articulation.  This can occur either at the economic level 
(contemporary Japanese capitalism and consumer culture; the place TV and 
TBC hold in that); that of textuality (textual conventions in Japanese TV 
CMs; in beauty discourse); and that of consumers of these ads (who can, 
of course, read them "against the grain," but only if they read within 
formations which help them to do that; one also has to consider the 
formations which prompt viewers to read Shinohara in in "unproductive" 

>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 .  

I think these issues also relate to the question of male homosexuality in 
manga.  While I agree with Jonathan that the prevailing thesis that such 
sexuality provided adolescent female readers with a safe escape from 
masculine centered heterosexuality, I do still wonder why, of all the 
proximate fantasies, male homosexuality was "chosen"?  How does that 
relate to the industrial basis of manga and the customs of reading that 
had been developed by the late 1960s?  Jonathan dismisses the real/unreal 
distinction (an important proviso), yet why do these male homosexual 
fantasies tend to avoid contemporary Japan as a setting (old Japan, as in 
_Hi izuru tokoro no tenshi_ does come up)?  How does this relate to the 
commodification of desire?

>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.  

This relates to the the old problem in film studies of the ideal vs. 
actual spectator (an issue also in reader response theory in lit crit and 
comm studies).  These days, ideal spectators are out, but I still do 
think we must not forget the structures that exist to make actual 
spectators read in the way hegemonic structures "want" them to.  The 
issue is extremely complex and I, not being skilled at anthropological 
methods, am not good at researching "actual spectators."  My research has 
tended to focus on the discursive structures that shape visual media like 
film and how they are read.  While I do hesitate to agree with David 
Hopkins dire picture of the awfulness of Japanese TV (the old Frankfurt 
school position), I still do see Japanese popular culture as an extremely 
managed culture.  From my research on prewar discourses on film, it is 
clear that the control, management, even repression of reading has been 
one of the most important issues in the formation of modern visual 
culture in Japan.  While there have been plenty of examples of readings 
that escape such efforts at control, just looking at contemporary culture 
(where hit songs are largely decided by their use in dramas or CMs, where 
the readings of TV shows are managed by the use of text on screen, etc.), 
it is clear that the issue of power in reading is still important.  I 
believe that no study of contemporary popular culture, TV, or film can 
proceed without a historical appreciation of the history of (and struggle 
over) reading and how texts are "supposed" to be read.

Forgive the very hastily written responses.  I'm heading out of town and 
didn't have time to compose more thoughtful comments!

Aaron Gerow

More information about the KineJapan mailing list