TV, infantilism, Shirley Yamaguchi

Aaron Gerow gerow
Mon Aug 10 22:30:08 EDT 1998

Birgit asked,

>It would perhaps be useful to first ask what precisely is perceived as
>infantilistic, childish, "girlish" or "cute", and in particular, where
>the line is drawn between representations of femininity (demure
>demeanour, grace, elegance) and representations of "childlike" women. In
>terms of TV, where is the difference between childlike idols and
>anchorwomen in newsrooms whose main function is to be decorative and
>express nothing short of a hundred-percent astonishment at the words of
>wisdom delivered by the (usually) male expert they are, ahem,
>interviewing? Where's the difference between baby clothes and pink
>office suits? 

This is a very good question and relates to the issue of modulation that 
Jonathan introduced.  It also bears on the problematic terminology we 
have been using: i.e., girlish, infantile, etc.  Terms have different 
valences (I, for instance, object to using "kawaii" for an adult women, 
but many adult women do not).

In making these distinctions, I think it is important for us as 
researchers not to simply impose our own categories, but to pay attention 
to how categories are formed in the industry and among viewers.  Hinano 
is not Watanabe Mari.  But Watanabe Mari is not Komiya Etsuko.  There are 
"types" out there, ones recognized by both the industry and viewers, and 
one of our first tasks is, I think, to catalog them.  At the same time, 
we should recognize that they have different valences in different 

>Bearing that in mind, if childlike behaviour is viewed as resistance,
>what precisely is it a resistance to? "Growing up" to mature femininity,
>whatever that may be? Both David and Aaron mentioned heterosexual
>sexuality as something that female infantilism is a barrier against. Is
>this supposed to imply (I sure hope not) that female homosexuality is
>equally "infantile" and is also a mere symptom of resistance against
>"adult" heterosexuality? 

This is precisely the problem of the resistance/coopted binary that 
Jonathan mentioned.  Such schemata tend to reduce everything to an 
either/or dynamic where the dominant becomes the major term that defines 
everything else.  Anything that is not the dominant, no matter how 
different they are among each other, becomes equal as forms of resistance 
(this is one problem with Burch, who ends up valorizing prewar Japanese 
film as in effect equal to radical avant-garde cinema because each is 
"not the dominant").  We have to eliminate such binaries and pay 
attention to the distinctions between the "other terms."  At the same 
time, I think we need to fundamentally rethink what we mean by resistance 
as well as the entire project of trying to "find" such resistances.

Again, sorry for the hasty comments.

Aaron Gerow
Associate Professor
International Student Center
Yokohama National University
79-1 Tokiwadai
Hodogaya-ku, Yokohama 240-8501
E-mail: gerow at
Phone: 81-45-339-3170
Fax: 81-45-339-3171

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