Once the “pop sociology of pop” and now a “post-blog,” Néomarxisme primarily analyzes the social mechanics and historical circumstances behind contemporary Japanese pop culture. Be suspicious of “Gross National Cool” and the dubious fiction of Speed Tribes. A good deal of Japan’s current cachet in the Western mainstream is trickle down from hipster tastes of the 90s. Despite what the Western media claims, Harajuku and Omotesando have seen better days: A Bathing Ape rolls with Good Charlotte now.
Contemporary Japan is best described by the Dasai Market Thesis, the Leftover Plurality, the Soft Appeal (1, 2, 3). Japanese universities remain bastions of academic deprivation and the classic Japanese recruitment system still guides talented young people to corporate careers.
Things are a bit “vanilla” – between the Korean boom, the explosion of Can Cam girls, the universal LoVe of Louis Vuitton, Murakami Takashi sell out tie-ups, the sports-music of towel rock, and mass fashion of Uniqlo. And the late start of significant internet diffusion means the culture has not yet started to experience the poison touch of over-information, despite the similarities found in hyper-product proliferation.
Some of this stems from the rise of social class (1, 1.5), although Japan has always had some level of income inequality. Don’t fear the high Gini: poor people are awesome and the nouveau riche’s houses are boring in an interesting way. The old Japanese employment system used to prevent excess disparity, but now it is exacerbating the problem. The ruling party prefers a 15% consumption tax to an increase in income taxes – and that will be on top of the age-old Friend Tax.
I do not mean to call the 90s a “golden age” – but many Japanese look fondly upon its cultural explosion. The legacy of Shibuya-kei (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) still remains, but many artifacts of 90s culture are fading away. (R.I.P. Zest and Relax.)
Everything has its roots in history. (Breast obsession and pedophilia are relatively new, however.) The hippy movement of the Futenzoku and student Leftists did not have much social impact due to the principle of tenko – giving up youth ideals upon college graduation. (They need to rebrand Communism just like they rebranded the Japanese “wa”). American culture was still cool in Japan in the late 70s, but hasn’t been since the days of the Oynanko Club (1, 2, 3) and the Bubble era excesses.
Japanese culture fundamentally adheres to the Confucian ideals of orthopraxy, compared to the wreckless goal-oriented Western protestant orthodoxy seen in Top Gun. This orthopraxy seems to guide amateur band culture, rakugo, and the stylistic faux pas of fully-buttoned three-button suits. Orthopraxy does not mean that pakuri (ripping off other people’s creative ideas) is widely tolerated, however, as shown in the Noda Nagi vs. Aida Makoto battle (1, 2).
Ideas of “propriety” inform fashion trends. There is a core difference between delinquent subcultures and consumer lifestyles. The latter strictly relies on consumer manuals, which is why you may see one thousand kids all wearing the same Dinosaur Jr. t-shirts or nonchalantly brandishing swastikas in Harajuku.
Looking at entertainment and culture in Japan inevitably leads you into the valley of shadows. The shady bosses running all-powerful production offices – “jimusho” – tend to vanish celebrities and then resurrect them when necessary. Boy band commodities work within a monopolized market. Idol contests are rigged, payola common, and open media criticism rare. Film distributors do not think twice about censoring a review of Star Wars for being “too political.” The power of producers over media and consumers may mean we never find out that “Densha Otoko” does not exist (1, 2, 3) or what was really happening behind the Hamasaki Ayumi wedding fiasco (1, 2, 3). This production logic is also responsible for boring TV, which may be bad for your brain.
New media like Kikko’s blog are breaking down information barriers, but most background noise is still off-limits to the common man.
Contemporary Japan also hosts an epic battle between deeply ingrained pacifism and jingoistic nationalism. The former could be a positive influence in the world, seen in Gundam’s peaceful universalism, peace chic, and the environmental-friendly Aichi Expo 2005. In the other corner, old guys – including the next prime minister – believe in a civil religion of Japanese uniqueness, call for a new patriotism, and write best-selling anti-Western diatribes called Dignity of a Nation (intro, 1, 2, 3, 4). Their more rabid cousins like blasting old tunes from loud trucks and hate Russians. They also dislike Koreans, even though the Jomon vs. Yayoi controversy (1, 2) seems to suggest the two nations are racially related.
You should know that I am one of the few people willing to tackle such difficult topics as the Clone University yearbook from 2183 C.E., movie pitches about “E.T.”, the failure of “Scentless Apprentice”, matchups, Japanese tribute bands, and celebrities separated at birth.
Want to know more about Marxy? Here is a self-interview. I am a proud member of the bimyou-zoku. You missed it, but once I let my cousin’s friend guest edit my blog to disasterous effect (1, 2, 3, 4). In high school, I had a rock-rap band and was mashing up video games with all sorts of art. If you see me on the street, ask me about The Goonies conspiracy.
Next year, please participate in the Pavement Lyric Parody Contest.