My Favorite Band is Dinosaur Jr. T-shirts

archive7

About four months ago, the Japanese street-wear consumer guide for boys — Boon — had a special issue on “Cool T-shirts for Summer.” One of the lucky tees to grace the cover was this Dinosaur Jr. tour shirt from the Green Mind era. At the time, I had assumed that the magazine was heralding the return of band T-shirts, or perhaps more specifically, ’90s alternative band T-shirts. But this is a consumer culture incapable of extrapolation, and hence the magazine coverage has led exclusively to an explosion of Dinosaur Jr. T-shirts floating around the city.

On Thursday, I saw two different kids wearing the monster shirt within a five minute time span. And judging from the differences in color quality, they are apparently both importing the old American shirts and re-pressing a new batch for the Japanese market. Is there a resurgence of interest in J Mascis, Lou, and Murph now that the T-shirts have the magazine world’s authoritarian stamp of approval? Unclear. I’ve never heard the band referred to in conversation, except for someone once describing a Japanese band to me as, “A cool rock band, like Dinosaur Jr. They have a turntablist.”

Everyone should know, however, that the coolest t-shirt of all time is the purple cow design, which the website helpfully reminds us, was frequently worn by bass prodigy Krist Novoselic of grunge band Nirvana. I mean, if famous people haven’t worn a t-shirt, how could it possibly withstand the social pressure of contemporary society?

W. David MARX
September 24, 2005

W. David Marx (Marxy) — Tokyo-based writer and musician — is the founder and chief editor of Néojaponisme.

88 Responses

  1. Momus Says:

    But this is a consumer culture incapable of extrapolation

    Some of us think of this rather differently, and find it one of Japan’s greatest qualities. Other ways to describe this:

    * Postmodernism taken to extremes not seen in the West.

    * The thoroughgoing de- and re-contextualization of cultural objects.

    * The breaking-down of categories and ideologies in which cultural objects originally appear.

    * Putting these culture-fragments into totally new contexts, with totally different meanings.

    * De-transcendentalization. “The history of Japanese literature can be described as the multiplex expression of a process of challenge by external and transcendental worldviews to this [sublunary, non-transcendent] indigenous worldview, which internalises them and at the same time secularises and ‘de-transcendentalises’ them.” Shuichi Kato, A History Of Japanese Literature (Kodansha).

    * Subtle defiance of the global monoculture by apparent embrace of its symbols, tempered by deliberate misunderstanding of them.

  2. Momus Says:

    In other words, when you say “extrapolation” you mean “think of Dinosaur Junior T-shirts as I do”. For you, rationality and thinking as you do are pretty much the same thing.

  3. Momus Says:

    And (I’m not finished yet!) just as you think thinking of a Dinosaur Jr shirt differently than you do is irrational, so you think that re-assigning its meaning-content elsewhere than where you think it should be (band t-shirts, 90s alternative band t-shirts, interest in the work of J. Mascis, etc) is abandoning meaning and content altogether.

    Your thought today is incomplete, because you haven’t tried to speculate on what the new meaning-content being assigned to these T-shirts is. What you’ve basically said is that content has vanished because of a “failure to extrapolate” and the influence of “authoritarian” magazines, when in fact content is elsewhere because of a new contextualisation. No speculation (other than “authoritarianism”) on why these Japanese consumers are embracing these shirts now, and what meanings they might be attributing them to, and what larger system these meanings might fit into.

  4. marxy Says:

    I meant with “no extrapolation” that Japanese youth consumers generally do not color outside of the lines when it comes to their fashion. They follow rules strictly, and if Dinosaur Jr. t-shirts are the only ones in Boon, that means Superchunk is out of luck.

    I no longer have the delusion that these shirts mean that anyone is listening to Dinosaur Jr., and I don’t really care. I’m just trying to illustrate the extent to which consumer magazine guidance shapes the exact nature of Japanese youth fashion. Magazines do not set light boundaries in which teens experiment; they generally set iron rules, or provide light paternal guidance which is then taken by the readers themselves to be law.

    You are describing something else, which I agree is often fantastic: taking a symbol and giving it a new life unrelated to its original meaning.

    What I am describing is Japanese consumer culture’s worst quality: the fact that a majority of teenage consumers are thoughtlessly imitating media-created fashion rules because of implied social pressure. Yes, this exists to a certain extent everywhere in the world, but it is the driving factor that makes Japan the biggest middle-class high fashion market.

  5. Momus Says:

    As usual in these discussions, I wish there were some kind of verstehen or “seeing with” element to your analyses. In other words, I wish you would actually stop the next person you see on the street wearing one of these T-shirts and ask him/her why he/she bought it, what it means, whether it’s about Dinosaur Jr the band or the other directions the imagery might point in (the cool young girl, the manga-sounding band name, the eco-green imagery etc). Of course, you might just get variants on “kakoii kara”!

  6. nate Says:

    momus, you’re suggesting that it was just coincidence? I think he covered that challenge pretty well with the original post.

    Marxy’s got a safe point here. There’s no mistaking it. People really do go to a great deal of effort here to exactly match the products advertised in the magazines… and the stores go to great lengths to cut out the articles corresponding to the clothes they sell, along with the cover of the magazine, and put them all up in the display.
    Maybe that’s not so uncool. Maybe there you would have a fine point of contention, but until you crack the covers of mono and street jack and boon, you’re only insisting on your own imagined principles in the face of contrary evidence.

  7. nate Says:

    is there someone I don’t know that uses “see with” for verstehen? Certainly doesn’t correspond to any sort of usage I’m used to.

  8. Momus Says:

    is there someone I don’t know that uses “see with” for verstehen? Certainly doesn’t correspond to any sort of usage I’m used to.

    Yes, there is, Nate:

    Max Weber used this word to describe the study of intersubjectivity, involving an attempt to understand the meaning of social action from the actor’s viewpoint.

    http://www.brunel.ac.uk/~hsstcfs/glossary.htm

  9. der Says:

    Oh, no, it’s `attack of the long words’ time again!

    de- and re-contextualization […] breaking-down of categories and ideologies […] putting these culture-fragments into totally new contexts […] de-transcendentalization […] sublunary, non-transcendent indigenous worldview […] secularises and ‘de-transcendentalises’ […] defiance of the global monoculture

    Sounds like a heck of a job they’re doing just by wearing a T-shirt. No wonder Japanese people are always sleeping on the subway.

  10. nate Says:

    sorry, wasted my time in college on heidegger, who’s got a pretty different kind of “verstehen” in mind. “See with” is a term I’ve seen crop up, but not in association with vestehen. Thanks for clearing up though.

  11. Momus Says:

    you’re only insisting on your own imagined principles in the face of contrary evidence.

    I’m simply asking Marxy to ask some participants rather than rushing to judgement with explanations that Japanese youth culture is “authoritarian” and “incapable of extrapolation”.

    He’s now retreated a bit from what I took to be his original position by saying that he “doesn’t care” that the Japanese meaning of Dinosaur Jr t-shirts is not the one he would give them. And he’s retreated to his usual stance of finding a division between the authoritarian Japanese style leaders and the sheeplike Japanese style followers.

    I have two points here: firstly, is this really a good portrait of a land which has such a creative consumer fashion market, and whose magazines depend more on street shoots and less on stylists than do Western magazines?

    Secondly, what if we forget for a moment this distinction between the mags and the consumers and just say that “in Japan, someone is giving a Dinosaur Jr t-shirt a new meaning”? In other words, let’s look at what producers and consumers in Japan have in common (culture, an appetite for recontextualisation) rather than what separates them.

    Wider question: what is the purpose of continually using a “conflict model” (education system v. the educated, mags v. their readers, government v. the people) when we look at Japan, a society that’s remarkably conflict-free?

  12. marxy Says:

    whose magazines depend more on street shoots and less on stylists than do Western magazines?

    Well, no. The bulk of magazines are styled, and then in the back, there is 10 pages of street snaps – curated in a way that they back up the style advice given in the front with primary evidence. The street shoots used are not objective documentary portraits of Japanese clothing styles, but specifically edited to show prove the editor’s points.

    a society that’s remarkably conflict-free

    It’s not 100% conflict free, and most everything is created to hide or mute conflict rather than solve it.

    a good portrait of a land which has such a creative consumer fashion market

    The Japanese market is creative only because you have more kids interested in fashion than anywhere else in the world and a small percentage of them are likely to come up with something spectacular. But most of it is kids following the advice of good stylists. Behind all good fashion taste is some level of elitism.

  13. nate Says:

    to be fair momus, are you asking the skull tshirt kids how much they really want to kill people? Marxy is jumping to a conclusion, but not jumping far.

    I love japan, and the freedom from conflict is great… so long as it suits me. If I were in a position of lesser social and economic status, being unable to trigger any conflict or upheaval in my own interest would be a pretty terrible position to be in. Freedom from conflict always always benefits those in positions of power and comfort, and enable their consolidation of exactly the resources that allow that position.
    Marxy like power to the people. Me too.

  14. Carl Says:

    Momus, you’re full of it. The plain meaning of the entry is “Hey, look at this, Japanese kids copy magazines very, very precisely. For example, if they show a Dinosaur Jr. t-shirt, then kids will wear that t-shirt but not others.” Marxy didn’t “retreat” for his original position when he later clarified that he doesn’t care that they don’t like the band. His original position is that Japanese kids are way too bound by magazine dictates, not people should only wear t-shirts they understand. You’re bringing a lot of other stuff into this that really isn’t related to the point at hand.

  15. Momus Says:

    If I were in a position of lesser social and economic status, being unable to trigger any conflict or upheaval in my own interest would be a pretty terrible position to be in. Freedom from conflict always always benefits those in positions of power and comfort, and enable their consolidation of exactly the resources that allow that position.

    I completely disagree. Conflict and instability advantage the strong, not the weak. The fact that harmony and stability also advantage the strong doesn’t contradict this.

  16. nate Says:

    I’m not talking violence… I’m talking about the same sort of conflict you are. Disagreement.

  17. Momus Says:

    “Hey, look at this, Japanese kids copy magazines very, very precisely. For example, if they show a Dinosaur Jr. t-shirt, then kids will wear that t-shirt but not others.”

    You’re leaving out the original why that Marxy gave us, which he later retreated from: “this is a consumer culture incapable of extrapolation, and thus, the magazine coverage has led exclusively to an explosion of Dinosaur Jr. t-shirts floating around the city.”

    When Marxy uses the word “Extrapolation” he implies a logical progression towards what he thinks of as the “real content” of a Dinosaur Jr t-shirt, and he tells us what this is: “band t-shirts, or perhaps more specifically, 90s alternative band t-shirts” and “a resurgence of interest in J Mascis, Lou, and Murph”. Where Marxy “retreats” from this original statement (or reveals it as a kind of faux-naive posturing) is where he clarifies, in a comment:

    “I no longer have the delusion that these shirts mean that anyone is listening to Dinosaur Jr., and I don’t really care. I’m just trying to illustrate the extent to which consumer magazine guidance shapes the exact nature of Japanese youth fashion”.

    In other words, he’s carefully de-emphasising the binary he sets up in the original post—[Western content of DJr T / Japanese content of DJr T]—and emphasising “the orthopraxy binary” [Japanese stylists / Japanese consumers]. This is because he prefers to look populist than ethnocentric, but I’m afraid it doesn’t erase the stance inherent in “this is a consumer culture incapable of extrapolation”.

  18. nate Says:

    for example… about a quarter of my students subject to pretty bad bullying, but there is really no system of grievance. The bullies grow worse, and in several cases begin bullying the female teachers who also have no recourse. I’ve seen several quit.

    This sort of conflict avoidance is prevalent all over in my schools and offices, and approaching these social injustices through cooperation only empowers the assholes.

  19. nate Says:

    I don’t think attatching a meaning to a shirt could be called “extrapolation”. I think he pretty clearly meant, expanding to different Tshirts based on the idea of a purple mid-nineties US band Tshirt.

  20. nate Says:

    you know, marxy… we really did miss you, evidently.

  21. Momus Says:

    The reason I can only assume Marxy’s original “incapable of extrapolation” point is “faux-naive” is that even in the West at this point it would be super-naive to see a band T-shirt in a style culture context and assume its content was “I like this band, yaaay Motorhead, I’m buying all their records!”

  22. Momus Says:

    I don’t think attatching a meaning to a shirt could be called “extrapolation”. I think he pretty clearly meant, expanding to different Tshirts based on the idea of a purple mid-nineties US band Tshirt.

    He clearly meant “why aren’t other 90s alternative band t-shirts being worn”? The idea of extrapolation is that there is some kind of inevitable logical inference that would lead a thinking subject to jump from Dinosaur Jr to, say, Nirvana, and that Japanese consumers are not doing this. He attributes this to authoritarian, rigid, unthinking consumption patterns in Japan, rather than to the simple fact that a Dinosaur Jr T-shirt means something other than “I like Dinosaur Jr” in Japanese fashion, just as it would to a lesser extent in Western fashion.

  23. Momus Says:

    And finally, finally, might someone actually hazard some guesses as to what a Dinosaur Jr T-shirt might mean in Japan? Do you think that might happen in this conversation, or aren’t we allowed to go there? And is the answer bigger than (robot voice) “I see and shall obey!”?

  24. nate Says:

    well, we’re speaking for him in absentia, but I think his point was, since there is clearly no interest in the band, it only seems logical that people wouldn’t think to find this exact t-shirt unless they were emulating the fashion exactly… that is, failing to extrapolate any principles that the magazine presented.

  25. marxy Says:

    Momus, I think you are bringing extra-textural clues into this entry. I do often talk about content etc., but I’m now talking about the idea of magazines promoting “band t-shirts” (a general style) and consumers reading the examples used as the only band t-shirts okay to wear in public. I don’t think Boon cares whether anyone wears those specific t-shirts, but enough kids take the narrow meaning from the pages that it ends up happening that way.

    Perhaps we should also distance ourselves from basic understandings of TOP –> DOWN fashion dictation, because these magazines are authoritarian mainly from the consumers treating the magazines like authorities, not from editors forcing anyone to wear these shirts. Magazines use vaguely patronizing language to their readers (mostly because they understand that they are not writing for peers), but in general, it’s the fans’ behavior that suggests magazines’ powers. I’ll admit a weak point in the conflict theory: Japanese consumers/citizens seem to respect/obey authority even when they don’t have to. But I think we still have to ask where that comes from.

  26. nate Says:

    The lack of meaning is precisely what all parties have been talking about!… there is no deeper value, beyond it having appeared in a fashion magazine. There seems to be no other good reason that people are choosing this particular shirt at this point in time.

  27. Jrim Says:

    Motorhead t-shirts? I assume you’re talking about people in Hoxton there. In which case, yes – it’s a pretty similar phenomenon. Some guy out of ARE Weapons gets snapped wearing one, and suddenly a few dozen waifs with asymmetrical haircuts rush out and do the same. (Of course, in this case it’s because it’s “ironic”, albeit only thanks to some trendsetter first establishing it as such) But if the wearer sports a beer gut and ponytail, I’d be willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

    I’d be interested to know, Momus, what you make of all those “Engrish” t-shirts that are still relatively popular in Japan (albeit in an off-the-racks-of-Daiei way). I bought a rather delightful one last year emblazoned with a cartoon dog chirping “Bitch!”, and the following missive:

    CAPRICIOUS
    It’s fine today. Let’s go to a park.
    Does it play with me?
    I will play with you today.

    What is the “meaning-content” for a garment like that?

  28. Momus Says:

    It seems that Marxy’s argument is getting narrower and narrower (and curiouser and curiouser) all the time! He’s now saying that there is no inherent meaning in the T-shirts, and that there isn’t even an authoritarian command to buy it coming from the magazines, but a weird projection of an authoritarian command coming from the consumers themselves!

  29. Momus Says:

    If the high ground of the content argument has now been vacated, may I rather cheekily occupy it? I think there are content-related reasons why Dinosaur Jr works as a Japanese T-shirt and Nirvana, say, doesn’t:

    * J Mascis is a notorious slacker. In the Japanese context, think furitas and Slow Lifers!

    * Dinosaur Jr had an album called “Bake Sale”. Think of the Japanese love of cakes and cafes!

    * “Green Mind” is another Dinosaur Jr album. Eco-themes and green themes are dear to the Japanese heart!

    Nirvana, on the other hand, is a Nietzschean band who sleeve imagery consists of “moronic cynical” scenes like a baby reaching for a dollar bill.

    I’m kind of joking here, but only kind of.

  30. Jrim Says:

    Actually, he made that point earlier:

    Magazines do not set light boundaries in which teens experiment; they generally set iron rules, or provide light paternal guidance which is then taken by the readers themselves to be law. [my emphasis]

  31. der Says:

    sheesh, relax…

    So, Momus, tell us then, what is it that makes these kids buy an exact replica of a T-Shirt seen in a mag, rather than something that has a looser connection (similar cut, similar colour, similar patterns, and, now we are getting to it, similar under some notion of similarity print) to it?

  32. Momus Says:

    there are content-related reasons why Dinosaur Jr works as a Japanese T-shirt

    Add to the list: prevalence of childish scrawls and child models on Dinosaur Jr t-shirts, and the fact that the band name sounds like a manga.

    Possible padody rebuttal of point about Nirvana: “But Nirvana is a Buddhist concept, and Kurt Cobain committed suicide, a Japanese tradition!” Objection to spoof rebuttal: suicide and Buddhism are “old Japan, dude”.

  33. Momus Says:

    what is it that makes these kids buy an exact replica of a T-Shirt seen in a mag, rather than something that has a looser connection (similar cut, similar colour, similar patterns, and, now we are getting to it, similar under some notion of similarity print) to it?

    I really, really think we should ask someone wearing one this question. But, to get structuralist on your ass, I think we might do well to place DJr T designs in “the set of all childish, slacker scrawl art” rather than in “the set of all 90s American alternative band art”.

  34. Momus Says:

    we might do well to place DJr T designs in “the set of all childish, slacker scrawl art” rather than in “the set of all 90s American alternative band art”.

    And that brings us back to the lovely word “extrapolate”. The kids wearing these Ts are extrapolating, just in a different set of signifiers than the one we’re in. They’re extrapolating towards “cute, scrawly” rather than “90s indie”.

  35. nate Says:

    sweet, marxy notices a remarkable coincidence and blames it on the magazine. momus says you can presume that japanese people love it for essentialist reasons!

    marxy, you lose!

    Much to momus’ chagrin, I’m sure, I saw four seperate skull themed tshirts worn by japanese women (of all races and genders) today. All arranged in brown or black. But I’m sure we’ll forgive the content to the japanese in a way we never would to the nyc crowd.

  36. nate Says:

    momus, huh? they aren’t extrapolating. marxy is talking about exactly 1 style of tshirt replicated many times. there’s no seperate scrawly slacker art tshirt up for discussion.

  37. nate Says:

    damn, that was poor phrasing. japanese women (of all the races to wear such a thing)…

  38. der Says:

    [bloody hell! why do I get these “must define comment pending template” errors all the time!]

  39. der Says:

    I really, really think we should ask someone wearing one this question.

    Are you suggesting they would say “I’m de and recontextualising bla bla breaking down categories bla bla” instead of “dunno. looks cool”, perhaps prefixed by “saw it in a mag”?

    Actually, who is doing this de- and re-contextualising business in your model? You seem to be oscillating between seeing it as a volitional act (the “reclaim the word ‘qu*er’ or ‘ni*ger’ model) and an external description of what someone is doing.

  40. der Says:

    [ Hahaha! I found the reason why… Certain words are banned here! ]

  41. Momus Says:

    who is doing this de- and re-contextualising business in your model? You seem to be oscillating between seeing it as a volitional act and an external description of what someone is doing.

    It’s a very interesting question, and one I’m glad we’ve got to. I think fashion professionals in Japan (and, slightly less so, elsewhere) are doing it, and fashion consumers in Japan (and, slightly less so, elsewhere) are responding to it, but that it’s also deep in “the spirit of the times”, because we’re all in the cultural period of postmodernism, which is all about de- and re-contextualisation, and clearly works with a global consumer system to take everything out of context by means of global trade and shopping. There’s an obvious financial motive for this: every recontextualisation of a buyable object involves a middleman and a profit margin mark-up. It’s one of the ways we generate value.

  42. der Says:

    To de- and re-contextualise, do you have to be aware of the original, “authentic” context?

  43. Momus Says:

    To do it, no. To describe it, yes.

  44. der Says:

    So it’s not a volitional act after all? (As in “hm, I think today I’ll decontextualise this logo I found on this american record”.) To add market-value, does there not have to remain at least a hint of the original context (“something american/foreign/cool”)?

    A vaguely related issue (which surprisingly hasn’t been touched here so far), what about T-shirt designs in “the west” with Kanji / Hanzi (mostly wrong)? Decontextualisation or stupidity?
    Are these guys (www.hanzismatter.com) here reverse-Marxysts, or just pedants?

    [ Marxy, I think something’s wrong with what I presume should be a message “illegal content”, or “please type in following word”; under certain conditions I get “error – must define comment pending template” ]

  45. Momus Says:

    But, as your scare-quotes around “authentic” imply, it’s often very hard even for academics to know what the “original, authentic” context is. Human culture has a habit of flowing in endless circles. It’s also very easy to misconstrue other people’s cultures according to the concepts of one’s own.

    For instance, listen to British cultural anthropologist Kay Milton telling British listeners to the radio show “Thinking Allowed” that Japanese women pay more attention, in monkey parks, to young monkeys and to mothers carrying babies because the role of Japanese women is changing as women enter the labour force, and they watch the monkeys with a sense of nostalgia for their own suppressed role of motherhood. (It’s at 7 minutes into the RealAudio file.) Now, I’d wager that 100 or 200 or 500 years ago Japanese women would have responded to those monkey mothers in exactly the same way. “Recent changes in the status of women” is an ideological injection, the bastard child of feminism and liberal economics.

  46. Jrim Says:

    Yes, but the flip side is that you often end up grasping at straws when attempting to escape just such chains of thought. Your comment – I’d wager that 100 or 200 or 500 years ago Japanese women would have responded to those monkey mothers in exactly the same way – is amusing. Seeing as how they didn’t even have zoos back then (well, okay, the first one opened in 1882), how exactly would it be possible for said women to respond in exactly the same way? That is, observing the simians’ motherhood rituals behind a comforting sheet of gauze/bars/whatever? Aren’t you just shooting down one ideology-fuelled bit of speculation with, well, another bit of ideology-fuelled speculation?

  47. der Says:

    But, as your scare-quotes around “authentic” imply, it’s often very hard even for academics to know what the “original, authentic” context is.

    That may be. Shouldn’t be too hard with Dinosaur Jr., though.

  48. Momus Says:

    But it is a hard question! Do we trace the attraction of the Dinosaur Jr T-shirts in current Japanese fashion to their inclusion in “the set of all childish, slacker scrawl art” or the band’s inclusion in “the set of all 90s American alternative band art”? Each has a different “original, authentic context” attached (the “original” context for the appeal of cuteness in Japan would be a specification of the role of cuteness in Japanese culture, for instance). We can’t decide the origin of these shirts until we know what they are, what function they’re serving in fashion right now. I think we’re still far from doing that.

    Are they a status symbol because they’re rare, or a status symbol because someone influential decided to endorse them, or is there some other reason they came back at this moment? Hisae, for instance, thought it might have something to do with the release in Japan of the documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston, since Johnston was a hero to the grunge generation.

    We still don’t have “the figure in the carpet”. It would be an interesting piece of detective work for a “fashion detective” to do. And I still think someone should ask the consumer.

  49. Momus Says:

    By the way, on this question of “why not ask the consumer / participant”, which I’ve been calling “seeing with”, let’s look at what Wikipedia says about Verstehen:

    “While the exercise of verstehen has been more popular among social scientists in Europe such as Jürgen Habermas, verstehen was effectively introduced into the practice of sociology in the United States by Talcott Parsons, an American follower of Max Weber. Parsons incorporated this concept into his 1937 work, The Structure of Social Action. Critics of verstehen such as Mikhail Bakhtin and Dean MacCannell counter that is simply impossible for a person born of one culture to ever completely understand another culture, and that it is is arrogant and conceited to attempt to interpret the significance of one culture’s symbols through the terms of another (supposedly superior) culture.”

    So the two positions there are:

    1. See with, ask the participant. “Observers of a culture (such as anthropologists) relate to an indigenous people on the observer’s own terms… Proponents laud this concept as the only means by which researchers from one culture can examine and explain behaviors in another.”

    2. Don’t ask the participant, and don’t try to “see with” because you can never step outside of your own cultural framework. “It is simply impossible for a person born of one culture to ever completely understand another culture… it is arrogant and conceited to attempt to interpret the significance of one culture’s symbols through the terms of another (supposedly superior) culture.”

    Note that there is a position absent here:

    3. Don’t ask the participant because he’s probably just following orders… not real orders from real authorities, but imaginary orders from imaginary authorities.

    Let’s call 3 “the Marxy position”. The “imaginary orders” thing, though eccentric, is quite a neat trick. Because if they were real orders we would be able to trace them to a Japanese person issuing them, and quiz that person on his/her reasons for re-contextualising the shirts. By avoiding this, Marxy avoids the infinite regress problem which undermines the primum mobile argument for the existence of God: if there must be a God as because the existence of things requires, logically, a creator, then what created God (and what created the creator of God, etc etc ad infinitum).

  50. Jrim Says:

    …if they were real orders we would be able to trace them to a Japanese person issuing them, and quiz that person on his/her reasons for re-contextualising the shirts.

    See, now this whole re-contextualising thing is starting to sound volitional. As for the whole “imaginary orders” thing – I wouldn’t just dismiss this possibility as a cute sleight of hand. After all, how else to explain the Jehovah’s Witnesses?

  51. Momus Says:

    It both is and isn’t volitional. As a music producer, I or Marxy would surely admit that we take elements from other people’s music, either in the form of pastiche, or actual samples, and put them quite deliberately in a new context. Sometimes we do it consciously, sometimes unconsciously (“Gee, I guess it does sound a bit like They Might Be Giants!”), and sometimes the association exists only in the mind of the listener. You can’t really make neat separations of all these things. It’s also often hard to determine the “authentic original” context. I’ve frequently discovered that my samples (eg a Pizzicato 5 sample I made once) were themselves sampled from somewhere else. But in that case, am I sampling P5’s sampling style, or their actual samples? Which of those quite different things is the “authentic original”?

  52. der Says:

    inclusion in “the set of all childish, slacker scrawl art” or the band’s inclusion in “the set of all 90s American alternative band art”?

    Hang on. The former is clearly what you suggest is the target context, the one that this artefact is being recontextualised into. The authentic context here quite clearly is “merchandise of alt rock bands”. (Ah! But where did Dinosaur Jr. get their artwork from? And their letters? Latin alphabet and all that! Where did they get the idea from to put these letters in this order? — But why, maybe the letters are just artwork in their new context. — And ha!, how do we know that there weren’t kids who saw this in a mag, went and bought another t-shirt with a cute monster on it — Etc. ad inf.)

  53. der Says:

    Is wearing / buying a t-shirt an activity similar to making music? Not sure you’re not going über-Cage here.

  54. Jrim Says:

    am I sampling P5’s sampling style, or their actual samples? Which of those quite different things is the “authentic original”?

    Well, it all kind of begs the question: does it really matter? Which, I’m sure, is a conclusion that you’d be delighted with.

  55. alin Says:

    Japanese kids are way too bound by magazine dictates

    what is this “too”?
    when is something too something?
    when a parental voice says so and almost everyone writing here (not japanese) when they actually care seems to take a parental position in regards to japan: corrective or protective

  56. MID Says:

    This is one of the most interesting web sites out there.. synthesizing humour / sociology / pomo / marketing / economics theory into a common thread. When is the podcast version coming out? I would love seeing a quorum.

  57. nick Says:

    so momus, are you consciously recontextualising the eyepatch from its original pirate connotations, or did you one of those girls with an eye disease on the streets of tokyo and think it looked cool?

    these kids don’t know who dinosaur jr is, they don’t care. any reason you make up is over analysis. band tshirts to me are a big deal, they were a symbol for who was in your group and who wasn’t in high school. so every time i’ve seen someone wearing a velvet underground or black flag shirt, and I try to ask them about the band I get greeted with blank stares. best case scenario is that they know its a shirt for a band, but i haven’t met anyone that listens to the stated band. (other frequent offenses include: operation ivy, crass, the exploited, rancid, the ramones.)

    but this nonsense about people saying “oh they’re recontextualizing, they’re reinterpreting” basically reads to me like: “well, they’re japanese so they’re not smart enough to understand that symbols other than kanji have meaning, so just smile and handle them with kid gloves” which is nonsense. they don’t know what it means, and don’t care, so they’re not really recontextualizing it, it’s a brand new thing that has no context.

  58. alin Says:

    nick: don’t you see momus , though he somewhat contradicts himself in the details is talking about the decontextualisation as a wider phenomenon so it’s silly to question him on individual cases, particularly since he’s talking collective vs individual

    marxy: this is regressing; you’re at helm, thought it moved beyond the previous t-shirt rave but looks like it hasn’t

    momus: Postmodernism taken to extremes not seen in the West.

    i’d be inclined to think a large chunk of postmodernism is basically the wild Edo imagination etc (in creativity and commerce as well) – you can call it post-modern in the sense that it survived various traumas modern(ism/ization) had brought about but not in the western sense where it started to be painted of the debris of burned-out modernism on the white on white canvas between periods of 5.33 minutes of silence. i still feel uneasy sticking the post-modern label to Japan (to anything actually but japan is probably a good place to start) . Just watched a 3 hours documentary of the Osaka Expo and among other things it struck me that most people visiting the show were just overwhelmed by just seeing foreign things/people. To call expo 70 the begining of japanese post-modernism, you might as well go a bit back and call rangaku 蘭学 the begining of j. post modernism. 

  59. nick Says:

    i find it considerably more difficult to question someone on a wide phenomenon, where they have room to hide in vagueness. specific cases are much easier, i think.

    and yes, the debate had moved past t-shirts, it was somewhat off-topic, but i was looking at all the demands to question the people wearing the band shirts. i have, and was not impressed.

    and finally “postmodernism taken to extremes not found in the west”… makes it sound too conscious . as in “i recognize that this symbol means X, but i’m going to alter it’s meaning through recontextualization, etc, etc, etc.” i think its just ignorance. how else do you explain a jpy8000 che guevara t-shirt?

  60. marxy Says:

    All of this is interesting, but most of it is dodging the main question: why are there Dinosaur Jr. t-shirts all over the place right now? (The question was not, what do Dinosaur Jr. t-shirts mean to Japanese kids, although it’s tangentially related.)

    Hisae, for instance, thought it might have something to do with the release in Japan of the documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston, since Johnston was a hero to the grunge generation.

    This is an absolutely ridiculous suggestion, especially if you agree that “extrapolation” as I defined it – Daniel Johnston –> grunge –> Dinosaur Jr. – is relatively rare in Japanese youth fashion culture. I think that one issue of Boon seems to be a much more specific culprit. Perhaps Boon was copying someone else’s curation of the shirts, but as someone very sensitive about Dinosaur Jr. gear, I never saw anyone wearing them until that issue came out. And since then, I’ve seen tons. There are only like 5 shirts in circulation, and I would have definitely recognized them pre-Boon.

    There is tons of other evidence that exact consumer copying of Japanese fashion magazines occurs. I have an interview somewhere where Nigo complained that his inaka customers refused to buy any colorways of his clothing that did not appear in a magazine. This is “following advice” taken to an extreme. Whether we can think this is “bad” or not, all the fashion elite in Japan constantly make fun of their young customers for this behavior.

    In other posts, we’ve dealt with Japanese re-appropriation of symbols, and also the scooping out of ‘authentic” meanings. I never assumed from day one that a boom in Dinosaur Jr. shirts meant a boom in Dinosaur Jr. (seeing especially that a boom in Nirvana would be a better causal agent.)

    I think Momus and Alin up there are suggesting that “obeying” fashion dictates is not as uncreative as we would imagine, but I’d like to hear more of that then the standard old po-mo “there is no content” argument. I would like you to consider the fact, however, that Japanese magazine editors and fashion directors do not find the “exact copying” behavior particularly creative or “good.”

  61. Jrim Says:

    Of course, it might just be because Dinosaur Jr played Fuji Rock this year, but then I don’t imagine you’ve seen many kids wearing Gang of Four or The Knack T-shirts recently. Actually, can you even get The Knack T-shirts?

  62. Jrim Says:

    i think its just ignorance. how else do you explain a jpy8000 che guevara t-shirt?

    Well, this is what intrigues me about the Momus position. In his first post, he talks of The thoroughgoing de- and re-contextualization of cultural objects… The breaking-down of categories and ideologies in which cultural objects originally appear… Putting these culture-fragments into totally new contexts, with totally different meanings… Subtle defiance of the global monoculture by apparent embrace of its symbols, tempered by deliberate misunderstanding of them.

    Now, all of this sounds like a very conscious act, but then in answer to der’s question To de- and re-contextualise, do you have to be aware of the original, “authentic” context? he replies: To do it, no. To describe it, yes.

    Ergo: you can “recontextualise” without any awareness of the original meaning (or commonly-ascribed meaning) of the thing in question – i.e. you’re ignorant. It all just seems a bit “the glass is half full”/”the glass is half empty”. Semantics aside, is “recontextualising” really any different from “being utterly clueless”?

  63. nate Says:

    actually, this could be a little enlightening… Dinosaur junior seems to be very concious reviving that logo themselves, and heading out on a reunion tour.

    see http://www.jmascis.com/

  64. marxy Says:

    Dinosaur Jr. did the original line-up reunion tour PLUS reissued their early works. But that seems to not suggest a direct connections to fashion the way that Boon does. Could be a factor, but is it the factor?

  65. nate Says:

    I’m suggesting the use of the exact same logo at the top of their website is a factor. It is the current preffered logo of the band, it seems.

    making this truly top down.

  66. Jrim Says:

    nate – to be honest, I doubt that the logo a band chooses to put at the top of its English-language website will really have much impact on the purchasing decisions of fashion-minded Japanese youngsters. Besides, said logo only appears on the J Mascis site, not the official Dinosaur Jr page (www.dinosaurjr.com) – the latter being the more obvious first point of call for anyone who actually wants to check who this band is before buying their T-shirt. Still, I think yours is a more convincing explanation than Hisae’s Daniel Johnston theory.

  67. nate Says:

    I’m not saying that people are looking at the website, but that if j mascis is using this logo himself to represent the band, that perhaps there is a larger push to employ this logo than just getting it in the pages of boon.
    Considering that the logo appears on the website, I’d guess that the shirts are being printed again, and maybe they wound up with some choice shelf space at tower records or something. Seems a much simpler explanation.

    I agree totally that jfashion zasshi are often followed to the letter, but the right store prominently displaying the shirt can have a much bigger impact on the consumer. Yeah, the market may have dictated these kids choice, but the magazine is likely only one arm of the massive publicity machine behind this stupid shirt. (semi-irony)

  68. jasong Says:

    [seem] to take a parental position in regards to japan: corrective or protective

    So true. Why is that? A remnant of the colonial gene, maybe?

    The only flaw I see in this otherwise excellent blog is the lack of data collected directly from Japanese people themselves (local magazines notwithstanding). Too many assumptions piled up on top of one another, sometimes. If I were writing about this topic and I saw a kid wearing the t-shirt in question, I’d go up and ask him why!

    The last shot of Kurosawa Kiyoshi’s film “A Brighter Future” (『アカルイミライ』) has a group of teenaged boys sauntering along the street aimlessly, kicking trash, all decked out in identical Che Guevara tees. Great shot.

    Just as the Nationalists drive through the neighbourhood…What brand of speakers do they use (National?)

  69. marxy Says:

    The only flaw I see in this otherwise excellent blog is the lack of data collected directly from Japanese people themselves

    A valid criticism to be sure, but in my defence, I am usually building off evidence I’ve collected over the years, which often includes talking to the kids themselves. I did not speak to the specific kids with the DJ t-shirts, but I have this gut feeling they don’t have this long story at hand for why they chose the shirt. If I was doing academic research on J Mascis’ popularity in Japan, I would make the time to do so, but since this is not my job nor my official research, you can understand why I don’t go bother complete strangers during my daily routine.

    I generally ask a lot of Japanese “experts” about these things and reuse their arguments on my blog. I wouldn’t jump to such conclusions about kids following magazine fashion to a T if it weren’t for the half-dozen Japanese magazine editors that bemoaned the phenomenon to me.

  70. matt Says:

    the most interesting thing about this blog is that the dialogue between marxy & momus will never meet. Their points of view are like the parallel line illusion, there seems to be a point at which they will converge , but actually they are completely parallel, 2 viewpoints that will never meet.

    momus – terminal optimist, non-resident. easy to get those rose-tinted eyepatches on, but optimism can change the world.

    marxy – committed pessimist, resident. difficult to avoid the stench of reality.. but maybe its not as bleak as he seems to think.

    On any given point, they will oppose, twist, reform & reframe their arguments in some pretty dexterous literal double nelsons & backdrop pile-drivers.. all very entertaining, the tension that comes with the anticipation of THAT moment.. will they ever.. (hold breath) AGREE ?

    An interesting thought experiment would be to see what kind of spin the radical optimist would put on a concrete event that confirmed the pessimist J-view… like a Japanese invasion of China (its a radical reclaiming of the imperialist identity that is their birthright ??)

    Just wondering, momus, have you ever considered employment with the LDP ? They could really do with a spin doctor as dexterous as you… (evil laugh)

  71. jasong Says:

    I generally ask a lot of Japanese “experts” about these things and reuse their arguments on my blog.

    Fair enough — maybe you don’t always mention who (because what they tell you confirms what you already believed anyway?)

    since this is not my job nor my official research, you can understand why I don’t go bother complete strangers during my daily routine.

    Hmmm, but you obviously spend a lot of time on this blog — thinking and writing about these “strangers.” As you said, they probably don’t have this long story at hand for why they chose the shirt anyway. It might go like:

    「えっ?なんで?BOONという雑誌で見たんだけど…」

    Then again, they might give you an answer you didn’t expect!

  72. Carl Says:

    There is a chance that the kids think “Dinosaur Jr.” is a fashion brand, not a band. Marxy, did the magazine explain that DJr is a band in the article or did it just show the t-shirt and list the price?

  73. Momus Says:

    I just want to say that even I didn’t agree with Hisae’s Daniel Johnston idea. Not specifically, anyway. But I do think we need to be looking at specific stuff that has put these T shirts out there at this time. I think there’s a combination of factors here: Dinosaur Jr playing Fuji Rock is important, Tower possibly buying a joblot of their merch, which uses old logos and images, is important. Asking someone wearing the shirt would be important too, if only to ask where they got the shirt. Was it a rock venue like a recordstore or a festival, or was it a fashion outlet? Who specifically is recontextualising a rock T as a fashion T? Only Boon magazine? Or individual consumers? Or is some fashion company printing the shirts, as fashion companies have done with Joy Division T-shirts, for instance?

    I also want to keep arguing for the inherently pleasing qualities of the shirts, in terms of acceptable Japanese iconography: their childishness, cuteness, eco-greeness, relaxedness, lack of aggression, and so on. No matter who has endorsed these shirts, they can only reach “the tipping point” if they appeal for cultural reasons like these. I really doubt that Boon, Nigo and Hiroshi Fujiwara combined could make the kids wear “Nevermind” shirts in big numbers, because that image (baby in swimming pool reaching for dollar bill) is cruel, cynical, somewhat political, and has horrible graphics.

  74. Momus Says:

    Plus:

    I still think this Marxy model of “an imaginary order from authorities who are really laughing at the consumer” is utter rubbish. It allows Marxy to say “the masses are sheep, but the so-called arbiters and authorities are only accidental shepherds”. It gives us this absurd picture of authorities who do nothing all day but endorse certain styles over others and try to influence people, and consumers who do nothing but follow this advice, but then disallows any causal relationship between these two activities and says that consumers only imagine they’re being told what to wear?

    Instead of saying that kids are following imaginary authorities, why not just abandon the authority model and say that kids are choosing, creatively, from a wide variety of suggestions?

  75. Dave Says:

    Another option, that I find far more convincing, is that the shops selling the T-shirts don’t like to stock garments that haven’t been featured in magazines – or even more likely, that when a garment is featured in a magazine, they stock more of it, and put it in a better place in the shop (front and centre vs. a high shelf at the back.)

    I would be *tremendously* surprised if this does not have some effect.

  76. marxy Says:

    say that kids are choosing, creatively, from a wide variety of suggestions?

    What’s interesting about markets is how there are almost limitless product options, but people tend to buy only a few specific brands. In Japan, this is especially apparent since the trend groups are so clearly distinguished. Everyone buys the Gap or Banana Republic in America, of course, but it’s hard to tell from where a pair of khaki pants come. Not so with the LV bags and Ape t-shirts. The Japanese magazines neatly organize looks so well that they become transparent uniforms – which is the whole point! You wouldn’t want to go all Punk Rock or Mod unless everyone could immediately identify you as such.

    Momus needs to decide whether he believes that:

    1) Japanese fashion is collectivist uniform

    or

    2) Japanese fashion is individual creativity.

    I think most evidence points towards #1, but whether collectivism is good or bad product of social pressure is a different issue. (I know what you think.) In every society, there is a small (second standard deviation ) size group of people doing progressive, unique and innovative things, but just because Japanese fashion is creative on the macro level does not mean the individual decision makers are all being creative. At least admit that in theory, you could have a well-dressed mass if the people on top had good taste.

    I really doubt that Boon, Nigo and Hiroshi Fujiwara combined could make the kids wear “Nevermind” shirts in big numbers, because that image (baby in swimming pool reaching for dollar bill) is cruel, cynical, somewhat political, and has horrible graphics.

    I suspect this is true.

    But again, you only buy things you’ve heard of, and if Japanese magazines show a lot of readers specific “safe” things that are well-designed and they have no personal reason to not copy that magazine outright, it’s going to cause a macro-phenomenon. Would you get the same pattern if readers specifically reject the shirt because it’s been in the magazine and is then too obvious a purchase? Or if you have a diversified media where magazines are more interested in articles and opinions than shopping guides?

  77. alin Says:

    1) Japanese fashion is collectivist uniform or 2) Japanese fashion is individual creativity.

    why? both/and || neither/nor! – possibly better (ok, differently) networked, with singular points hyper-sensitive to the other singular points around, always picking up and sending out subtle vibes – evident just walking on a super-busy street with pedestrians and cyclists sharing the same dense space without bumping into each other basically no crowd-control other than this in-tune-ness. i think anyone who has spent time in a number of world cities would agree on this.

    if readers specifically reject the shirt because it’s been in the magazine

    oedipal again

  78. alin Says:

    of course there are people who reject all these things. have you noticed an uniformity in the girls who don’t carry LV handbags? I get the feeling you’re projecting your own Oedipus Schmoedipus here.

  79. alin Says:

    sorry that was a mistake, meant to replace have with carry (my ESL, i’m never sure of the right word) and it got sent twice

  80. nick Says:

    i like the comment that linked magazine coverage to more prominent placement in a store. i think its likely and it helped even out the statistical distribution. but i’m consistently surprised at how much sway the fashion magazines hold here. even with my girlfriend who has a unique style (in that i haven’t seen it copied) spent a half-hour describing the difference between straight legs (foreign girls, the best thing to have), o-legs(what she has), super o-legs(what i have) and x-legs(the worst), using it as the foundation for why she can’t wear jeans. where did she read it? a fashion magazine, naturally. we’ve had many similar conversations, but the strangest part is that the magazine’s advice is usually ridiculously over-analyzing, but dead-on. net result? people in japan look damn good. all hail the benevolent dictators, i guess.

  81. der Says:

    I get the feeling you’re projecting your own Oedipus Schmoedipus here.

    Marxy wants to kill his father and have sex with his mother? Marxy wants the Japanese kids to kill their magazine fathers and have sex with the models? Marxy wants Dinosaurs to eat trendy kids so he can have all the LV bags for himself? If true, a true scandal!

  82. Momus Says:

    Personally I adore Japanese girls with “x legs” (which turn into “w legs” when they sit splayed on the floor). In fact one of my proudest achievements is having published a four-page illustrated article in Relax magazine in which I not only posed in the “x-pose” myself but said:

    “The way Japanese girls walk drives me crazy. It looks kind of lame sometimes, toes pointing inwards in a burikko pose, knees knocking together, legs kind of bandy and shuffling. Some would say this is just bad posture, but to me it’s sexual magic. I don’t want to even start trying to analyse why. You don’t analyse magic, you just enjoy it.”

  83. nick Says:

    following in the off-topic vein, i had a friend that really dug on X-legged japanese girls too. his reasoning behind it was that they were so weak and helpless, which was attractive to begin with, but the effort they gave every morning when they put on those 5-cm heels and hobbled out the door impressed him.

    i personally think it resembles cerebral palsy, so you can keep ’em.

  84. saru Says:

    “You don’t analyse magic, you just enjoy it.”
    That explains Momus’ posts, which seem to me more troll-like all the time.

  85. Momus Says:

    Are you implying that trolls are people who enjoy things while other people try to analyze them? How do you know Marxy isn’t enjoying his gloom about Japan’s “termial decline”?

  86. alin Says:

    oedipus .. Marxy wants to kill his father and have sex with his mother?
    no, less about fucking your mother than it is about a pathological state of rebelion against anything seemingly established or anything that resembles authority, sometimes for the sake of some utopian progress often just for it’s own sake (psychosis). It’s been the driving force in the last x00 or x000 years of western culture and has produced quite a few nice things and ideas.

    marxy wants japanese people to be more oedipal.

  87. nate Says:

    alin, you’ve totally missed marxy’s message. he really does want people to have sex with their mothers and kill their fathers.

  88. Carl Says:

    I think you’ve all forgetten Dinosaur Jr.’s hit song:

    “Don’t Wear Our T-shirt, Unless You Kill Your Father And Sleep With Your Mother.”

    It had all the kids grooving, back in the day. Catchy chorus.