Living in America, I like my country. But, apart from things such as the constitution and our predilection for freedom, as fragile as it might be, I don’t like my culture. I don’t think I ever have, honestly.
The music we come up with as a country is, generally, stupid. Songs such as “Anaconda” – which is, frankly, an ode to the male organ and thinking with it – are popular. Songs are almost always about love and sex, and generally some puerile idea of what it is anyway, In fact, as a culture, we seem frankly obsessed with sex, have equated love with sex and pretty much allowed it to take over our entire idea of identity, and seem uninterested in – in fact, actively hostile to – anything which might even smell of intelligence.
Of course, it’s a big country. I’m mostly referring to popular culture. I am, after all, a part of the country, and the fact that I am so critical of, and disgusted with, popular culture here means that it’s not homogeneous.
Japanese pop culture is different. I’m not going to make a value judgement and say it’s objectively better, but I like it a lot more. The popular music – such as from AKB48 and other idol groups – has thoughtful and sometimes even profound lyrics. Anime runs the gamut, but can be well animated and thought out (contrast with Hanna-Barbera style cartoons, which are classics but are, to a one, poorly animated). There is a general focus on cuteness and innocence that is very much contrasted with the western focus on sensuality and eroticism (though I will grant that Japanese porn is messed up sometimes – when they let loose, they really let loose!). It’s no wonder that, for those from a western culture that disappoints at every turn, Japanese pop culture, in most of its forms, is so attractive.
A part of me doesn’t like to focus on any country’s pop culture, as I know that said culture rarely represents what makes a country special or great – including my own. But pop culture in any country both follows and leads the other, more intrinsic, aspects of culture, so there are things to learn from it.
Many of the entries on this blog have been me trying to reconcile the fact that I don’t like pop culture with the fact that I like Japanese pop culture. Perhaps it’s only the vacuous and puerile American pop culture I am not a fan of. Perhaps there is nothing wrong with liking Japanese pop culture. Enjoying a song such as sakura no hanabiratachi is not quite the same as witching Nicki Minaj and her rather disgustingly and likely artificially voluminous bootie twerking around while they sing about a man’s phallus. All told, I’d rather watch cute teenage girls dance around and sing about graduating from school than caked-on makeup clad women presenting themselves as prostitutes trying to arouse men for money.
One has a certain youthful purity to it The other is just disgusting.
I am aware, as I’ve posted before, of the seamy underbelly of Japanese idol culture – and in a broader sense, Japanese pop culture in general. Their cute and innocent facade is probably just as manufactured as America’s “house of ill repute” facade. And by no means do I want to minimize the potential impact on the lives of the girls I have come to admire so much. Some don’t make it. Some are almost certainly abused in one way or another. And some make the best of their situation and circumstances and make a name for themselves even past graduation from whatever idol group they may have been a part of. I know I follow the YouTube channels of both Kojima Haruna and Takeuchi Miyu. I don’t follow them because they’re former idols. I follow them because they earned it. They’re beautiful, but they’re talented.
I admire some of the idols I follow or at least have been aware of in a way that I wish I could admire in performers of my own culture. But I can’t. I can’t admire them. I can’t admire Nicki Minaj, or Britney Spears, or Rihanna, or pretty much anyone else who have a small seed of talent which they water with their own… I’m not going to follow that train of thought any further. It was a reference to Cardi B, who is perhaps one of the worst offenders, and exemplifies everything wrong with my culture.
I’m particularly sensitive to being thought of as a weeaboo. Which is something I don’t understand, myself, because typically I’m utterly unconcerned with what people think. But perhaps I’m unconcerned with what people of my culture think because I generally have no respect for them. But I respect the Japanese people – at least more than I do my own. They value and foster things that are missing in my culture, and perhaps I am as hungry for that as I am anything else. To be thought of someone who thinks of them as something they’re not would pain me greatly. But it would be the greatest compliment, conversely, if they understood that I see them as they are – warts and all – far more than most western people, through education, experience, and exposure, as fleeting as it may be, to their culture and people. I don’t respect every Japanese person. But I sure respect them a hell of a lot more than I do most people in my own country.
Do I go off the deep end? Maybe sometimes. But I guess I’d rather do that than try to find something in my own culture to respect. That ship sailed years ago.