Kon’nichiwa Australia! Looking at the prevalence of Japanese culture in Sydney.

Australia is a multicultural nation. We pride ourselves on diversity and being open to new cultures and the Japanese culture is no exception. In recent years manga, anime, cosplay and all things Japanese have all exploded into Australia culture and the cultural and media exports make Japanese culture a soft power deserving of our attention. Through my digital Asia studies I have discovered how much Japanese culture is available for consumption in Australia and it’s popularity among Australian audiences.

There are some who believe that the rising popularity of the socially constructed ‘cool Japan’ and products that have an essential ‘Japaneseness’ about them serve to reduce bad feelings toward Japan that came after WWII (Allen 2006). What creates this idea of ‘cool Japan’ are the innovative technology and interesting cultural products that Japan are able to export to Australia, and Australian consumers can’t get enough of them. From sushi and ramen, to music and entertainment, manga and anime, Japanese culture is hot in demand in both popular and alternative cultures in Sydney in a way that you would not have found 50 years ago. That is until Japanese pop icons like Astroboy started starring on our screens, bringing back popularity for Japanese media culture in a way that Hoskin puts it as “the postwar generations basking under the rising sun” (Lynch 2007).

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Japanese culture has astronomically increased in Australia since the 1970’s. Photo by Simon Murphy.

I firstly investigated J-Pop music and the artist Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. There is a plethora of J-pop music available to be sourced by Australians on YouTube and iTunes among other sites and J-music discussion on a global level can be found online through sites like JaME. On occasion Japanese artists tour Australia like Kyary did in June this year when she visited Sydney and Melbourne. Having artists tour in a different country and well as having the music availably digitally shows that there is an audience who are wanting to experience Japanese culture first hand and enjoy the accessibility they have to a music culture that is diverse from the options they are given at home. Although I did not find any J-pop music available on my trip to Daiso, other than the in store playlist, it was able to provide other aspects of Japanese culture.

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A kawaii Kyary Pamyu Pamyu performing. Photo by TV France Japon

What I found in Daiso were Japanese food and beverage items from their Eat Asia branch. This branch, according to Daiso’s Kez Katashima, is an attempt to bring Tokyo to Sydney and will eventually expand to include a Japanese eatery with authentic Japanese food available to the Australian market. I did purchase some food products from this offshoot but found that although it was dominated by Japanese goods there were also Chinese, Taiwanese, Thai and Korean goods also available. However Eat Asia isn’t the only Japanese cuisine available nearby.

If you ascend the escalator there are many Japanese eateries like Izakaya Yebisu (10/10 food, would recommend), around the corner you have recently opened Uncle Tetsu’s Japanese Cheesecakes creating huge queues down the street and across the street you have sushi shops in the HSBC Centre food court. At this very spot on George Street, it is possible to see how big Japanese culture is in Sydney, not only from the food venues but there is the Kinokuniya bookshop on the other side of the QVB which is a Japanese chain bookstore selling books and manga in both Japanese and the translated English versions. If you open up the insanely popular PokemonGo app (based off the Japanese game franchise Pokemon) there are also more than a few Pokestops to hit while you wait for the traffic lights to change. It wasn’t until my trip to Daiso that I realised how prominent Japanese culture is in Sydney, as it just seems to be entwined in the globalised, cultural melting pot that is the city.

These products, shops and experiences are interesting when thinking about globalisation because they play into the idea of the soft power potential of Japanese pop culture through the cultural transferal of ideas, capital, culture and economics to an Australian consumer market (Nye 1990; Allen 2006). This may not necessarily be a bad thing. One of the things I noticed at Daiso was the sheer amount of items that were just so dang cute. I’m talking about lunch boxes, to hair accessories, even the packaging was adorable or as it is know in Japan, kawaii (Kasriel-Alexander 2013).

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Some of the kawaii products I found in the Daiso craft section.

Kawaii culture is one of the most intriguing things I have found about Japanese culture  through my research on Daiso products and kawaii is becoming increasingly popular in Sydney. Not only from being able to purchase kawaii goods from store like Daiso but people are able to fully immerse themselves in the culture through acts of cosplay (costume play) and kawaii dress ups as seen in Japan (Knight 2013). Fans can show off these dress-ups at conventions like Supanova held in Sydney every year which also sell Japanese goods and sometimes hosts Japanese actors (SMH 2014).

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Kawaii cosplay at Supanova. Photo by Jeff Watkins

My trip to Daiso has provided me with a greater insight into Japanese culture both through my purposeful research into the items in the store and items that I purchased. As well as the inadvertent, autoethnographic epiphanies that Ellis had talked about, which I had when I realised how much Japanese culture was present in the social and economic culture of Sydney and how it had already had an impact on me and other media and culture consumers in Sydney.

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Let’s go, Daiso!

For my individual project I decided to look at the Japanese store Daiso. I visited the store and purchased a few items to try out at home in order to have what I would consider a Japanese cultural experience. I’m no stranger to Asian shops like this, I used to frequent Korean chain Morning Glory on Sydney trips with friends when I was a teen, stocking up on cute stationary and interesting foods like Pocky. Plus there was always some novelty item that we would try and figure out what it was. So in a way this experience was so that I could chase that culturally unfamiliar feeling again but in a more engaged, in depth way.

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The exterior of a Morning Glory store that I have visited before. Photo by Anetz via Flickr

I started off my visit with a digital twist – visiting the Daiso online store a few days before I went. After clicking onto it, I was taken aback by the fact that they girl on the Daiso advertising was white, whereas I thought that it would be an Asian woman who would be the face of Daiso. This shattered my initial idea of experiencing a Japanese store, because I  expected that the Daiso store to be an essentially Japanese experience that is packaged and exported to Australia as an intact Japanese product free from Australian influence. I suppose it can put down to glocalisation and marketing choices, but it has already provided a different experience from that I had previously had at shops like Morning Glory.

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One of the images I saw when I clicked onto the Daiso site. A white woman dressed in kawaii hair accessories and cleaning products. Screenshot from the Daiso website.

After looking at the online store and visiting the real store all I can say is Daiso-my-gosh. I never expected to be so… overwhelmed, you could say, seeing as I had been to stores like this before. It goes to show that you can learn (and experience) something new everyday. Anyway, here’s my account of what it was like going to the Daiso store:

Before I went up to the store in George Street, Sydney, I looked over the article on autoethnography by Ellis reaffirm my purpose about how and why I was performing an autoethnography. With the words fresh in my head I knew that I had to analyse the personal experience I was having while in the store in order to produce meaningful research that would be both useful and entertaining for people inside and outside Japanese cultural spheres. In order to do this I needed to be fully engage in the experience, taking note of the experience as I was having it so I could later share it with my audience (lucky you!).

Welcome to Daiso!

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From my research on the Daiso online store I knew to an extent what to expect when I got to the store which were Japanese snacks, homewares, stationary and other cute novelties. When I glided down the escalator into the basement I could hear the J-pop tunes thumping over the speaker system (no Kyary Pamyu Pamyu though). As you can see from the photo a snapped, the place is fairly packed to the brim with all matter of Japanese goodies to rifle through. I decided to start with the food market section of Daiso, Eat Asia, as food is such an important cultural marker as well as the way to most peoples hearts.

What I initially found was that I was stumped by all the choice I had, and that I couldn’t understand a word of what any of it was aside from a few cartoons that gave off a hint of the contents (just beware of Hello Kitty trying to sell you dried fish flakes). That was until I found the translation stickers on the back which where quite handy.  I picked up a few items from here that I will use reaction style videos to showcase in my digital artifiact.

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Food, glorious food! I found these gems at the Daiso “Eat Asia” section.

What I found interesting about this experience were the shoppers around me. To my surprise the clientele were around half White-Australians and half Asian-Australians. I’m going to put down my surprise to the fact that the shop is kind of tucked away so it’s more of a place that you purposefully go to rather than stumble upon in the main street so I had assumed that most of the shoppers there would be of an Asian background looking for a taste of familiar culture rather than people like me actively looking for items of a different culture.

One couple that still stand out for me were a pair of men, of which one was experienced with Japanese culture and cuisine and was explaining things to the other man who presumably was not familiar with this experience at all. It seemed like a nice little anecdote of another, albeit unrealised, act of autoethnography going on around me. Which goes to show the impact that having stores in Australia of not only Japanese culture like Daiso, but any other culture and how they can positively create a hybridised culture and create empathy toward different races and cultures.

So whether you’re kawaii fan or just discovering the joys that Japanese culture has to offer I hope that my experience has allowed you to think about Japanese culture in Australia a little more. Perhaps you might even want to visit the Japanese Variety Wonderland yourself and try something new? I would definitely recommend the trip!

*Update*

A few pictures of my Daiso haul in action!

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Case Study Two: Balaknama – A child’s voice in global media.

In my last Case Study I looked at the African Slum Journal and evaluated how effective it is as a means to correct a global media inequality. I will be doing the same again this time but I have changed my focus to examine the newspaper Balaknama. What is amazingly unique about this newspaper is that it is not only run completely from a single home in a slum, it is also completely created and curated by children.

What is great about this alternative, grass roots media project is that it truly is run by teens. The editor is 18 year old Chandni, who came from a hard start in life as a street performer and rag picker. She now works with a team of 20 reporters through Delhi, Agra, for this quarterly paper which addresses issues related to children and has been making headlines around the world. As you can also see from this YouTube clip , Chandni has even been asked by global conference host Tedx to give a talk about the work she has done. Although the clip is not in English you can still see her passion and there are english examples in some points.

This newspaper is having a positive impact in not only giving a voice to the street children of Delhi, it is also providing employment opportunities for children who would otherwise have to beg, forage through rubbish or sell trinkets for work (Guardian 2016). It also gives an alternate education opportunity for children who would need to miss school to support their family while closing the media divide between traditional media outlets and those minority groups who are misrepresented or ignored completely. So the multiple positives of this project are one of the reasons I consider this a good grassroots media project.

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Photo from BBC

The areas where the paper could improve would be to create more of an online presence, which of course when you’re living in a slum can be hard due to lack of infrastructure and opportunity. Another hurdle is that the reporters can only communicate their stories to each other via telephone as fax or email services are non existent (IndiaToday 2015).  These issues could see a limit of the reach that the paper can get. However they are increasing their readership with every new release. From 2014 to 2015 the readership went from 4,000 to 5,500  and then in 2016 the readership has soared to 8,000; so perhaps there is more to see from Balaknama as it grows as a media project (BBC 2015Guardian 2016).

Although Balaknama may not yet close the gaps between traditional media and slum media, it is still having a positive affect on the communities it services in terms of varied and alternative media content as well as job and education opportunities for the reporters who work there. Yes it has some limitations in terms of technology, publishing power and having an online presences which would increase its visibility but it is still an incredible feat and the reporters ought to be commended for their dedication and journalistic skills.

Feature image (girl reading paper) from IndiaToday.

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Understanding PONPONPON: Unpacking my experience with Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.

For my first dabble into autoethnographic research I looked the the music video from Kyary Pamyu Pamyu called PONPONPON. In my first post I was generalising about my initial viewing on the clip, but now after digging a bit deeper into the culture I can see that perhaps I have left out some integral parts of the culture that have culminated to result in the PONPONPON video.

Of course, this clip is entirely different to what I am used to experiencing from the Western music industry which focuses on hard sexualisation of women. Instead what I noticed in the video that even though the singers were feminine they weren’t sexualised and even presented a somewhat grotesque femininity (Oi 2014).

One line from my research that really resonated with me is what Kyary’s producer Yasutaka Nakata said about J-Pop culture, which was that music like Japanese Pop acts as a means of dealing with an inferiority complex held by Japanese youth that their imperfections aren’t good enough (Oi 2014). Instead it gives the youth a cute or ‘kawaii’ way of dealing with their insecurities, which is also referred to as kawaisa culture (Huffington Post 2011; TV Tropes 2016) . Nakata also said that the J-pop culture is a way of going against the Japanese social constructs of conformity, rule orientation and perfectionism (Oi 2014).

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A pair of Harajuku girls from the same youthful, stylish district that inspired Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s kawaii style. Photo by triplefivedrew.

So basically the J-Pop crowd are a bunch of rebels, and I like that. Although the J-Pop industry does not have the same sexual prominence as Western music icons and film clips the J-Pop culture instead gives both Japanese and global teens an alternative music scene that is still relatable, modern and with a desirable aesthetic (Overell 2013). It’s like what I learnt from Ellis, Adams and Bochner (2011) that when you dig deeper into a culture you find stories that are complex and that teach ideologies through offering new ways of thinking, which is true for my experience with the PONPONPON video as it has allowed me to find an appreciation for J-Pop culture even though it is so different to what I am used to.

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Kyary Pamyu Pamyu performing. Photo by TV France Japon.

In my last post I made some generalisations about the J-Pop culture that I have now investigated further. During watching the clip one of the notes I made was “This is so Japanese”. What I meant by this is that it embodied everything that I had experienced in regards to Japanese and Asian fashion and accessories through visiting China Town and stores like Daiso and Korean chain Morning Glory. I now understand that fashion choices like these are made in relation to the soft rebellion against strict socially constructed expectation in Japanese society. Another statement I made was “I wish I could understand what she was saying”. Once again, the lyrics play into this idea about embracing imperfections and that they are cute, playful and sometime nonsensical (Oi 2014).

I feel better now knowing that I have explored Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s track a little bit more and finding out the culture surrounding the construction of this text. Having this research has expanded my initial experience and I now have a deeper appreciation for that crazy, kawaii song.

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Autoeth-what-graphy?

Recently I’ve been looking at autoethnography and what it means as an alternate style of academic research. What I have found through Ellis, Adams and Bochner is is that autoethnography is a process where a researcher uses personal experience (this part is the ‘auto’) to rationalise and have an epiphany about a cultural experience (this makes up the ‘ethno’ part). All in all, what this means is that as a researcher you can have an in depth relationship with a culture and use your personal experience to validate and evaluate what you have learnt, rather than using the traditional way of being a silent observer of a culture and writing objectively about the experience.

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This seems like a much better way of conducting research, as there is so much more to be learnt from being part of an experience and gaining knowledge first hand than there is from sitting back and taking notes. Now, I don’t have much experience in Asian media culture apart from watching Bleach and reading a few volumes of Ouran High School Host Club when I was in high school (and who isn’t obsessed with Pokemon Go right now?). By studying Digital Asia and the culture that surrounds it I should have a better understanding of what the culture actually is; which I can examine in an ethnographic or autoethnographic way.

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To expand my autoethnographic horizons I thought I would check out a music video because music is kind of a common world language right? One J-Pop group that I’ve have seen come up on my Facebook page through friends is Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, so I decided to check out one of their music videos, PONPONPON, and share my thoughts and any epiphanies I had while viewing.

My thought pattern went along the lines of;

  • What’s happening?
  • This is so Japanese.
  • I wish I could understand what she is saying.
  • Why are they dancing like that?
  • It’s so pink.
  • This music is pretty catchy.
  • It’s like I ate a whole box of Fruit Loops and made a sugar high music video.

I didn’t really have any thoughts that went beyond the surface value of what was going on in the music clip, I enjoyed the music and the tempo but I would love to know what the song was actually about but because of the language barrier I wont be able to. So maybe I can investigate further what the translated lyrics mean and see if that changes my impressions of the idea I received from the clip. Overall I enjoyed it, and it only solidified my previous understanding of what J-Pop and Japanese culture is.

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Case study one: African Slum Journal

When you imagine a slum, usually exposure to dominant media will have you think of dirty, ragged, skinny children squatting beside a puddle of dirty water, or perhaps a family huddled under a tarp that they call home. This is the representation that is persistent in global media discourses surrounding slums and creates further inequality faced by those living in slums. I have previously, briefly written about media in slums and how grass-roots media programs are essential in giving people a voice. What I found from my previous research were two Argentinian groups called La Poderosa and Mundo Villa and from them what I discovered was that the existence of these media outlets created a mediascape where accurate representations of people who live in slums were added to the societal discourse of Buenos Aires (O’Meley 2015). Slum media groups like these intervene in global media representations of those who live in slums and reconstruct the identity of residents.

For my case studies I will further examine other slum media organisations and discuss how well they function in intervening in the construction or perpetuation of slum related stereotypes. This will also show how global media maintains an understanding, or perhaps misunderstanding, of slums and how dominant media creates and embeds a disproportioned inequality surrounding the representation of the people who live in slums, as well as the technological access they have for representing themselves in global and local mediaspheres. The African Slum Journal is another grassroots media project. Based in Nairobi, Kenya, their aim is to teach young people from slums the art of journalism so that they can join in on the conversation about their communities with honesty and transparency that audiences cannot get from the mainstream media (African Slum Journal 2016).

What is good about this organisation is that it enables people to learn about slums in ways that didn’t know the people within them existed. What it allows is for education or a reminder that although people may be poor and live in slums, their lived experiences are not too dissimilar from ours (Ekdale 2015) . Another strength is that the project enables budding journalists to share the story of their people both authentically and honestly in a way that combats the mainstream representations of slums. Being able to provide recording equipment and technology to these reporters gives them a chance too to have their voice heard amongst mainstream media.

 

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“Our team from Nairobi Community Media House in Nairobi excited about new equipment – a gift form Dutchview.” – From The African Slum Journal Facebook page.

However what problems still exist for the African Slum Journal is that it can only equip so many people, because it does not as much funding or resources that mainstream, global media outlets do it presents an issue as to how much reporting they can do. When they can only publish so many stories with the funding they have this means that it can be said that they will struggle to find their voice in mainstream media. The monetary challenges they face may impact on their ability to correct the inequality of African slum representation in global media.

The African Slum Journal is just one of the many grass-roots interveners that are trying to change the representation of their people, though it seems that it still has a challenge ahead in pushing its voice through to the mainstream media.

Reference list

 

 

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Why do we need the media in a democracy?

We need the media in a democracy in essence because a democratic society needs a way of spreading information to the public so that they can make an informed decision about which democratic politicians, parties and processes are the best for not only themselves but the welfare of the state and nation. Democracy being a governmental system that relies on eligible members of the state to vote in an elected representative requires a media that is unbiased and on top of the issues that are relevant to the current political climate of a state.

Countries that are not democratic often have severe control and censorship over the media that they release to the masses in order to prevent unfavourable material about the government, political process or even large corporations being released. Take for example the recent 2014 case of Australian journalist Peter Greste, who was arrested after allegedly broadcasting false and defamatory information about Egypt in order to destabilise the country’s national security. For his false reporting he received the heavy sentence of 7 years jail time, which after appeals and government talks has led to a pardon late last year, 400 days after his arrest. What this shows is that even in democratic nations, the power that the media has over politics and vice versa is symbiotic to both a beneficial and detrimental end.

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Photo via The Telegraph

Another reason why the media is important in a democracy is that it can act as a regulator for political action or inaction. One striking example of this is the media and public uproar about the inappropriate use of government funds by Bronwyn Bishop in 2015. When investigations go into what politicians are doing with the taxpayers time and money, it leaves them accountable for the course of action that they decided to make. In the case of Bishop, when it was found out that she had been grossly misusing funds on helicopter rides and holidays it was quite quickly brought to the forefront of the scrutinising Australian media. This unrelenting discussion from the media and public sphere influenced her decision to resign as speaker a few weeks later.

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Photo from NewsMail

Basically we need media in democracy as it starts a conversation in the public forum about what is happening in the political sphere. It allows voters to engage in the political process in a way that is informative about the issues that affect them. It also, in a way, keeps the politicians honest and their decisions often placed in the spotlight of the media. To have a media that is free from heavy censorship, and as importantly a media that is free from overbearing bias, is something that all democratic nations should strive for.

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Putting slums on the map.

We all know the age old phrase of when something like a business,natural landscape or town is really good it puts you “on the map”, so this must mean if something is the opposite; poorly, unsightly, and an embarrassment, that it needs then to be taken off the map? This seems to be the idea for governments around the world to deal with the perceived ugliness in their cities. Slums.

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An expansive slum in Mumbai, India. Image from NY Times

The usual visual cue that comes with the word ‘slum’ is that of something that is dirty, slovenly, intolerable, somewhere that only the diseased and destitute of society reside in. This is a dangerous outlook both physically and socially for the people that do live inside slums as it can lead to them having a lack of social visibility and access to basic human requirements as they slowly become unseen by the rest of the society, and especially by governments and the media.

A great example of this would be Argentina in 2015. Slums are a major part of Buenos Aires urbanscape, yet you wont find anything about them on Google Maps. The Argentinian media also hides the slums and does not discuss the causes of why these people are here, they only represent and reinforce the stereotypes that keep the villeros (slum residents) entrenched in a system of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ inequality. Irene Caselli explores some recent counter-media movements where villeros have teamed up to created their own community media projects.

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The logo of Argentinian slum media project La Garganta Poderosa. Image from their website.

La Garganta Poderosa and Mundo Villa are both community media projects that are being run inside slums to give them a voice about issues that are affecting them as well as positive news stories that don’t get told by the main stream media. These projects comprise of different media forms in the way of print, television, radio and an online presence (Caselli, 2015, p.85). Why this is important is that this media is being run by young journalists within the slums as a way to make their lives more prominent to the government and other residents of Buenos Aires to remind them of their existence of humans that are more than just criminals and poor. Alternative media sources like this that give visibility to slums are incredibly important as well for other social equality purposes.

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Some of the people behind the Mundo Villa project. Image from here

In Subbaraman et. al. they explore how residences of slums in India are “off the map”, which means that they aren’t recognized by the government in an existence they call “non-notified status” (2012, p. 643). What this means for the people within is that because they are no recognized as part of the city, they lose all access or have restricted access to legal rights and basic services such as water, sanitation and security of housing. It can also be more dangerous navigating around slum areas with no navigation tools.

When slums are not incorporated into common media in a light that portrays them as something other than criminals or indigents will lead to whole groups of people losing their identity and access to basic services that make them feel like worthy citizens. Media projects in slums allow people to regain their identity and bring to the forefront the issues that affect them and their community on a daily basis.

  • Caselli, I 2015, “Off the Map”, Index on Censorship, vol. 44, no. 4, pp. 85-88
    * Some further reading from Irene Caselli on Argetinian slum media can be found at http://bit.ly/2037RsI
  • Subbaraman, R, O’Brien, J, Shitole, T, Shitole, S, Sawant, K, Bloom, D. E and Patil-Deshmukh, A 2012, “Off the map: the health and social implications of being a non-notified slum in India.”, Environment & Urbanization, vol. 24, no. 2, pp. 643-663.

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The ‘Butterfly Effect’: Challenging Orientalism.

Ever since explorers from Europe discovered Asia and the Middle East, where the East has become the complementary other half to the West, setting up a neat cultural dichotomy. During European settlement in Asia, there started to be reports by the Western officials based in the colonies about the way they perceived the culture and people that they were settling. These understandings of the Orient became the fundamental characterisation of the East that have been commonly seen in popular media since.

Historian William Dalrymple discusses architect Edwin Lutyens’ perceptions about Indian people he founded during his time designing in colonial New Delhi. He speaks in such a negative light about the Indian people writing in letters on the “sly slime of the Eastern mind” and the “very low intelligence of the natives” which led Lutyen and other British to conclude that people of the East are “very different” (Dalrymple, 1993, p.84). It is as if Lutyen cannot see how they West and East can mix given their vast differences. These examples of the way that he speaks about the Indian people shows how the discourses of Orientalism infiltrated Western society, not only from Lutyen but also from other experiences of the Europeans in Asia and the Middle East. These ideas continued to disseminate through popular media, forming the basis of Eastern understanding for many of those in the West.

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The native Indian people were seen to be primitive by the Europeans who settled in India. Photo from here

However, the need to challenging ideas about the Orient become incredibly clear in texts like David Henry Hwang’s award winning play M. Butterfly (and later film of the same name). The plot of the 1988 Broadway show explores the relationship of Rene Gallimard who falls in love with the essentially perfect oriental woman, Song Liling. Subservient, quiet, exotic, sexually pleasing, and traditional. She is the ideal woman to complement the Western man. It uses the relationship of male/female to emulate the relationship between West and East. The story compares patriarchal discourse with colonial discourse in order to deconstruct power relations, social oppression and stereotypes (Kondo, 1990, p. 5).

It then entertains and challenges readers when it reveals that Song is actually a man, acting as a woman to retrieve important military information from Gallimard. This revelation causes a power shift between the couple and what we can notice as a role reversal between West/man as powerful and dominant and East/woman as pleasing and submissive. This work abruptly hits the audience with a refreshed perspective about Orientalism and encourages them to reconsider their misconceptions about the Orient and the people within it.

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Francis Jue and Mark Capri in M. Butterfly. Photo from Broadway World

 

Although Orientalism is a problem that is still visible in media today, there are efforts through some texts that aim to take these ideas and reconceptualise them to change Western people’s perspectives that those in the East are fundamentally different to them in all aspects of life.

  • Kondo, 1990, “”M. Butterfly”: Orientalism, Gender, and a Critique of Essentialist Identity”, Cultural Critique, vol. 16, pp. 5-29
  • Dalrymple, W 1993, City of Djinns: a year in Delhi, Penguin, Noida.

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Where have the DVDs gone?

The humble DVD rental store; once a Mecca for those movie fanatics, but it was also a feature in many films and shows to. I remember as a child seeing people go to Blockbusters in films, like the satirical Blockblister on The Amanda Show. But what has happened to those stores today? Through my research I have a looked at where those once flourishing shops are today, and how film viewing has changed dramatically since I was a child.

Watching a public screen while choosing a DVD to watch on our in-home screen. An example of spatial media.

Watching a public screen while choosing a DVD to watch on our in-home screen. An example of spatial media.

From what I can remember, my family has always had to either buy or rent VHS tapes & DVDs as we live in a semi-rural area where we cannot access free to air TV or a decent internet connection. In high school though, I had a great connection. A friend who worked at a Video Ezy DVD shop. This meant I could put in an order for movies (up to 10 at a time) and receive the stack of films the next day. I caught up with him to speak about his experiences in the shop where he worked for 5 years.

Joshua said that he left his job because the shop shut down and not by choice and said that although it was popular for a video shop, with repeat customers, things like TV shows were expensive to hire because you rented them per disc. Because of the prices, people pirated shows and discs, and would disclose that to him. He didn’t think pirating is what closed them down, he instead thought that it was income versus the running cost that ultimately killed the business. He said that the cost of the repeat rental of a DVD didn’t cover the cost of purchasing one from the wholesaler because there were so many copies. In the shop he recalled that they had we had over twenty thousand DVDs and games. When the shop closed they were all sold in a closing down sale or which were merged with one of the other Video Ezy stores.

Image credit to http://imgur.com/user/binhvphan

A Video Ezy closing down sale. Image credit to http://imgur.com/user/binhvphan

So if supply and demand were the issues behind the Video Ezy closing, then what service is now filling the supply needs of everyday viewers? In the last decade there has been a rise in private, in home media streaming and watching. It could be said that it started with primitive forms of pirating on sites like LimeWire, or purchased legally from places like Bigpond Movies, but it has rapidly transformed to streaming and viewing services like Netflix, which offer thousands of choices at your fingertips. With these developments in technology, and the ease of access for streaming media in private spaces, it is understandable that the DVD rental store would take a hit in terms of popularity and wider serviceability.

My local DVD store sells merchandise and fun, American food and candy to help make sales.

My local DVD store sells merchandise and fun, American food and candy to help make sales.

McDonald supports Joshua’s comments about supply versus demand when he acknowledges that every item on the shelf of a DVD store must rent with sufficient frequency to repay the rent on the shelf space (2008). He attributes the loss of DVD store popularity to what he refers to as The Long Tail theory. What this means is, is that spatially, DVD rental shops do not have the capacity to hold enough media that extends to the end of the ‘long tail’ where those media consumers with more niche tastes reside. Due to only being able to cater for media consumers in a small area, this therefore sees most DVD stores only stocking popular titles that will be rented and rerented to be able to afford to keep this media space open.

He looks at Netflix as a revolutionary movie suppler, as Netflix has 30% inventory that are current movies and 70% from the more niche back-catalogue, whereas DVD shops (he studied Blockbuster) have the direct opposite with 70% rental volume still comes from current release, and only 30% from back-catalogue.

What about the costs of this media? Clitheroe looks at the cost of this convenient media space and for some the renting of a DVD every once in a while is far cheaper than having an online streaming account. To investigate this further I talked to a couple I know who are on either side of the fence about DVD stores and streaming media. Jess has a Netflix account, whereas Robert just borrows DVDs from the store. The reasoning behind this is that she has access to the required internet services in her home that make using Netflix accessible, whereas he is in more of a similar situation to myself where the family internet cannot support online streaming services. This means that between them they engage in both kinds of media spaces. After the initial receiving of the media, they still end up in similar media spaces which is watching films or shows together at one of their houses, so are the differences between these two media spaces really that different for the audience who ends up with the same result in both situations?

Ultimately, I believe that DVD rental stores will eventually end up closing up or losing popularity like their VHS predecessors. Digital and convenient media spaces like Netflix will take over in terms of the most popular way of viewing television and films as faster, and better access to the internet becomes available to more people (like me).

References

  • McDonald, S 2008, The Long Tail and Its Implications for Media Audience Measurement, Journal of Advertising Research, vol. 48, no. 3.
  •  Clitheroe, P 2007, Renting a DVD from a shop or using online providers?, Money (Australia Edition), Issue 91, pp. 26-27.

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Filed under Media, Audience and Place.