From Geisha to Go Go: Book Review of two recent books on Asian women

While no book can fully explore a culture, two recent books, Sheridan Prasso’s The Asian Mystique: Dragon Ladies, Geisha Girls, & Our Fantasies of the Exotic Orient and Veronica Chambers’ Kickboxing Geishas: How Modern Japanese Women Are Changing Their Nation, give a window into how different the lives of Asian women are from the pop culture stereotypes.

Interestingly, both books are written by Western female journalists that are not of Asian descent. Also, both are written primarily around interviews with individual women, using their experiences to explore larger social phenomena. Both books touch upon fandom issues, but this is not their primary focus.

The most valuable aspect of The Asian Mystique from a pop culture studies perspective is a multiple chapter analysis of stereotypes used in Western media of Asians and Asian-Americans. Prasso discusses how media stereotypes are based in a binary dichotomy in two ways — first, the stereotypes vary based on gender, and second, Asian women are seen as either submissive and desirable (“China Doll”/Vixen) or as dominant and therefore to be feared (“Dragon Lady”). This section would be perfect for a film/television or ethnic studies class.

Kickboxing Geishas does discuss Japanese female fashion, including Harajuku, Lolita, and Gothic Lolita. (Interestingly, though Chambers is an African-American woman, she never mentions the racialized aspects of yamamba in her discussion of this fashion/social trend).

Kickboxing Geishas also discusses the economic and social impact of teenage girls and their style:

Joshi kosei [teenage girls] are voracious shoppers with a quirky eye for fashion and an uncanny ability to start trends.’

Although there are broad groupings among …Japan’s contemporary costume culture …– kawaii, or the culture of cuteness; gothic; Lolita, etc. — the young women (and some men) who embody these street styles thrive on their individuality. …I believe the costuming of today’s Japanese young women reveals, in a powerful way, how for many young Japanese females, Japan is a hard place to become a grown woman.

[Yasuko Nakamura] recently published a book, The Uchira and Osoro Generation: Unadorned High School Girls of Tokyo. The Uchira in the title refers to the way Shibuya’s masses of teenage girls like to refer to themselves–a posse called “us.” Osoro is short for osoroi meaning that the girls like to dress the same. Currently eight thousand of these girls are on [her company’s] payroll [;] companies rely on her and her teen experts to help develop products such as soft drinks and cosmetics.

The Asian Mystique mentions “ladies comics”/manga and their role as peer sex education:

Unlike in the West where [teen] girls pass around steamy romance novels between friends [Peyton Place to V.C. Andrews to Twilight] or watch teen dating shows [90201 of yore and now], Japanese girls read [explicit] manga.

One of the most interesting side notes in Kickboxing Geishas involves Bizet’s Carmen, which has been reinterpreted once again, this time in a Japanese ballet where the action takes place within a Japanese business where Carmen is an “office lady” (secretary/tea server) and Jose is the corporation’s security guard. (Someone should write a book on the incredible resonance of Carmen cross-culturally!)

Both books have so much more than is truly in the scope of this blog, with analysis of the real world day-to-day sexism that women face. The Asian Mystique is especially recommended for its in-depth analysis of many issues, including the sex industry throughout Asia.

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Wizards and Vampires Singing in Harmony – Wizard Rock, Twi Rock and DIY music.

Like other grown fangirls, I have a recent history of reading fantasy literature book series that I’m too damn old for. (Harry Potter, Twilight)

While not an active fan of either, I’ve certainly followed both series, their subsequent status as a pop culture phenomenon and the resulting psychotic fan activity they’ve both engendered. (I’ll get to that later.) Even before the movie came out (still haven’t seen it, BTW) some media critics were already eager to make Twilight into the next Harry Potter, and the book sales alone offer plenty of hard evidence to base that declaration upon, though it’s clear that Twilight has a long way to go to reach the incredible global influence that Harry Potter has: Stephenie Meyer’s series has,of now, sold 25 million copies worldwide, impressive until you compare J.K. Rowling’s 400 million copies sold worldwide.

Either way, it’s easy to see that both series are bonafide fan phenomenon and even if there is not direct overlap of fan involvement from Harry Potter to Twilight, (though I suspect there is) Twilight fandom activity certain matches the fervor HP fandom. Harry Potter wiki? Meet Twilight Wiki.  Huge semi-academic convention? Oh yeah, they’ve both got it. (Though HP has several.) Delusional fandom acting out in bizarre ways? Settle in and spend some time reading about Twilight and HP fans’ crazy antics. It’s gonna take a loooong time.

But the most interesting shared phenomenon is the trend of garage rock bands being formed by fans of both novels. Harry Potter fandom started the trend with its own brand of Harry Potter inspired music, “wizard rock,” which is a bonafide phenomenon in itself: the genre has spawned  over 200 bands, according the Wizrocklopedia, the genre’s own news blog, an EP of the month club, even a documentary that came out earlier in the year. Harry and the Potters, a pioneering Wrock band, started their own label.

Not too long ago, I learned that Twilight fans have jumped on the rock bandwagon too, Check out the Bella Cullen Project’s YouTube Music video:

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and these dudes, the Mitch Hansen band and their ode to Twilight werewolf Jacob Black:

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I’ve been following the Wizard Rock phenomenon for awhile now because of my interest in music and my own fascination (and admiration) of these bands (mostly kids and teens) who have fashioned their own DIY subculture and microeconomy, selling CD’s, playing alternative spaces like libraries and coffeeshops, building a subgenre and a community from the ground up. Once again, it’s the 1000 true fans idea put into practice.

Once you can get over the fact that its rock based around a children’s book series, and the music is of … er… varying levels of quality, you see that these kids are creating an infrastructure for DIY music production and distribution that rivals what a lot of professional punk and hardcore bands are doing these days. It’s pretty inspirational and something that  even professional bands could take a page from.

There’s a very long history, of course, of filk music, sci-fi and fantasy devotees creating music based on their fannish preoccupations, but the music itself, more often than not, stayed contained within fan communities, Wrock and Twirock bands appear to have bigger goals. These kids are playing out, performing for fairly large audiences, distributing their music to other fans across the globe. Are they professional? Semi-professional? Something in between? Are they threatening the brand integrity of the media that they are helping to promote or do they deserve corporate support for pouring time, energy and cash into what is essentially grassroots promotion of these book series? I doubt most of these kids even think about these issues, they are more concerned with expressing themselves creatively and sharing their efforts with other fans.

Last week, the LA Times published an article about the Twilight Music Girls,  several musicians inspired by Twilight director Catherine Hardwick to write music based on the books.

“It was back in July that we got to meet with Catherine Hardwicke and talk to her about the movie,” [musician Kris] Angelis says. “We were saying that we had been inspired to write songs about ‘Twilight,’ and she said, ‘You should form a group. That would be so much fun.’ So it was Catherine Hardwicke who put the idea in our head. We formed the MySpace page that night.”

I highly doubt we’ll see Warner Brothers or Little, Brown and Co. the respective corporate owners of Harry Potter and Twilight) come out publicly in support or even acknowledgement of Wizard Rock or Twi-Rock, but at least in the case of Twilight, there is some definitely buy-in and support of the fan-inspired music from some of the creative voices behind the series, who see the value of encouraging this fan activity. I have a feeling we’ll see more of this.

Using Social Networking Tools Effectively: Part Two: The Planet Money Story

As the second in our series about the effective use of social media / social networking tools, this post focuses on Planet Money. At the same time much of traditional media seems to be imploding, the ongoing “Planet Money” news service is an example of old and new media working together successfully while using social media.

This is one of the few podcasts I always make sure to listen to because it explains a very complicated situation in bite-size, but nutritional/educational chunks. Like Nightline, created around the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1979 and serving as a source of in-depth investigative journalism until 2005, Planet Money has the opportunity to use our present financial crisis to serve as a new type of journalism — one that successfully incorporates social media.

So what is Planet Money?

“Planet Money” is an NPR multimedia team covering the global economy. It’s also the name of our blog, Twitter feed and podcast. [They allow readers to interact by] … e-mail us directly and/or join[ing] our Facebook group. Interactions with the public follow rules for discussion.]

We think a lot of people feel overwhelmed by the global economy. They know it’s affecting their lives. But they don’t know how to dive in, and they don’t find most stories in most media outlets helpful.

We think this because we feel the same way. But we’re lucky. We work at NPR and can call the leading economic thinkers and ask them to explain things to us. Slowly.

So we’re building what we hope will be a fun, safe, exciting, accessible place for people to explore the global economy and what it’s doing to them. We have two rules for ourselves: 1. Everything has to be interesting (and, preferably, fun or funny or poignant or somehow grabby). 2. Everything should be economically smart, but not economically dull.

Planet Money began based on This American Life’s amazing report on the subprime mortgage collapse, “The Giant Pool of Money,” or read the transcript (PDF). The first Planet Money podcast was really a co-production with This American Life, “Another Frightening Show About the Economy.”

But Planet Money doesn’t leave traditional media forms behind. One of their stories was a co-production with the New York Times about the worldwide implications of the debt taken on by public entities, such as one Wisconsin school system. And this story was not only in print and and on the podcast, but also on NPR’s Morning Edition.

The first few shows were especially exciting because it was clear that everything was being done on the fly. Yet the social networking tools were created within the mission statement above, with the goal of interactivity — so important for all media, but especially for public radio, which depends on the public taking action to keep them on the air.

One of the most interesting aspects of Planet Money is the seamless way old terminology and new terminology work side by side. One of those up-to-date people who understands RSS? You can add a feed. Prefer a daily newsletter (really just an email RSS)? Sure! Not comfortable emailing to Planet Money’s address? You can contact via a web form. It also is likely the only place where Warren G’s Regulate has been used to highlight a news story about government regulation — hilarious, yet highly bizarre.

Both the information architects and the content providers of NPR have created one of the go-to places for information about the economy. And the input of readers and listeners is making the experience more valuable for other listeners and readers. Considering the Planet Money “experience” has been around for only a few months, I look forward to seeing what the future brings.

Happy Unbirthday to The Learned Fangirl

An official Alice in Wonderland product of public domain material? The Red Queen would be so proud. A Happy Un-birthday to our blog!

An official Alice in Wonderland product of public domain Tenniel illustrations? The Red Queen would be so proud. A Happy Un-birthday to our blog!

Thanks for reading our The Learned Fangirl !

A year ago, we excitedly started this blog (three posts in a day? what were we thinking?), moving from our previously less structured blog format.

Who would have known when we started a year ago that our most popular blog post by almost a factor of ten would have to do with Doraemon — especially the innocent picture of exuberant future robot dog fun that somehow now is blocked by many filters? Or that people would be so interested in our conference presentations? We feel that our blog has truly arrived, considering we have received our first press release and request for an interview (and several “please add our app to your blog” emails).

During this year, we have written over 80 blog posts and had over 10,000 page views (though I must specifically point out that we don’t have Google Analytics-type statistics on readers’ time on the blog and pages read per viewer – Keidra). Proving the impact of The Long Tail, in an average week more than half of our blog posts are read at least once. We have also had almost 1,500 spam comments (not a typo!).

We’ve enjoyed what this blog has become and look forward to the next year. We plan to focus more on the experiences of girl and women fans, and the impact of the imploding of much of traditional journalism. In addition, we are lining up some guest bloggers, to help give a wider perspective on fandom issues.

Using Social Media Tools Effectively: Part One: The Obama Campaign

One of our areas of focus this year is the effective use of social media / social netwObamaorking tools. At this point, we are planning to write about Planet Money, and Nine Inch Nails (yay!), but we are starting the series with the Obama campaign.

Of course, we all know that Barack Obama was not the first social media/Internet presidential candidate, that was Howard Dean back in 2003-04. The Obama campaign’s strategy with social media was built off the template established by the Dean campaign:

  • engaging supporters and organizers intimately and directly via social media
  • drawing influence from viral, bottom-up marketing strategies
  • depending on the aggregated impact of indivduals’ influence, Tipping Point style

Back in 2003, it was Meetup.com and blogs. The Obama campaign has MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and not to mention MyBarackObama.com

Last week at my job, the day after Election Day, a co-worker and I talked about Barack Obama’s successful campaign, its use of social media and more to the point, what will be done with all the  user data, access and influence acquired through the campaign’s social media initiatives? Now that Obama is president-elect, would he and his staff use these tools to promote his political agenda and perhaps lead to greater transparancy in the White House? Less than a day later, our answer came in the form of Change.gov, which appears to piggyback off of the success of the Obama campaign’s social media efforts:for a start, there’s a blog (not a great one, seems like rehashed media statements), a page inviting users to share their Election Day stories, and a link to official presidential transition documents.

Actually, the UK has been a pioneer in this level of transparency in government from back in 2003 with direct.gov.uk, the official website of the UK government, which provides documents and information to users.  In this article from UK magazine .net, MP Tom Watson talks the future of transformational government and the Internet:

Government 2.0 is a dreadful term but I can’t think of a better one that adequately gets over the point that public services have got to be more personal and responsive to the collective voice of their users and that there’s a very big shift happening in the way people live their lives and use services. The public sector is not immune to this. It goes back to my original point about wrapping services around the user in a form that works for them.

It’s an early start for Change.gov, but a step in a very interesting direction for this nascent administration and its efforts to engage and motivate its supporters.

The social and economic impact of comics: Kami no Shizuku and Marvel’s Colbert presidential campaign

Interested in finding the right wine or electing the right candidate? Look no further than comics! Kami no Shizuku (The Drops of the Gods), a Japanese manga series is influencing wine purchases across Asia, and the U.S. has had Stephen Colbert as a Marvel superhero comic book presidential candidate.

As mentioned in articles in the Japan Times and the International Herald Tribune (then reprinted in the New York Times with new photos), Kami no Shizuku has been one of the factors in increasing wine consumption across Asia, including a twenty percent increase in Japan. Specific wines also increase sales after being mentioned — Colli di Conegliano Rosso Contrada di Concenigo saw an increase of 30 percent in sales.

But there have been unpredictable consequences of the sommelier suggestions, including

there was so little demand for Burgundy that even top hotels did not bother stocking it. But after the comic extolled Burgundy’s virtues, stores and hotels scrambled to secure stocks, which immediately sold out.

The main character, Shizuku Kanzaki, describes a 2001 Bordeaux from Château Mont Perat as

“It’s powerful but it also has a meltingly sweet taste, with an acidic aftertaste that catches you by surprise. It’s like the voice of Queen’s lead vocalist [Freddie Mercury], sweet and husky, enveloped in thick guitar riffs and heavy drums.”

The idea of a well-received wine-based manga is not strange within the general context of manga. While in the U.S., comics are viewed as the domain of children, in Japan (and increasingly with South Korea’s manwha) manga is read across the age spectrum, with specialty publications, based on gender and interest. For example, there are two successful transmedia franchises based on tennis, one for boys, Prince of Tennis, and one for girls, Ace o Nerae!.

Colbert as President?Moving from the impact of fiction on real life, we move to the impact of a fictionalized version of a real person fictionalized further. Stephen Colbert’s quasi-fictional presidential aspirations were considered to be important enough to be discussed by the Wall Street Journal. According to Marvel, this ten-month campaign was a first,

never before has a real-life person been able to keep himself in the narrative for so long without it being a paid product-placement arrangement

The differences between reality and fiction are striking:

Last October the comedian announced on his show, “The Colbert Report,” that he was running for president. The Democrats declined to put the entertainer on their primary ballot, and Mr. Colbert didn’t pay the Republican’s $35,000 fee to get on their ballot.

Mr. Colbert’s candidacy .. was integrated into Marvel’s fictional landscapes with bumper stickers, T-shirts and billboards … in at least 19 of its titles, including “She-Hulk,” “X-Men: Manifest Destiny” and “Secret Invasion.” [He also appeared] as a walking, talking cartoon character in an eight-page insert in “Amazing Spider-Man”.

But the interaction between the reality and fiction leads to an interesting result, with this example of authorized real-person fanfic leading to increased sales for Marvel.

Blurring the line between fiction and reality leading to real-world economic impact has every indication of increasing. It’s interesting to note how much has changed since the guest star as him/herself era to improve rankings in the 70s. I’m looking forward to how this will impact rights of publicity versus creating an accurate/reality-based fictional universe — will licensing increase or will disclaimers? And what happens if instead of increasing sales or viewership, negative statements within the fictional universe have a negative economic impact, such as a negative wine review in Kami no Shizuku?

Center for Social Media’s Upcoming Report on Best Practices in Media Literacy

This is information about an upcoming best practices report about social media from the Center for Social Media. We’ll be discussing it in detail when it is available to the public to read.

Greetings!

Below are details about a forthcoming report outlining best practices for teachers and students in using media (TV coverage, film clips, music, audio files, articles, photos, etc.) in the classroom within the confines of fair use.

Please view our full press release here: http://www.centerforsocialmedia.org/press/best_practices_in_media_literacy/

An embargoed (November 11) copy of the report is available to media. Contact Micael Bogar at the Center for Social Media, bogar@american.edu.