Portfolio – Part Six

In week 11 we looked at fashion – and it was, in particular, the Japanese fashion that stood out to me. I have been slowly becoming more and more interested in the culture of Japan, as I have been a fan of Japanese anime for a while and have started listening to Jpop songs and watching Japanese movies and the like.

In 2004 Gwen Stefani released the song ‘Rich Girl’, in which she sang the lyrics ‘I’d get me four Harajuku girls to/ Inspire me and they’d come to my rescue’. This was the first time I had ever heard the word Harajuku, and, curious, I went looking to know what it meant. As I learnt, Harajuku is a street name in Japan, but more specifically the name of a fashion style found prevalently in this area (and named after the street). The style consisted of wild clothes and colours ‘determined to break old stereotypes that cast the Japanese as bland and uniform’ (Wisegeek, 2013).

From Stefani’s fashion line Harajuku Lovers

Gwen Stefani obviously was very inspired by this style of clothing, basing her own clothing line on the style – ‘the Western world became far more aware of Harajuku girls following the popularization of the culture through the music and cosmetic lines of pop singer Gwen Stefani’ (Wisegeek, 2013).  It’s possible Harajuku would have made its own way into western society in time, however Stefani gave it a boost. Basing her clothing range on the Harajuku style has allowed girls of western society to embrace the foreign styles, promoting, if only by a very small amount, multiculturalism.

However, Stefani’s back up dancers, a group of four Asian and Asian-American girls
known as the Harajuku Girls, have received backlash for their stereotyping of Japanese culture. Korean-American comedian, Margaret Cho feels a ‘Japanese schoolgirl uniform is kind of like blackface.’ She resigns, though, to the Harajuku Girls’ presence that reduce Asian women ‘to silent submissive stereotypes’ (Cho, 2005), saying she doesn’t want to bum everyone out by pointing out the ‘minstrel show’. She says ‘I think it is totally acceptable to enjoy the Harajuku girls, because there are not that many other Asian people out there in the media really, so we have to take whatever we can get.’

It’s a shame, then, that Stefani has received such a negative response to her appropriation of the Harajuku style, as it’s offering a window for people of western society to learn more about Japan. Patricia Streeter does point out that, while she is making money off the style, that no girls in Japan are seeing any of it. ‘Tokyo’s real-life Harajuku girls might wanna think about organizing themselves to trademark their signature look—which is obviously making someone a fortune’ (Streeter, 2012).

I know I, when learning about Harajuku, went out of my way to learn more about the style from the source in Tokyo, however I was influenced by my already budding interest in Japanese culture. For this reason it’s probably safe to assume not many people in western society would bother to do research like I did and simply accept Stefani’s image of the Harajuku Girl.

Cho, M. 2005, ‘Harajuku Girls,’ Margaret Cho Official Site,
http://www.margaretcho.com/2005/10/31/harajuku-girls/

Streeter, P. 2012, ‘Are Harajuku girls Modern Day Geisha?’, Magnify Your Style,
http://magnifyyourstyle.com/2012/07/10/are-harajuku-girls-modern-day-geisha/

What are Harajuku Girls?, 2013, Wisegeek, Conjecture Corporation,
http://www.wisegeek.com/what-are-harajuku-girls.htm

Portfolio – Part Five

In week 9 we discussed crime. In the tutorial I remember the topic of Lindy Chamberlain coming up, and while the name didn’t actually ring any bells, the story did. I had heard the phrase ‘a dingo ate my baby’ a hundred times in popular culture, and I found it incredibly interesting that I would know of such a notorious Australian legal case but not who it was even about. This is the power of popular culture.

Azaria Chamberlain’s disappearance in 1980 became the most notorious, divisive and baffling legal drama in Australian history. Lindy, convicted of murdering her daughter, became the most hated person in Australia and the case proved to be one of the most watched trials of the Twentieth century in Australia. (Gelineau, 2012 & Geoconger, 2012).

So why was the extent of my knowledge ‘a dingo ate my baby’?

Meryl Streep playing Lindy Chamberlain in the 1988 film, A Cry in the Dark

‘To the rest of the world, the case is largely known for its place in pop culture: countless books, an opera, the Meryl Streep movie “A Cry in the Dark,” and the sitcom Seinfeld’s spoof of Lindy’s cry’ (Gelineau, 2012). I grew up in an American-dominated culture; all the films and television shows I watched were set in the US and revolved around American social issues, which meant I failed to learn about issues in Australia. Despite this being aggravating and interesting, I decided to continue on looking past the Lindy Chamberlain case into crime’s representation in media and popular culture. I learn, in a roundabout way, about cases from my country through America, because western society is so fascinated with crime. Film, books, newspapers, magazines, television broadcasts, video games – the list of facets of popular culture which engage in crime is endless.

This post could go 100 different ways with this – from looking into mass media’s role in the construction of criminal justice, to popular culture and the belief that violence in pop culture is responsible for almost all crimes committed.

I won’t go into much detail due to the short amount of space, however it’s interesting to look at the role of mass media. Lindy Chamberlain was hated by all of Australia, believed to have murdered her daughter. However, did the majority of Australia believe this was the case due to extenuating evidence? No, the fact is she was considered guilty long before she was ever proven – and even then she was later cleared. “The public’s perception of victims, criminals, deviants, and law enforcement officials is largely determined by their portrayal in the mass media.” (Dowler, 2003). It’s interesting to wonder how much of Australia’s opinion on Lindy Chamberlain was warped by the media.

Dowler, K. 2003, ‘Media consumption and public attitudes toward crime and justice: The relationship between fear of crime, punitive attitudes, and perceived police effectiveness,’ Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, vol.10, no.2, pp.109-126.

Gelineau, K. 2012, ‘Australia asks again: Did a dingo really kill Lindy Chamberlain’s baby?’, Mass Live, The Republican,
http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2012/02/australia_asks_again_did_a_din.html

Geoconger, 2012, ‘A ‘fair go’ for Lindy Chamberlain,’ Get Religion, Patheos,
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/getreligion/2012/06/a-fair-go-for-lindy-chamberlain/

Portfolio – Part Four

Week 8 briefly covered the topic of identity – and I wanted to take this post one step further and talk about gender identity, specifically within popular culture.

Gender identity, sexuality and the like have always been underrepresented in popular culture. It seems that any homosexual or transgendered characters introduced into movies, television shows, books etc., has been as the ‘gimmick’ character. For example, their role is to exist as a homosexual character, rather than an average character who happens to be gay – David Gauntlett studies sexuality and gender in popular culture in his book Media, Gender and Identity, and notes such an example of this in 1980s US soap Dynasty, with regular gay character Steven Carrington, whose main story followed his struggle for acceptance of his sexuality in his family (Gauntlett, 2008).

The LGBT community has recently been praising the CBS series Elementary. A modern reincarnation of the classic Sherlock Holmes series, set in New York, Elementary has been working against stereotypes in popular culture. For starters they introduced main character John Watson as Joan, played by Lucy Liu. This is particularly notable for the shuffling of gender stereotypes and also the introduction of a POC (person of colour) in what would have otherwise been a predominantly white cast of actors.

But what fans are raving about most at the moment is the inclusion of a transgender character – played by Candis Cayne, famous trans* actress. The original incarnation of Mrs Hudson in Sherlock Holmes was as his landlord, and despite being undescribed has usually been depicted as an older, grandmotherly figure. For this reason the introduction of Miss Hudson in Elementary has stirred up audiences. Most importantly Cayne’s character is not the gimmick or the comic relief. She is simply a normal character who happens to be trans*, ‘yes, they make it known that she was once a man but it is quickly breezed over it’ (Morabito, 2013). Miss Hudson is an expert in Ancient Greek who essentially makes a living as a kept woman and muse for various wealthy men. ‘As a trans person, I found literally nothing offensive about the way the character was written, treated and portrayed. I mean, the feminist in me is a bit wary of the whole “kept woman” trope, particularly applied to trans women, but even that is handled in a way that makes sure to empower her’ (ladycorvus, 2013).

This is incredibly important in the acceptance of the LGBT community, as so much of what society believes and thinks can be influenced and shaped by popular culture and mass media. The LGBT community is so underrepresented that everything helps towards breaking down the walls of inequality.

Hopefully Elementary can inspire other works of popular culture to follow in their stead, and perhaps lead to a better representation acceptance of the LGBT community in the future.

Gauntlett, D. 2008, Media, Gender and Identity, Routledge, London.

Morabito, S. 2013, ‘Elementary: Miss Hudson The New Transexual Voice On American TV’, I Have No Clever Witticism, The definition of nerd,
http://thedefinitionofnerd.blogspot.com.au/2013/04/elementary-miss-hudson-new-transexual.html

Elementary’s Ms. Hudson, 2013, Lost, But Seeking, Tumblr,
http://ladycorvus.tumblr.com/post/47173899450/elementarys-ms-hudson

Portfolio – Part Three

In class we were asked whether we identified with any particular subcultures – be they punk, Goth, surfer, biker, skinhead, what have you. The truth is I don’t really think I fit into one of these well-known subcultures. However the moment the question was asked, the Scene subculture sprung to mind. Several of my closest friends had been through a Scene period, and I knew the culture well. However, when I really thought about it, I only knew about it because of my friends. Scene is not a subculture typically found in media and popular culture. This is interesting as one of the most prevalent subcultures in popular culture is the Goth, which is very similar to the Scene.

My former-Scene friend described the subculture as trying ‘very hard to be bubbly quirky versions of Goths and emos’. Their fashion tastes range from ‘tiaras to ripped stockings, leopard print and 1980s band T-shirts. Thick eyeliner and elaborately coloured, back-teased hair are mandatory.’ (Marcus, 2008).

According to TV Tropes, there are three types of Goths: The Lone Psycho, Perky Goths and Gloomy Goths, the latter being the stereotypical Goth most often found in fiction. Most Goths in fiction will be presented as eerie pale skinned brunettes who wear only black, leather getups and listen to loud depressing music.’ (2013). These ‘Gloomy Goths’ are extremely common in popular culture. S. E. Smith cringes at most depictions of subcultures in popular culture; ‘depictions are usually wildly inaccurate and misleading, since they’re developed by people who aren’t actually members of those subcultures’ (Smith, 2013). This relates, for example, to South Park’s depiction of Goth kids, in the episode ‘Raisins’ (2003). Stan becomes depressed enough to join the Goths, and they spend all their time standing around, flipping their hair and sighing. They seem closer to emos, since they lament about their sadness a lot. As TV Tropes says, ‘real Goths are mostly harmless and tend to have a (frequently dark or self-deprecating) sense of humor and irony […] which their fictional counterparts largely lack.’ (2013).

While Goths appear commonly in popular culture, Scene kids do not. Perhaps because Scene kids are a relatively newer subculture – while they’ve been around since the mid-2000s, in comparison to Goths, who have been around for decades, they’re still new. It’s even lacking in the media, aside from articles relating to music and bands that have been associated with Scene. Caroline Marcus wrote an article in 2008 in the Sydney Morning Herald about Scene, interviewing three teens who were part of the subculture. This is one of the only times I’ve been able to find Scene in the media.

It will be interesting to see if Scene continues to evolve and thrive as a subculture – perhaps in ten years it will have become a part of stereotyped popular culture too.

Marcus, C. 2008, ‘Inside the clash of scene culture’, Sydney Morning Herald, 
http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/scene-kids-are-like-so-not-wannabe-emos/2008/03/29/1206207488553.html

Goth, 2013, TV Tropes,
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Goth

Smith, S. E. 2013, ‘Subcultures in popular culture,’ This Ain’t Living, http://meloukhia.net/2013/02/subcultures_in_pop_culture/

South Park, 1997-, television programme, Comedy Central, America.