onsdag den 23. april 2014

Stereotypes of Japan in the West: The "Hello Kitty" Music Video

Hello, everyone! I am back on the Northern Star, and I hope you guys had as nice an Easter as I did!

Just yesterday Avril Lavigne released a new music video titled "Hello Kitty", and from there on it has spread like wildfire through the "Cute Culture" world on the internet. While the lyrics themselves are a nonsensical mish-mash of stereotypically "kawaii" things mixed in with some vaguely sexual hints (rolling around in your underwear and playing spin the bottle with Hello Kitty?), I think that "that" in itself says a lot about how the western world sees Japan. That's what I'm gonna be talking about, from a non-expert, purely spectator-based perspective.

It is no secret that I, as an "alterna-teen", had an Avril Lavigne phase, and I was not alone. Avril Lavigne has always, I think, been a bit of an icon for young teens trying to fit in, speaking to our rebellious side with songs like "Sk8er Boy" and "Complicated", back in the day. As Japan is crawling out of the Underground shadows and the japan-obsessed community grows into a prominent part of youth culture (still mainly based around the "alternative teenagers"), it seems only natural that she would switch from the punk-emo look to one of a more sexy-kawaii-weaboo type.
That would be just fine, I think, if she didn't also choose to feed off of the stereotypes concerning japanese culture, and by her status as an icon, hammering them down even more.

Enough Lolitas has experienced the common misconception of Lolita being a "sex thing" that it is getting really old, and honestly the mentioning of Lolita being "just a Japanese streetfashion" rarely seems to help. Usually it just fuels the fire a little more, and the individual asking the question tends to just roll their eyes a little bit, expressing their preconception of "the perverted, old japanese men" if not in words, then very obviously in their reaction. It is a very common, negative stereotype that japanese 'cute culture' is all about dressing for the pleasure of older japanese men.
This is a stereotype that might stem from the spread of animé before most other parts of japanese culture, and western people subsequently digging into the more "mature" section of the genre, though I have not done any further research into it.

This stereotype can, however, be seen expressed through miss Lavigne's lyrics. The use of childish games and expressions throughout the lyrics, like "pinky swear", "come and play", "pillow fight" and the like, along with suggestive themes like "roll around in our underwear", "I've got something you need to see" and her sexualized costume clearly hints at the sexual "kawaii" stereotype of Japan.
I don't think this song was aimed at a young enough demographic that "pinky swears" and Hello Kitty toys for actual playing was still relevant- Also, she fatshames in her song, which is not very common in children's songs.

Another problem with this new song is not actually the song, in my opinion, but the representation of the Japanese women in the video. They seem to be completely without emotion and a mind of their own. Either this is hinting at the "robots everywhere!" stereotype, or else, it might be a hint at how Westerners tend to think of typical japanese women as very quiet, softspoken and dominated by society. They do not have a mind of their own, until Avril Lavigne, as the centerpiece of the video, makes them laugh.

Finally, they walk behind her all the time, following her around as if they were her "dolls", which I think is a very problematic image. To me, it screams racism. In a video about japanese culture, probably filmed in japan, the japanese people in the video do not get a voice of their own.
They're used as props, while the white woman rolls around in all the "kawaii" she can scavenge, completely taking over their world.

All in all, I think the only people who're going to enjoy this song, are the ones new to japanese culture, who have not quite yet shed the stereotypical viewpoints.
It will be gone and forgotten before we know it.

Do you agree? Do you think I'm reading too much into this?
Do you enjoy the song, or do you wish you could un-hear it? Let me know!

2 kommentarer :

  1. I haven't listened to it yet, but that's probably because even in the most intense part of my "rebel alternate teen" phase I was never very into Avril Lavigne. I don't plan on listening to it, just cause I don't want something that cringe-worthy stuck in my head! ^_^

  2. It just seems very unlike Avril Lavigne in my opinion, and seems rather forced.You might be reading in a little to deeply into it, but I have to agree with some of what you say. Overall I don't think the video gives off a good impression of Japanese culture :/


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