Koichi Iwabuchi’s article, Discrepant Intimacy: Popular Culture Flows in East Asia, is a fascinating examination of transnational popular culture flows alongside the development of communications technologies. Iwabuchi zeroes in on the idea of ‘cultural intimacy’ of neighbouring East Asian nations such as Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan who are culturally intimate relative to their temporal proximity to the West. Because of the increasing activity of intraregional media flows between these countries, they experience both ‘familiar difference’ by the shared infiltration of Western images of modernity, and yet ‘bizarre sameness’ by their appropriation and hybridisation of cultural products from around the world to their respective Asian contexts.
Here Iwabuchi eschews standard notions of American cultural imperialism. Instead, national markets penetrated by media flows from ‘the other’ (largely due to global media conglomerates), are now not just America pervading ‘the rest’, but Non-Western players actively collaborating in the production and circulation of global media products with international appeal. He explains that this rise in global media conglomerates who co-operate transnational media products, namely, a rise of regional media and cultural centres in Brazil, Hong Kong and Japan points to a decentering of cultural modernity from the West. He is quick to point out that this thriving intraregional exchange which capitalizes on cultural resonances emerges because of a perceived cultural intimacy, relative to the temporal proximity to the West.
Significantly, Iwabuchi looks to the widespread popularity of Japanese television dramas in Taiwan to explore how, “…the perception of cultural intimacy and “familiar difference” of cultural neighbours is experienced differently and unevenly as media industries increasingly capitalize on the regional cultural resonance in east Asia”.
These ideas position television as a key player in not only the decentering of the West as dominant indicators of cultural modernity, but a broad deterritorialization of the space of cultural imaginaries, an important dimension of globalisation.
I’d like to touch on this idea briefly by looking at the early exchange and appropriation of media products by Japan and the US, more specifically, of the Japanese anime television series Tetsuan Atom into Astro Boy in 1963.
When Fred Ladd’s English adaptation of Testuan Atom was beamed into American lounge rooms in 1963, it was one of the earliest, if not the earliest widespread introduction of Japanese anime into Western culture. Indeed at the time, animator Ladd admits he had no idea there was such a thing as Japanese animation (say, what?). It was not, however, the first time America had profited from the influence of Japanese art:
'The American animated films of the period [before WWII] were not so far removed from the traditions of Japanese folk art, with their sense of the ridiculous, their gross exaggeration of physical characteristics for dramatic or comic purpose, their anthropomorphic animals and clean, simple lines. and their influences were readily absorbed.' (West)
Here Disney, influenced by early Japanese folk art, in turn lends itself to anime heroes such as Tetsuan Atom (huge eyes and all), who ‘returns’ to American television screens after NBC acquire the rights, to what early American executives dubbed as ‘Japan’s Pinocchio’ (Ladd & Deneroff). Until that time, Japanese anime relied on locally raised funds to support production. When NBC acquired Astro’s rights, they were able to increase the quality of the original 1960’s Japanese production by renewing funds with US dollars (West):
'In a way, Japanese television animation has been international almost from the medium’s inception, and the Japanese television industry in general has grown from an importer of (mostly American) television shows to a net exporter of programming and has become (West) “the only country, apart from the USA, where more than 95 percent of television programmes are produced domestically.' (Iwabuchi).
Astro Boy in America, in much the same way that Quentin Tarantino’s production company found Western audiences for Wong Kar Wai’s films (Chungking Express, In the Mood for Love), was undoubtedly appropriated or “glocalised”, an idea raised in The Japanification of Children’s Popular Culture by Mark West:
'Japanese animation as a whole can be seen as the work of glocalization in action – animators from Japan took ideas and styles from abroad and created a product that reflects their own lifestyles and culture. In turn, the export of Japanese animation to other countries, especially the United States, shows how a product that has been glocalized in its creation can be re-glocalized upon reception in a new location of culture.' (pp. 211)
Mark West refers to the localization of foreign media, an aspect of transnational media flow. He also describes the turnaround of the Japanese television industry from an importer of mostly American television to a net exporter who produces a grand majority of its own content. Again, this only serves to add weight to Koichi Iawbuchi’s ideas of a decentering of modernity solely from the West, and the rise of new national markets who in their cultural proximity, thrive off intranational media flows.
- Iwabuchi, K Discrepant Intimacy: Popular Culture Flows in East Asia in Erni, J & Chua, S (eds.) Asian Media Studies: Politics of Subjectives, (p. 19-36). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2005.
- Ladd, F & Deneroff, H 2009, Astro and Anime Come to the Americas, McFarland & Co Inc. Publishers, US
- West, Mark (ed) 2009, The Japanification of Children’s Popular Culture, Scarecrow Press Inc, USA