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Oh! Marxy - click opera
February 2010
 
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Sun, Aug. 6th, 2006 11:06 am
Oh! Marxy

The productive two-year dialectic -- a battle for the soul of Japan, or at least a persuasive general definition of the nation -- between Click Opera and Neomarxisme may well have reached a sad end. Yesterday, infuriated by Marxy's refusal to offer any criticism of his own culture or any comment whatsoever on the war raging in the Middle East, I concluded that "by refusing to be relevant about what's going on outside Japan, you are unable to be relevant about what's going on inside it".



Marxy's response sounded weary and sad: "To be honest, I don't feel like getting sucked into this conversation or even trying to deconstruct your highly aggravating debating techniques. Sadly I am probably losing to your assault, but the constant barrage of this kind of unfair rhetorical sucker punching just makes my life worse and me more unhappy."

I apologized and, in a post-skirmish dialogue with a more sympathetic poster called Brown, ended up quoting Thomas S. Kuhn: "Advocates of mutually exclusive paradigms are in an insidious position: Though each may hope to convert the other to his way of seeing... neither may hope to prove his case. The competition between paradigms is not the sort of battle that can be resolved by proof."

It's certainly true that, although we seem to get on fine in real life, Marxy and I have different basic intellectual paradigms. But I wonder if proof is really completely irrelevant? Take one of our earlier, more polite skirmishes. Back in October 2004 Marxy responded to a Click Opera piece on postmodernism with a Neomarxisme piece called Post-modernism in retrospect. Its provocative, reductive and ethnocentric tone seemed guaranteed to enrage me. Contradicting my claim that "Japan is the society currently most at ease with postmodernism", Marxy told us that "Japan's postmodernism has always been accidental... Japan is a nation without content... All the great treasures of content-based Postmodernism - meaningful bricolage, subversive irony, and creative sampling - don't exist in Japan... The good parts of American culture lead to a certain kind of elevated dialogue or at least put people into camps to argue about the work's value. Japanese popular culture leads to no dialogue."

In the comments section, I responded to this outrageous claim with what now seems like admirable moderation: "Personally I don't think The Simpsons is a "better" postmodernism than Oh! Super Milk Chan or Oh! Mikey."



Well, Kuhn be damned, there is "proof" that the Japanese are totally able to do postmodernism in a completely non-accidental way. Directed and written by Yoshimasa Ishibashi, Oh! Mikey has been in production for just over four years. It's a brilliant series of short sketches revolving around the Fuccon family, American ex-patriots James, Barbara and their son Mikey. They've been sent to live in Japan, where they've morphed into a sort of surreal, satirical stereotype of what Japanese people are like.

Played throughout by showroom dummies wearing fixed grins and liable to erupt at any moment into manic, sinister, unbridled laughter, the Fuccon family are in a sense the absolute inverse of the sweet Japanese families we see in Ozu films. Here, everyone is horrifically rude to each other and appalling hypocrisies are rife. By using gaijin characters who act exactly like Japanese, Ishibashi manages to critique Japanese behaviour and Western decadence and selfishness at the same time (his point could be that Japanese have become this way because they've started to resemble Westerners the way the Fuccons have started to resemble Japanese). I'd say there's a closer parallel with Ren and Stimpy than the Simpsons, because this is more than social satire; it goes into much artier, more uncomfortable areas. I'd put it on a par, for sheer surreal nihilism, with David Lynch and Todd Solondz.



But I've probably said too much already. Got a couple of hours to spare? Here's a ton of Oh! Mikey, courtesy of YouTube and Google Video. You'll be laughing as you watch this stuff, I promise, but stick a couple of Post-It notes on either side of the screen saying "Japan's postmodernism has always been accidental" and "Japan is a nation without content" and you'll laugh even harder.

Let's Go for a Drive

Mikey's Future

Mikey's Diary

The Love Surgery

The Papillon Cafe

Saori the Lady Driver

Saori the Lady Driver Part 2

The Papillon Cafe Part 2

The Return

Mikey Peeps

Mikey Being Kidnapped

A Marital Dispute

Moving Away

Growing Mikey

Mikey's Illness

Mikey's Exorcism

The whole of Oh! Mikey Series 2
(35 minutes long)

80CommentReplyShare

warhooligan
warhooligan
mercurious
Sun, Aug. 6th, 2006 09:22 am (UTC)

but you can't ignore the fact that the show has to use a background of ex-pat americans to make the point, to be post-modern. Eastern culture has only been examined through a Western eye for a very short time, relatively speaking, so I think it is unfair to even apply the same definitions of these labels to Asian pop/art culture, framing it only in Western terms. Or am I being too reltivistic and missing the point?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Aug. 6th, 2006 09:34 am (UTC)

I can't see the supposed ethnicity of the characters as having anything to do with the genre of the piece -- after all, many if not most manga characters have rather Western-looking features too, and yet could only be Japanese in the way they're drawn, what they do, how they think, etc.

As for whether even using the term "postmodern" for Japanese art is relevant, I'd say it is. Let's say that postmodernism began in about 1956 (that's my personal, and arbitrary, start date). Japan has been, in the period since 1956, as completely modern, if not more so, than any Western nation. I don't think the West has a monopoly on modernity, and I don't think it has a monopoly on postmodernity either. In fact, it's one of my basic arguments that Japan is teaching us how to be postmodern. I think anyone who's been to Japan has to feel that it's a much more postmodern society than, say, the UK, although the UK does seem a little more "Japanese" and postmodern each time I visit. But perhaps it's careless of me to say that there are degrees of postmodernism in different countries. Perhaps there are only national flavours of postmodernism.


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zzberlin
zzberlin
hh
Sun, Aug. 6th, 2006 09:39 am (UTC)

<< I concluded that "by refusing to be relevant about what's going on outside Japan, you are unable to be relevant about what's going on inside it". >>

OUCH!

Hey momus, remind me not to piss you off TOO much@?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Aug. 6th, 2006 09:42 am (UTC)

It only hurts if it's true.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Aug. 6th, 2006 09:44 am (UTC)
OCKY MILK LYRICS? PLEASE

Hello Nick,

Why dont you include the lyrics in your lasts records??????

It's a bore if they are on your web, really. I love the printed lyrics even if they are as tiny as the Folktronic album.

Please add them in some edition of your Ocky album

Carlos



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gillen
gillen
the ill-tempered cavalier
Sun, Aug. 6th, 2006 09:44 am (UTC)

By using gaijin characters who act exactly like Japanese, Ishibashi manages to critique Japanese behaviour and Western decadence and selfishness at the same time (his point could be that Japanese have become this way because they've started to resemble Westerners the way the Fuccons have started to resemble Japanese).

Then perhaps it was a typo "Japan's postmodernism has always been occidental."


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Aug. 6th, 2006 10:09 am (UTC)

Well, that's witty and funny as a joke, but if you mean it as a serious point I have to disagree that using Western-looking characters has anything to do with the genre status of a work. It's like saying Ben Hur is essentially Ancient Roman in its way of looking at the world, because it uses ostensibly Roman characters.


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zzberlin
zzberlin
hh
Sun, Aug. 6th, 2006 09:52 am (UTC)
Let's Go for a Drive

When I listened to this with my eyes closed, it sounded like Italian to me.


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ex_newironsh15
chris
Sun, Aug. 6th, 2006 10:27 am (UTC)
Re: Let's Go for a Drive

What? The syllables are accented completely differently!


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Aug. 6th, 2006 09:54 am (UTC)

I think to be fair you should tell your readers that the general pattern is that Marxy criticises some event or series of events where some identifiable person or group of people gets hurt (through blacklisting of artists, rigging of matches or business competitions, etc. pp.), and you drag into the discussion lofty questions of locatedness and context-dependence of concepts like "freedom" (at which you throw Wikipedia links).

You've never declared yourself on that "unalienable human rights" thing. So there: "by refusing to take a stance on the issue of universal human rights, Momus is unable to even write about the colour pink without raising the suspicion that he supports torture."

der.


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zzberlin
zzberlin
hh
Sun, Aug. 6th, 2006 10:00 am (UTC)
Postmodernism WikiFolklore

Connotations

Wikipedia, with its open, potentially limitless forum, is an example of the postmodernist fluidity of knowledge. This then brings problems of control, legitimisation and verification.

The role, proper usage, and meaning of postmodernism remain matters of intense debate and vary widely with context. See, for example, the discussion of Japanese postmodernism in [imomus blog]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmodernism#Connotations


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auto_nalle
auto_nalle
auto_nalle
Sun, Aug. 6th, 2006 10:31 am (UTC)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ae5fzI-ha1k
quaint resemblance, that's all.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Aug. 6th, 2006 10:40 am (UTC)

Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa yabai!


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petit_paradis
petit_paradis
erik
Sun, Aug. 6th, 2006 10:57 am (UTC)
ffffff

hey momus, is the fuccon family related to the similar named faucon's???

http://www.bernardfaucon.net/photos/index.htm


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Aug. 6th, 2006 11:08 am (UTC)
Re: ffffff

The characters and events depicted in this photoplay are fictitious. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental


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Re: ffffff - (Anonymous) Expand
imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Aug. 6th, 2006 11:40 am (UTC)

Well, Kuhn be damned, there is "proof"

This is, of course, a rhetorical flourish. Actually, I think Kuhn is right. What I present here as "proof" could only persuade people who already share my paradigm, not people who share Marxy's. Similarly, the kinds of concrete cases Marxy presents daily on Neomarxisme could never persuade me, or people who think like me, of the correctness of the wider conclusions he draws from them (and, unlike Jean Snow, for instance, who simply aggregates links and lets his readers draw their own conclusions, Marxy does editorialize and draw big conclusions about Japan from each small case he presents), no matter how many examples he flings out. Not because of any faulting of his proofs, but because of the framings: our paradigms.

It's for this reason that our battle has become wearisome. I do think, though, that is has been very productive over the past two years. Of what? Well, of blog entries, of course!


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zzberlin
zzberlin
hh
Sun, Aug. 6th, 2006 04:17 pm (UTC)
I disagree

<< What I present here as "proof" could only persuade people who already share my paradigm, not people who share Marxy's. >>

You're too humble here, momus. I read Click Opera just LOOKING for material to criticize. Most days you convince me, but some days you don't. I think you are being disingenuous about the number of readers that come to your blog, from a stance of anti-momus, and edge just a little closer to your sensible stance with each reading.

But the I'm a sycophant, mostly. I can never find anything to criticize in Click Opera! I'M A BELIEVER.


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plastickitty
plastickitty
if only you were pocket-sized
Sun, Aug. 6th, 2006 01:42 pm (UTC)

I enjoy reading both your blogs, but you're both so black and white when you talk about Japan. If you and marxy could somehow combine into one person, that would be neat-o.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Aug. 6th, 2006 02:32 pm (UTC)

I always live in constant fear of seeing my name in a Click Opera post. Being in the title just took a year off my life.

Your essay is probably all-and-all a useful criticism of me and my site, but I am not sure how comfortable I am with you using text from my very first month of blogging. I was getting used to the constraints of the dialogue, and I am not sure I would write such things in the same way now.

I am wrong to say that this is probably the first serious piece of criticism/analysis written about Oh! Mikey? I don't remember seeing that in the newest Nikkei Entertainment.

Marxy


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Aug. 6th, 2006 03:29 pm (UTC)

Aha, it's Marxy! Hello!

I originally just wanted to blog about Oh! Mikey today, and I only changed it into a thing about you because one of the Google results was a comment I'd made on Neomarxisme back when our "rivalry" first began. I realize that you have changed your tone since then -- we both have, and I think that's one of the beneficial results of our battles; at the very least, even if we haven't inched much further towards an understanding of each other's basic paradigms, we have learned to incorporate likely objections from the other (procatalepsis, baby!). Then again, that can go too far; as someone correctly observed yesterday on your site (and you agreed), it sometimes seems as if your posts are written entirely for me.

Anyway, I'm enjoying your serialization of the Fujiwara book. And I hope today's link, once more, bumps up your traffic. It's not just William Gibson who rates your blog, you know! (But I hope he reads this one too, for balance.)


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Aug. 6th, 2006 03:05 pm (UTC)

There's no such thing as postmodernism.

Those Oh! Mikey things are pretty interesting.

The Simpsons is a bunch of crap.


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desant012
||||||||||
Sun, Aug. 6th, 2006 03:51 pm (UTC)

Post-modernism exists, but it definitely peaked in the 90s when all the hit forms entertainment, at least in the US, were nearly 100% post-modern.

Now to the kids these days, post-modernism and its techniques and doctrines seem kind-of stale and played out. I think we're at a point where we have to create completely fresh and original things, because honestly, we've exhausted the past, and all the content of the present has been .. post-modern. Where do you go from nowhere?


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subtechnique
subtechnique
Sun, Aug. 6th, 2006 05:07 pm (UTC)
The lovely, hyper-confidence of youth

Momus (about Marxy):

I concluded that "by refusing to be relevant about what's going on outside Japan, you are unable to be relevant about what's going on inside it".

...................


This is very interesting.

I'm a regular reader of both Click Opera and Neomarxisme – both offer unique, and often very valuable insights.

Over time however, I started to grow a bit annoyed with Marxy's criticisms of the Japanese economy and iron plated insistence neo-liberal maneuvers would provide a decisive halt to what he then termed Japan's “terminal decline”.

From time to time I would comment that it was impossible, really, to have a truly comprehensive understanding of the challenges Tokyo faces without taking China's meteoric rise into account. My own personal Asian contacts are with family members (through marriage) in Seoul, S. Korea some of whom are quite knowledgeable professionals working as financial analysts. Again and again they stress to me the impact China's explosive growth as an exporter and manufacturing center has had on the region's (and indeed, the world's) post World War two configuration.

But Marxy, oddly, seemed to brush this aside in favor of a Japan-only critique. It was as if there wasn't a global economic system, just a fumbling Japan foolishly resisting the inexorable logic of neo-liberalism (which, it was implied, made the United States a lantern unto the nations, a shining example of economic perfection).

About which...


Later, I became involved in a very lengthy debate with Marxy and long time commenter chris_b about neo-liberalism's failures. Specifically, I used David Harvey's “A Brief History of Neo-liberalism” as a touchstone – the best analysis to-date I believe of the high flying promises and (mostly) failed reality of the neo-liberal program.

Chavez's popularity is a direct result of his government's dismantling of Venezuela's disastrous implementation of “Washington Consensus” style neo-liberalism.

The point being, how could you suggest Japan adopt this destructive technique when it has done so little for so many elsewhere?

Again, the reply seemed to be that counter-examples notwithstanding, Japan was in “terminal decline” and needed a dose of neo-lib medicine.


After a while, it became clear to me that Marxy, though very smart and well-informed on a variety of topics, was doing what many (most?) people do in their 20s: make grand assertions based upon a belief that problems have “one thing” solutions.
And, to be fair, in recent months, much of this certainty seems to have fallen away. As it must if you're going to stay alert and keep learning from your surroundings.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Aug. 6th, 2006 06:50 pm (UTC)
Re: The lovely, hyper-confidence of youth

Yes, but the alarming thing to me is that the burning idealism you're supposed to have when you're young is, stereotypically at least, meant to be some utopian idealism or other. Not the free market, and especially not the Anglo-American free market! I mean, "being young" might have changed since I was young, but surely something's a bit odd there?

Then again, because Marxy's a trendy-looking musician who writes for hip magazines (my first contact with him was at the offices of Tokion magazine in New York; he also writes for OK Fred), it's easy to think of him as a bohemian art student or something like that. But he isn't really that. He's a student of marketing who's now employed, by all accounts, in a big advertising agency. I suppose some views go with that turf. Personally, I think just the fact that he's called "Marx" misleads a lot of people into thinking he's inherently left wing.


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mme_c
mme_c
(Nora Isabella)
Sun, Aug. 6th, 2006 05:11 pm (UTC)

Wait, isn't that program called The Fuccon Family?
Correct me, if I'm wrong, but "Oh! Mikey" is just the catchphrase.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Aug. 6th, 2006 06:36 pm (UTC)

I think that in Japan it's called Oh! Mikey and in the US (where it seems to have screened somewhere, since there are dubbed-into-English videos floating about on YouTube) it's called "The Fuccon Family". Although the different series in Japan may have had different titles too.


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mandyrose
mandyrose
Sun, Aug. 6th, 2006 05:47 pm (UTC)
Minimalism v. Buddhism, etc....?

I got into an interesting discussion with a friend yesterday about whether or not the introduction of Eastern philosophies into the US had any influence on Minimalist art, and if so, how extensive? I feel like grounding artwork in an appreciation of Buddhism or Shinto (as far as I can appreciate those things from Ohio) is a much wider base to stand on than identifying with Minimalism, which seems weirdly limiting. He is quite the Japanophile, but turns up his nose at any mention of Eastern spiritual traditions, seeing them as a bunch of hippie, incense-burning, tapestry-hanging nonsense. I am under the assumption that, say, "flat" painting and Eastern spiritual disciplines are made of the same stuff, that surface and spirituality are not considered separate, as they are in the West. I also love Byzantine iconography for this reason, and Ozu, Dreyer, Warhol, etc. Far from being cheesy, this seems like practical, poetic, sustainable elegance.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Aug. 6th, 2006 06:43 pm (UTC)
Re: Minimalism v. Buddhism, etc....?

Well, I know that the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, as well as his understanding of Buddhism, influenced John Cage really decisively. They led him through the "brick wall" of his disinterest in harmony, in the direction of what could be called minimalism -- the idea of actually listening to single sounds, even non-musical ones, or the idea of letting go of intention in composition. These are "eastern" ideas, and essentially religious ones.


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