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The kids aren't alright ;-( - click opera
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Mon, Mar. 31st, 2008 12:23 pm
The kids aren't alright ;-(

"Que es mas macho, pineapple o knife?" The bizarre question appears in the song Smoke Rings on Laurie Anderson's Home of the Brave album. The surprise answer is that a pineapple is more macho than a knife. The quiz continues with a second question with an equally surprising answer: a schoolbus is more macho than a lightbulb.

Today I have a question in the same vein. Which is more elitist, art or marketing? On the face of it, it's a no-brainer. The art world is clearly more elitist than the marketing world, because the art world is a tightknit knot of collectors, investors, artists and commentators speaking an abstruse jargon replete with -isms. The marketing world, on the other hand, is a bunch of people with clipboards asking folks on the street what they want then trying to give it to them. Marketing is clearly oriented to the mass, the mainstream, the grass roots, the people, the salt of the earth.

Of course, that's bullshit. Marketing is a lot more top down, a lot more elitist (in its own way) than that. The marketer's client is the company, and the company is beholden to the shareholder. The marketer's task is not to find out what people really want and give it to them, but to whip up desire for the pre-existing products manufacturers have decided to offer. At its worst, marketing is totally elitist: it speaks without listening, it uses slick babytalk, it exploits people's desires, giving them other than what they want and less than they deserve.



But I'm not a total cynic about marketing. When I first heard that Marxy had got a job in marketing I thought there might be a good side -- clipboard in hand, standing on street corners, he'd now be listening to the Japanese consumers he'd previously tended to denigrate, trying to ascertain what they want and ensure that they get it. This would make him drop the "everything Japan has done since Shibuya-kei is wrong" line which made his old blog Neomarxisme such an infuriatingly mean read.

Alas, far from it. Marxy's main concern, as a blogger working in marketing, continues to be the attempt to show that the kids are not alright, and that the grassroots Japanese creativity reported in the Western media is in fact either an illusion or concocted by a small elite. The message seems to be "Don't bother listening for the sound of the grass growing -- it isn't. Not unless we -- the marketers, the brands, the corporations -- pour fertilizer on it, that is."



This mostly seems to involve withering scorn for all Japanese examples of what marketers call CGM -- consumer-generated media. On the current page at Meta No Tame ("staff blog" for Neojaponisme) we get refutations of the idea that Japanese is the world's number one blogging language (in fact, Marxy tells us, 40% of Japanese-language blog sites are generated by spambots), and the information that a trend for barcoded gravestones doesn't come from consumers but from the manufacturer who invented them. We get the announcement that Marxy is talking at a conference at UCLA on the subject of "whether Japanese fashion styles are “bottom-up” or “top-down” and how fashion magazines play a part in setting trends". We get a review of a book about the Harajuku fashion scene, Style Deficit Disorder, which debunks the book's introduction, with its emphasis on grassroots creativity:

"The Harajuku of SDD’s introductory chapter is quite literally the most amazing place on earth: masses of youth successfully fighting to create their own trends at a “grass-roots” level in the face of an increasingly-irrelevant global fashion market pushing industry-decided clothing on a rigid seasonal basis". This won't do: Marxy isn't buying this picture of "grass-roots democracy, consumer-driven markets, an almost anarcho-syndicalist model of opinion leadership, Japanese influence on global culture, a sense of fashion liberty, Japanese cultural independence, and a freedom from dogmatic ideologies".



So keen is he to puncture and debunk too-kind, too-optimistic Western views of Japanese grassroots creativity that Marxy doesn't seem to notice internal contradictions in his arguments: Harajuku is not all it's cracked up to be, he tells us, because "brands and magazines play a massive role in setting Harajuku trends". In a withering piece about Nakameguro, though, Marxy says that Nakameguro isn't all it's cracked up to be for precisely the opposite reason: this time it's because "almost none of the major retailers in Japan have decided to put a store there". The kids aren't alright if top-down brands influence their trendy neighbourhood, but also aren't alright if those same top-down brands spurn their trendy neighbourhoods. The kids, it seems, just can't win -- and all because those starry-eyed foreigners keep saying they're great!



Actually -- and this brings us back to the marketing versus art theme, and the elitism question -- foreign commentators aren't saying that Japanese kids are uniformly great. That certainly would be projection, and wish-fulfillment. Rather, those of us interested in Japanese creativity have a different concern. Marketing people tend to disregard anything which is too niche, too marginal. Their concern is with getting products out of their niches and into the mainstream. For talent-spotters, though, one swallow makes a summer.



In the last seven days of Click Opera alone, I've endorsed the work of dozens of Japanese creators (Yurie Ido, Akio Suzuki, Atsuhiko Sudo, Kasuga Nakamatsu, Yoko Ono, Aoki Takamasa, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Tujiko Noriko, Jun Togawa, Hanayo, Koji Ueno, Keiichi Ohta, Haruomi Hosono, Misora Hibari, Miharu Koshi, Otomo Yoshihide). What I haven't done is make any claim that these people are "the kids" or represent a democratic movement, a grassroots creativity. They're mostly professional artists and performers. Even if I were blogging about Japanese street fashion, I'd probably focus on Shoichi Aoki just as much as the kids he puts in FRUiTS.



I therefore agree, broadly, with Marxy's emphasis on the top-down; I'm an elitist too. The difference comes in our chosen fields of operation and preoccupation: I'm an artist championing artists, whereas he's a marketing spook giving props to... well, marketing spooks. But there is hope that he'll come over to the good kind of elitism, the artist kind that champions creativity rather than the marketing kind that denigrates the kids: the man has a new album out.

61CommentReplyShare


(Anonymous)
Mon, Mar. 31st, 2008 11:16 am (UTC)

re Marxy's conflicting views on Harajuku and Nakameguro: weren't you telling us only a couple of days ago that consistency isn't what it's cracked up to be? And yet now you're using it to have a go at Marxy. Is inconsistency only OK when it's Momus who's being inconsistent?


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electricwitch
electricwitch
For anything, oh! she´ll bust her elastic
Mon, Mar. 31st, 2008 11:20 am (UTC)

How the fuck did that get in front of my comment? I swear it was there first.


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electricwitch
electricwitch
For anything, oh! she´ll bust her elastic
Mon, Mar. 31st, 2008 11:19 am (UTC)

What is that smiley supposed to be? A sad wink?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Mar. 31st, 2008 11:36 am (UTC)

It's someone frowning and crying a right-trickling tear.


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dzima
dzima
ralf dziminski
Mon, Mar. 31st, 2008 12:01 pm (UTC)

Japan is a nice disguise though all I see here are elitist white men obsessed about talking to or endorsing other elitist white men.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Mar. 31st, 2008 12:04 pm (UTC)

It may indeed be another case of the blind gaijin and the Japanese elephant, Dzima, but I like to think that at least I'm pointing out that the elephant can paint:


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Mar. 31st, 2008 12:57 pm (UTC)

Did Click Opera readers know that I "work in marketing"? Momus knows this and repeats this over and over again because he knows it will rile you all up and sounds vaguely evil. In fact, Momus knows absolutely nothing about my job, what I do at work, the actual companies I do work for, etc. He knows nothing and will know nothing because we have ceased to have that "cute" fight-on-blog, friends-in-real-life relationship after I stressed out for the millionth time over him trying to intentionally attack me in a direct personal manner every other day on this site. And after a few months of being outside of his sharpened spear, here I am again. Some of you may want to tell me to brush it off, but I regret to inform you that it's not that fun to be the single guy in Momus' peer circle who is completely trashed on a constant basis for the massive sin of intellectually disagreeing with the author. (Show me the last time where I took a personal dig at Momus in the last year, please. I have ceased to bait the man, and to be honest, I have worked to try to balance out what I write to please this completely unplacable sadistic mentor.)

I find it most amazingly childish that Momus would act so outraged on LiveJournal but then be too bashful to actually comment on Neojaponisme when I wrote these particular essays. The comment reel is wide open. What are you waiting for? I'd be happy to hear your actual counterpoints. I was just tired of hearing your take downs of my personal morality for thinking such things.

If we actually want to argue about issues - which nothing about how you've framed this personal attack actually suggests - I would argue that Harajuku is interesting as a market system, but we can't just assume that everything interesting about it comes from the bottom-up as many people do in fact argue. There is a lot of top-down stuff that people choose to ignore. I didn't go into researching Harajuku in 2000 with the idea that the top had too much power or something. But when you put two and two together and you see how the media guides consumers, you start to figure it out.

And really, I'm the mean one?

Anyway, I am glad you are being "interesting" with this essay rather than "right." You had the option to write the exact same essay in an intellectually-honest, non-confrontational manner, but you decided to plunge the same rusty dagger instead. This essay says more about you than me.

Marxy


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Mar. 31st, 2008 04:40 pm (UTC)

I'm afraid I'm not in the least bit repentant, old bean!

If you're provocative, stimulating, informed and intellectually daring enough to challenge the conclusions of the New York Times, Tiffany Gudoy, and a whole host of other Japan experts on your own blog -- and thank God, you are -- then I don't know why someone else doing the same thing to your conclusions elicits three or four paragraphs of hysterical victimy screaming.

I don't think it's a personal attack on you to say you work in marketing -- is there a term you prefer?

Saying that I should restrict my comments to your blog is like saying you should only have replied to the New York Times' Nakameguro piece by writing a letter to the New York Times. Why on earth?

Plus, if I'd restricted my comment to your blog, not only could I not have brought in the angle I'm really interested in -- the different kinds of elitism involved in marketing and the art world -- I also couldn't have advertised your new album to my gazillions of readers.

But thanks for making at least one substantive point in that rant: "There is a lot of top-down stuff that people choose to ignore." I think I did outline in the piece that that was your position, but anyway...


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electricwitch
electricwitch
For anything, oh! she´ll bust her elastic
Mon, Mar. 31st, 2008 08:02 pm (UTC)

*takes notes for epic fic*


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ajkandy.myopenid.com
ajkandy.myopenid.com
Mon, Mar. 31st, 2008 04:25 pm (UTC)
Laurie Anderson

By the way, for those not familiar with Ms. Anderson's song, they're not nonsense phrases: they're referring to acts of state-sponsored terrorism / funding of terror groups.

pineapple = slang for grenade.

School bus = yes, blowing up a school bus.

Lightbulb = a lightbulb bomb, used in assassinations - where the filament would ignite a a detonator or highly flammable, explosive substance.

Geddit?

By the way, in reference to Marxy and Momus' "feud," why don't you BOTH please have a gander at this:

http://www.paulgraham.com/disagree.html


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Mar. 31st, 2008 05:02 pm (UTC)
Re: Laurie Anderson

Well, that Paul Graham thing is all pretty basic netiquette stuff (which isn't to say that either of us is following it in this case).

I think the really important thing is not whether people agree, but whether they're on more or less the same intellectual level, or have the same intellectual style and the same interests. That's what generates the longest-lasting conversations; small differences. And they usually are small; if the similarities are what keep the conversation / feud going, the differences usually turn out to be of the "glass half empty / glass half full" variety.

In this case: "You say it's more top down, I say it's more bottom up... not, wait, we both say it's top down, but I say top down is okay in the art world but not in marketing..."


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thomascott
thomascott
Thomas Scott
Mon, Mar. 31st, 2008 05:15 pm (UTC)
High Heel Party versus Low Heel Party

I'm certainly no champion of marketers but to be frank Marxy does not come across as the archetype, he certainly evinces a greater degree of separation from his trade and personal reflectiveness than most marketers I have encountered. With all goodwill I must say I think this 'dispute' is beginning to resemble the egg-breaking dispute between the Blefuscudians and the Lilliputians. You need a new nemesis, Nick!


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Mar. 31st, 2008 05:28 pm (UTC)
Re: High Heel Party versus Low Heel Party

I'm game, who do you suggest?


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cheapsurrealist
cheapsurrealist
Dave Nold
Mon, Mar. 31st, 2008 06:58 pm (UTC)
Almost on topic

The Kids Are Alright


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Mar. 31st, 2008 10:46 pm (UTC)

Boy, you really got hurt this week, didn't you? Endorsing all these creatives, talking to all these artists, and still no respect. I'd say lash out at the Marketing Guy! Release all this pent-up anger!

der.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Mar. 31st, 2008 11:01 pm (UTC)

Yes, I really do sound furious, don't I?

"I therefore agree, broadly, with Marxy's emphasis on the top-down; I'm an elitist too... the man has a new album out."

How did such rage ever accumulate in a human being? Truly terrifying.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Apr. 1st, 2008 02:26 am (UTC)
starry-eyed foreigners

Maybe it's their freedom to be a movement on there own that we love. Pound for pound they seem more resolute to accomplish just that.

http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20070603f1.html


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anglerfish96
anglerfish96
anglerfish96
Tue, Apr. 1st, 2008 03:37 am (UTC)

Lately this blog should be renamed "momusabuse". I fear for your sanity.

Neomarxisme, Neojaponisme and Meta No Tame have been/are great resources for anyone looking for intelligent discussions of Japan. Personally, I tend to agree with Marxy's method of discourse more than yours, but I also find value in your opinions.

Maybe you should take a page out of Marxy's book though. Recruit others you trust to write and discuss issues you're not so comfortable with? I think it might be a lot of fun, and I bet you have a lot of people you talk with in the "real world" who would be willing to help.

Just a thought. Maybe a hopelessly inane one. I suppose it would take a certain amount of coordination and time which goes against the slapdash-post-it-after-having-wild-drunken-orgy-sex-propriety-be-damned immediacy that LiveJournal lends itself to.

And then this blog really would have to have a new name, too. Like "wemomus" or "momusandfriends" or... hmmm... "sometimesmomus". Feel free to use any one of 'em.


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anglerfish96
anglerfish96
anglerfish96
Tue, Apr. 1st, 2008 03:52 am (UTC)

Or... ooooh... to kick it off you could have some sort of online "discussion" with Marxy himself! Maybe with a neutral mediator! It might be fascinating!


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Apr. 1st, 2008 05:25 am (UTC)
Name-dropping requirement: spell it correctly

It's GODOY, nob.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Apr. 1st, 2008 06:22 am (UTC)

You write: "The message seems to be 'Don't bother listening for the sound of the grass growing -- it isn't. Not unless we -- the marketers, the brands, the corporations -- pour fertilizer on it, that is.'"

Do you believe that Marxy celebrates the role that media organizations and marketers play in Japan? Reading his blogs over the years, it seems to me that he argues precisely the opposite. He has pointed out the barriers to entry that prevent artists and creators that you both like from getting access to a wider audience.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Apr. 1st, 2008 06:36 am (UTC)

Are those two formulations opposites?

Marxy doesn't "celebrate" the role of powerful Japanese gatekeepers, but he certainly emphasizes it, and even exaggerates it. It's an obsessive focus: a portrait of a top-down power system which prevents the grass roots from growing. It seems to me that that's pretty much how I describe it above.

What may be confusing is my use of "we" rather than "they", but I do think Marxy now qualifies as part of this top-down system rather than an outsider fighting it. And I think what appears at first as a dark, dystopian scenario ("we can't break into that top-down system") might actually be a rather comforting one to someone working inside the system ("we control everything, we can make or break products, artists").

Marxy has said many times that he's Galbraithian in the sense that he sees markets as producer-led, not consumer-led. He's very much not a Nader-style "consumer advocate", and he's not trying to revive consumer-power in Japan. That's not his basic worldview.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Apr. 1st, 2008 06:20 pm (UTC)

This saga has a somewhat over-the-top ending. Marxy declares:

"I from this day forth will no longer read, comment, or acknowledge the existence of Click Opera, Momus, or Nick Currie."

This seems to extend to his "allies": a post on Jean Snow's blog yesterday read:

Agreement on Marketing Elitism
By Jean Snow
In his latest Click Opera entry, Momus examines elitism in marketing, and ends up… agreeing with Marxy!? time saved. time saved.
JEANSNOW.NET - http://jeansnow.net

That too has now gone. Jings!


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Apr. 1st, 2008 07:58 pm (UTC)
ignotum per ignotius

Momus;
Do you ever question your enchantment as a foreigner who treats Japan as a phantom inamorata and yet has no real connection to the culture, nor the language nor the experience to interact with it? (I am aware that you wear this as a point of pride, as if that makes your vision all the more clear. Truman Capote met Marilyn for a millisecond, Barthes understood the Empire of signs in a weekend, John Updike's ghost in a teapot, and Mozart never met a piano; to give you a headstart)

S


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