Oct 6, 2009

The Iwabuchi reading talks about cultural export using Japanese cultural and technological exports as a case study. Iwabuchi refers to Hoskins and Mirus' statement that Japanese cultural exports have a large "cultural discount." Essentially that programming made for a certain culture has little appeal outside that culture because the intricacies displayed in that content unique to the culture of origin often has little relevance to the viewers outside. For this reason, Hoskins and Mirus point to cultural export being limited to those things that are 'culturally neutral' - exports whose origins have nothing to do with the uses said item or the satisfaction derived from it.

Again, Iwabuchi points to video games, comics and cartoons as proof of his statements about cultural discount, cultural odor and cultural neutrality. In the case of video games, many titles made in Japan feature characters with highly caucasian features in situations that are not entirely relevant to any given culture. There may be elements of orientalized Japanese culture thrown into Final Fantasy because media with foreign flares tend to be considered less boring, different, and exciting. Also, if the cultures displayed (enhanced, orientalized) are not too similar to that of the West then they are not seen as threatening.

The analysis that Iwabuchi presents of the Sony Walkman and the video game industry brings me to two thoughts.

First, everything the article says about the Walkman can now be applied to the iPod, an American designed (Korean manufactured) device that no other company in the world has been unable to replicate the success of. In fact, Sony had been trying very hard to re-invigorate and bring new life to the Sony Walkman brand since the late 90s but has yet been unable to come near the success of the iPod.

The iPod which can be described in much the same ways that the Walkman is said to represent Japaneseness:

•The iPod is miniature and keeps getting bigger (even the very first model was considered fairly small considering its capabilites)

•The iPod is considered so sophisticated that the original model sits on permanent exhibit at the NY MOMA

•One reason for the continued success of the iPod is that many people believe the product's high quality and ability to always be at least one step ahead of the competitors makes it very difficult to replicate with a cheap knock-off

So what does this mean when a distinctly American company is able to thrive thanks to a product line (much of the same can be said about the iMac, MacBooks, and OS X) that very closely follows the model set by a Japanese company for their landmark product? This is especially pertinent when one considers the hard times Sony has been having for quite some time now, even when in competition with Nintendo and Microsoft with the Play Station 3. Again, Sony was once the king of the video game crop but now its Japanese and American rivals have far surpassed Sony with sales of their next generation consoles using many methods that Sony was once known for.

Do these American products (and in the case of Nintendo, other Japanese products) have the cultural odor of Sony's Japan or have the methods utilized in developing consumer electronics become so culturally neutral that nothing is truly Japanese or American anymore?

What can one make of this video that brings up the issues of race and representation in video games, while bringing up the 'caucasianness' of Japanese video game characters?

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