Orientalism, Globalism, Hybridization
Tokyo may be one of the most extreme examples of a hybridized international city, in an age of rapid globalization. Cultural negotiation and reconciliation between Western notions of modernization and traditional Japanese civilization (or to some extent, Asian civilization) found their way in this kaleidoscopical urban space, whether in tension or in peace. The film, Tokyo! (opening on March, 6 in New York City), is a triptych by three foreign directors, Bong Joon-ho, Leos Carax and Michel Gondry, each giving a representation of the “Tokyo” they have in mind. Through the “Western cult for the Orient,” manga, anime, Japanese ghost movies and game shows, Japan’s presence in the Western media industry has increased noticeably in the past few decades. Although many Japanese images represented in the Western media are criticized for it’s Orientalist distortion (For example, “The Memoir of a Geisha,” “The Last Samurai,” and the French film, “Wasabi“), other aspects of media integration show signs of cultural hybridization instead of mere imperialism. Using Japanese manga as an example, early manga artists in the 50’s are largely inspired by Western artist in terms of style and drawing techniques. As Japanese manga became a distinct category, it traveled its way “back” to the Western world and therefore exercise its influence. Such phenomenon is also visible in film, television shows and animation.
The flows of culture go back and forth between regions, where there is not only an unidirectional infusion, but a more complex trajectory of the development of cultural contents. Globalist sociologist, Jan Nederveen Pieterse has recognized globalism as processes of hybridization. He argues that there is no pure and authentic cultures. All cultures undergo transformations while encountering other cultures. All cultures are hybrid. Therefore, there is not such thing as cultural imperialism since is it unlikely for one mixed hybrid to “pollute” and “invade” another mixed hybrid. This understanding of cultural exchange could capture the presence and significance of the “impureness” of cultural products under globalization. However, at the same time, we should also be aware of the power relations among participants of cultural exchange. Although globalization could not only be interpreted as imperialism, unequal relationships among actors of transnational cultural exchange do play an essential role in how cultural elements circulate around the globe and how they are perceived. The emergence of Japan in international media industry could shed light on discussions on cultural exchange, power and hybridization.
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Actually, I think Pieterse does recognize that cultural imperialism is still possible. He also acknowledges that some hybrid forms are not the result of equal exchange, but the product of unequal power relations and some coercion.
However, the structure of cultures can empower those with less power within a culture to express a hybrid identity. In this case people on the cultural boundaries can reshape their identities more freely than what the core would allow otherwise.
Great application of Pieterse’s work. He is an important scholar in this field.