06 December 2011

Herman Cain: The Fall of the Republican's Magical Negro

Herman Cain,  also known as one of the GOP's token black guys, has finally withdrawn from the race to become the 2012 Republican presidential candidate.   His participation in the race, thus far, has been filled with one pratfall after another.   To many African Americans,  it is insulting that a self  proclaimed pizza tycoon could even be considered a feasible presidential candidate.  This ill planned decision reeked of the same backward thinking that occurred during the 2008 race; after all, the only commonality between Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin was that they both have vaginas.

To say that Cain has added entertainment value to the race would be a gross understatement.   The first  "uh-oh" moment of the campaign was when,Cain riding on the magic carpet of his 9-9-9 plan, made his damning statement about the poor and unemployed.  While some of his comments regarding the Occupy movement may have been true, Cain neglected to point about the obvious statistics that the lack of domestic manufacturing and skilled labor jobs are what has driven the unemployment rates of minorities and those with lower degrees of education to all-time lows.   If the infant mortality rate of Milwaukee is now worse than areas in rural China, do we blame the citizens of Milwaukee or do we blame tax laws which make manufacturing in China and oversees more profitable?


Cain's inept interview comments regarding foreign policy and Libya further drive home the point that while he may have mastered marketing sub-par pizza, he is no Rhodes scholar.   The Republican party allowed Cain to maintain a bumbling image which later dissolved into one of the philandering oaf.   Ironically, back in May 2011, The Astute Bloggers, published a post decrying early claims that Herman Cain was the GOP's magical negro.   Guess they need to watch the video for "The Song of the South" a few more times.  


04 December 2011

Have you seen her? Kamikaze Girls and the Lolita Movement

In digging through my academic writing, I came across this review of the film Kamikaze Girls. I hope to be writing more about the Lolita movement, which has been around for sometime, but grew in popularity within the U.S. around 2008.  This increase in popularity can be attributed to the Tokyopop release of a translated version of the Japanese publication Gothic & Lolita BibleBaby, The Stars Shine Bright (which is prominently featured in Kamikaze Girls) can be found at many anime conventions and has a U.S. store at New People World in San Francisco.  As Americans consume elements of this cultural phenomenon, much is lost in translation.

The notion of rebelliously embracing a hyper-sexual version of childlike femininity is traded in for costume play.  The movie, Kamikaze Girls, explores the counter-cultural aspects of the Lolita movement with frank honesty and a warm touch.  Kamikaze Girls is based on the novel Shimotsuma Story by Japanese author Novala Takemoto. Takemoto  gained success in Japan for his witty stories that are centered on the street fashions and culture that are followed by Japanese youth. The story is a satirical analysis of girls from two Japanese subcultures, the Lolita and the Yanki. 

Both subcultures are prevalent among middle class Japanese youth and consume the lives of participants. This divergence from societal norms is similar to the Gothic, Punk, and Emo styles common in the United States. Even though, Lolita and Yanki cultures are on opposite ends of the spectrum, each is representative of an attempt to defy the roles that young Japanese women are expected to fill.  The Lolita culture is comprised of girls whose style of dress and lifestyle emulates a cross between Little Bo Peep and Alice in Wonderland. For these girls, every day is filled with the escapism of Halloween; Lolitas avoid contemporary styles of dress, music, and food. A true follower of the Lolita culture longs for the ornate intricacies of the Rococo Period in France. Girls who participate in the Lolita culture embrace infantilize themselves, as illustrated in the frilly bonnets and stuffed animals that are typical Lolita accessories.

The Yanki or Yankee culture is even more fascinating in that it closely resembles the style of dress and behavior that is typical in American lesbian and transgender culture. Yanki girls are generally members of female motorcycle gangs and wear masculine designer clothing. These young women have the tendency to spit in public and talk coarsely. Yanki culture is an exact opposite of the Lolita style, which makes Kamikaze Girls such an interesting film.

Momoko Ryugaski, played by Kyoko Fukada, is a Lolita girl who lives in the country, but longs for life in the city. She worships the clothing brand Baby, The Stars Shine Bright and only eats food that tastes sweet. Her idealized life is turned upside down when she places an add in the classified section of a popular magazine for black market Versace products, that were once sold by her father in street market stalls. Ichigo Shirayuri, portrayed by Anna Tsuchiya, answers the ad. Ichigo is a stereotypical Yanki, who knowingly purchases the counterfeit Versace items in order to fit in with the rest of the members of her gang. Soon, the two become reluctant friends and set out on various day trips with one another.

As their friendship evolves, each girl learns more about life than she was from her other peers. Momoko, who was accustomed to living a very solitude life, begins to embrace the concept that Ichigo is her friend. Ichigo discovers that you do not have to be part of a collective unit, but can share meaningful friendships with individuals. The director of the film utilizes animation, as well as a diverse color pallet to illustrate the world in which Momoko and Ichigo live. The members of the bike gang, The Ponytails, are portrayed as cartoons, whereas Momoko lives in a candy hued environment.

Although, Kamikaze Girls is a Japanese film, its messages are relevant to young people throughout the world. Momoko loves to be part of the counterculture, but is upset when she is invited to embroider dresses for Baby, the Stars Shine Bright. As part of their design team, she would be forced into maturity and would have to confront responsibility, things that can be avoided in the Lolita culture. Ichigo discovers that she is in love with a man and must place this love over the sense of solidarity she has with her sisterhood of bikers. Both girls are forced to encounter the realities of adulthood and is given a choice to remain part of counterculture or assimilate into Japanese youth society, making Kamikaze Girls a fascinating study of the “Other” in Japan.

From Charles Bass to Cha Chi Soo:The Reform of the Preppy Bad Boy

When I last explored the subject of "The Preppy Bad Boy", the world was teetering on the precipice of the current economic crisis.  The mainstream media's portrayal of fashionistas and trust fund babies at play continued to be consumed like a cotton candy confection.  However, times have changed.  The same aforementioned "trust funders" have joined the 1960's throwback Occupy movement and conspicuous consumption is just not that cool.   As the tide of wealth guilt grows, an interesting trend has developed within television dramas marketed to the ever important 18-34 year old female audience. 

Charles Bass (or Chuck as he is affectionately known by his so-called friends), power mogul and hotelier, reforms his playboy persona to become the loving owner of a rescue dog.   Could it be that this personality evolution has another motive, other than the fact that he lost the love of his life?  Perhaps the writers of Gossip Girl realized that by softening Chuck's personality, not only would Blair fall back in love with him, but their viewership, as well.  Ratings for Gossip Girl have plunged dramatically since the strong debut the show made in 2007, having lost almost a million average viewers by Season 4.

Season 5 has brought out the lighter side of Chuck Bass.  After trading his on-again, off-again girlfriend for a hotel, psychologically destroying the aforementioned girl, and committing physical violence against said girl,  Chuck has finally seen the light.  He is also facing the cold realty of losing someone he cares about much more than money to another man.   It is difficult to be nonchalant in such a dire situation.

By comparison, the Korean drama Flower Boy Ramyun Shop is much lighter fare.  The story centers on Cha Chi-Soo, a flower boy, who falls in love with his student teacher (Yang Eun-Bi) under unusual circumstances.  Within Korean culture, relationships that involve age difference are a taboo; the age difference between Chi-Soo and Eun-Bi translates to about six years  From the start, Cha Chi-Soo is arrogant to a fault and behaves like a much older man.  He flaunts his wealth gracelessly and has a flighty girlfriend, who also actively disregards the feelings of others.

Over time, however, Chi-Soo develops feelings for Eun-Bi.  He is, as so poignantly stated by his father caviar to her "homemade rice".  Rice is substantial; caviar is a delicious luxury that is frivolous and unnecessary.  Over the course of the drama, which spans 16 episodes, Cha Chi-Soo transforms from a sniveling flower boy until a boy who sheds tears for his first love.  The snarky personality trait that made you despise him in previous episodes, begins to endear him to you.

Viewers of both shows find themselves rooting for the "preppy bad boy" because everyone is allowed a second chance.  Although Cha Chi-Soo and Chuck Bass both face challengers that have significant disadvantages, the reformed bad boy comes off as a knight in shining armor.   There was a nice boy lurking within them, after all.

Season Five of Gossip Girl is currently airing on The CW, with a mid-season finale on Monday, December 5, 2011.  Flower Boy Ramyun Shop is currently airing on the Korean cable network TVN, but can be seen with English Subtitles on Dramafever.