Friday, August 08, 2008


A couple of days ago, the popular expat-in-the-Orient blog 不良外人 (a.k.a. Furyogaijin, a.k.a. Fucked Foreigner) excavated a talkshow excerpt of military history enthusiasts dressed in Nazi regalia. As the doe-eyed, helium-voiced hobbyist insists his fetish is pure fashion, a panel of international Japanese residents rips into him for being so blind to the substance behind the symbols. The end of the clip is particularly surreal: one of the exiting hobbyists taunts the audience by snapping off a quick sieg-heil salute (disproving his claimed ignorance), prompting an enraged Frenchman to spring from his seat with intent of something stronger than a verbal reprimand. After he's physically dragged back to his chair, a German (!) panelist admonishes the Frenchman for overreacting, saying, "It's just a symbol, it's okay!"

Now, following their defeat, both Germany and Japan were culturally reindoctrinated and forced into schizoaffective reconstruction by a foreign occupier. The significant difference is that, in Germany, the reindoctrination became the keystone of domestic policy; Japan, on the other hand, has remained at best unrepentant, at worst revisionist with regard to its crimes during WWII. Yet, in spite of these opposite approaches to ingesting (or not) history, hard-right & fascist movements persist in both nations in apparently equal measure. It's harder to track the prevalence of hardcore nationalist & xenophobic group in Japan, if only because there are no "hate crimes" from which to derive statistics. But Japanese fascists (uyoku dantai) are boisterous and blustering enough that they'd needn't turn to violence to influence the nation's internal dialogue. Meanwhile, their German counterparts appear to have been gaining ground with each year since reunification: not only are racists attacks reaching record numbers (to the point of becoming a permenant fixture of quotidian life in some parts of Germany), but neo-Nazis are a growing presence in legitimately-elected governing bodies.

A climate of general intercultural ignorance in both countries works very much in favour of these fascists - but, of course, intercultural ignorance is the stock-in-trade of xenophobes worldwide. But if forced to pick between Germany and Japan the country with the greater potential for a racially harmonious future, I'd say: Japan. This is not to excuse the obvious extant problems (not the least of which are the racist cops), especially in light of Japan's minuscule foreign population (approx. 1.6%) and its extensive history of deliberate isolationism. But Japanese nationalists aren't even the looniest goons in the neighbourhood. The irony is that Japan's lack of contrition for its wartime acts has produced a particularly spineless, neutered stripe of nationalism. Not facing the active popular & institutional opposition that, say, the NPD does means that the uyoku dantai are never forced to exercise any real conviction in the face of adversity. It's the same brand of laziness afforded to Manchester United or NY Yankees fans: when there's no serious opposition, nothing need be sacrificed to the cause. On the other hand, German fascists, racists, and nationalists are as opposed a constituency as it's possible to be (without resorting to crimes against humanity, that is) - and still they persist with psychotically deep-seated defiance and dangerous dedication.

(Also, Japanese fascists are pussies. Seriously. I've had my picture taken striking goofy poses next to them, which earned me a bunch of red-faced rhetoric over the lance-voix but nothing more. It was also two years in Japan before I'd met a foreigner who'd been physically attacked simply because they were foreign - as opposed to five days in Germany. But would I pull the same goading pranksterism on Deutsche skinheads? Hell no.)

There's a grim punchline to all this. Japan is likely the only country where someone strutting around dressed as an SS officer could (maybe) convincingly argue that they're doing so apolitically - not that I'd excuse it. As po-mo manifest, Japan specializes in deconstructing, (mis)appropriating, and refracting symbols. (This is doubtless one reason for the anemic nature of its "hardcore" nationalism: the icons & figureheads of imperial Japan have seen their substance either rotted or gutted.) While European cultures similarly disbelieve in a symbol carrying any innate power, there's a reinvestment in reappropriated symbols here that gives them (often terrible) new life and new meaning. Thus, witness the German neo-Nazi incorporation of the Japanese imperial flag into its design arsenal (skip to the 3:48 mark for a full view). Of course, this is hardly a huge twist, though even if it were strange, strange bedfellows are scarcely so strange under closer scrutiny. I wonder what Momus would make of this...

Speaking of whom, I realize that a full week has already passed since the Adbusters bourgeois-boho flamewar came and went like a five-alarm fire in a toilet-paper factory, but I've been slowly tacking away at some kind of a thoughtful response. Extend your attention spans, and your patience will be rewarded, my friends.

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Elsewhere online, Alan "I Started A Joke" McGee waited out the initial wave MBV-mania before reiterating his too-cool-for-shoegaze contempt for Kevin Shields & Co. In a MySpace bulletin, McGee wrote:

Finally got time to listen to it and it's even better than the last two Mogwai albums which to me have both been wonderful... Their [sic] is a beautiful irony that the ''nostalgic cabaret'' that is my bloody valentine are throwing at people in 2008 gets critical acclaim in the easily pleased UK press with MBV still playing the exact same set they did 20 years ago and the only trick Kevin Shields has anymore in 2008 is actual volume and double extra pa to numb you and zero new songs.

Hear the new Mogwai record it's beautiful.Mogwai are 2008 My bloody valentine were a joke signing in 1991 maybe they got better..
Maybe as a token of gratitude, Mogwai can hire McGee a proofreader. Nevermind that to hail the genius of Mogwai in 2008 is as bold & iconoclastic as to do the same for, say, Echo & the Bunnymen in 1988. This flailing contrarianism is to be expected of an aging, conservative rockist. Given that, in signing Oasis, McGee may have single-handedly launched the reactionary atavism of Britpop; in that regard, it makes sense that he'd hate something as blurrily sublime and genre-obscuring as Loveless (to say nothing of the macho posturing that he sank a quarter-million quid into a "joke"). I'd even be willing to take him at his word, had he not allowed himself the pusillanimous emergency exit, "Maybe they got better..."

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So it's 88 Boadrum day. I don't actually care, and not for the knee-jerk anti-appropriative reason. Honestly, the Boredoms fuckin' bore me these days - which sounds silly, since they've been doing the same orthodox drum-circle schtick for the better part of a decade now. But please, examine Exhibit A, followed by Exhibit B and tell me that Seiichi Yamamoto's meteoric guitar doesn't make all the difference.

1 comment:

dudley said...

Here's empirical proof that MBV slay Mogwai, dedicated to the man with as much hair as sense, Alan Mcgee...
MBV spawned countless imitators, none of whom have come close to matching their idols.
Mogwai spawned countless imitators, most of whom quickly outshone them (stand up and take a bow Godspeed et al)
this is why MBV in 2008 are necessary, and Mogwai are oh so expendable. "Post-rock", I mean, look at that genre title for more than 5 seconds and you want to take a flame thrower to naked and sensitive sigur ros, and punch Thom Yorke plumb in that lazy eye. Mogwai don't even spring to mind as the primary guilty parties...