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"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
Recentering Globalization by Koichi Iwabuchi 
7th-Feb-2008 11:59 pm
Iwabuchi, Koichi. Recentering Globalization: Popular Culture and Japanese Transnationalism. Durham, NC: Duke U P, 2002.
          Summary: In this scholarly monograph, Media and Cultural Studies professor Koichi Iwabuchi examines transnational flows of popular culture in Asia. In particular, he focuses upon how the Japanese media industries and intelligentsia perceive and adjucate the localization of Japanese pop culture in the rest of Asia and upon audience reception in Taiwan and Japan during the mid-90s, concluding that, while Japan does not view itself in the same temporality as the rest of Asia, other Asian countries value Japanese pop culture on the basis of coevalness.
          Comments: I don't know all that much about cultural flows in Asia, so for the most part I had to take Iwabuchi at his word. Fortunately, it was a convincingly authoritative one; the prose delights with its straightforward, journalistic precision, and the sheer volume of factual information about the Japanese media industries--especially music and TV--is staggering in its scope. (Is this an appropriate register for a scholarly book in the field?) Iwabuchi clearly knows a lot about his subject--I'm sure his background with NTV was helpful. There was also plenty of theoretical grounding on globalization, which provided me with useful perspective on the field, and a fascinating theory of audience reception that posits "cultural proximity" as being constructed a posteriori. On occasion, I noticed that he didn't quite delineate his own conclusions succinctly enough and couldn't figure out if he was reporting another authority's views or his own. This is a typical Japanese rhetorical stategy, and for the most part, thank goodness, he graciously avoids it in favor of Western-style bluntness...but, still, every once in a while, I was confused.
          One thing Iwabuchi was abundantly clear about, though, was his steadfast refusal to assert anything resembling Japanese exceptionalism. The popular myth that Japan can appropriate culture and technology from other countries without sacrificing its essential "Japaneseness," that it is second to none in its ability to localize Western popular culture, is nowhere in evidence here--except as a nationalistic position to be teased out and critically engage. Instead, Iwabuchi shows, convincingly I think, that the ways in which other Asian nations have appropriated and localize both Western and Japanese popular culture refutes this theory. But at the same time, he shows that Japan itself, barring occasional self-critical reflection, adopts a dominant, Orientalist position in relation to the rest of Asia by refusing to acknowledge other Asian nations as cotemporal. It's a brilliant and refreshing antidote to all those learned scholars, even today, who insist that there is something fundamentally unique about Japan and its culture. Where some see uniqueness, Iwabuchi sees unequal cultural power relations. Perceptive.
          Notes: trade paperback, 2nd printing
          Rating: 7/10 - Comprehensive, confident, and controlled. The author has taken up a topic of immense scope and has managed to do it justice at every level of analysis.
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