Ukiyo-ad Some thoughts toward a theory of representation, social structuration and cultural values
Todd Joseph Miles Holden Professor, Mediated Sociology Department of Multi-Cultural Societies Graduate School of International Cultural Studies Tohoku University Sendai, Japan
Japanese Media and Identity Much of my work to date has involved the intersection between media and identity (in Japan)
Mediated Identity: Defined (1) Interactions • In and through institutions (2) And involving significations (3) conveyed through representations of: • sameness • difference (4) by media (5) And brought into relief by: • user’s references to: • Socially-constructed group traits • Their depiction of relationships between/amongst: • Themselves • Their group • and/or other groups
Previous Research onMediated Identity • “Adentity”: the filtration of messages about self, group, individuality, freedom (and contraint) through TV advertising. • “Welcome to my Homepage…”: sampling of Japanese home pages in focused areas revealed evidence of rather unified selves, intentionally constructed for an unknown public to consume. • “Adolechnics”: how young cell phone users employ communication technology to frame, enhance self-presentation, and better understand themselves. • “Sportsports”: daily news reports about Japanese athletic performance overseas has the effect of creating hyper-awareness of national and cultural identity. • “The Overcooked and Underdone”: the various ways that masculinities (and femininities) are mediated in Japanese TV food shows
Today’s Discussion • Looks at 2 media or, better, two forms of expression • Ukiyo-e • Advertising • And their interrelationship • Ontologically – beyond media – I want to think about what it means that historically continuities can be seen in cultural values and practices, as played out in different epochs, through very different media.
Today’s Discussion Because this particular session addresses communication, identity and values, I wish to think about matters of form and content. • Specifically, what are the relationships between these twin communication forms and Japanese cultural ideas. • Where I would like this discussion to move is toward matters of societal nature; • And also, to some degree, questions of values and identity
Today’s Discussion In the process, we will talk about the following key media practices: • Representation • Intimacy • Uchi/Soto • Mass-mediated “bindingness” • Persistence of core cultural values
Today’s Discussion • As for specific content bearing on cultural values, we shall consider: • Privileged Space • Class • Social Organization/Order • Celebrity • Nature • Sexuality
To Begin • About Contemporary Media • TV • Advertising • About Ukiyo-e
The Centrality of Television in Japan Today • In Japan today, there are 6 TVs for every 10 people • and a diffusion rate of 100%. • TV is viewed by virtually every Japanese every day – 95% of the population. • This has been the case since the 1960s when the rate was also 95%. • This far exceeds other popular forms of information processing: newspapers (86%), cellphones (73%), and the Internet (27%).
The Centrality of Television in Japan Today • A 1990s NHK study found that, on average, at least one TV set played 7 to 8 hours a day in each Japanese dwelling. • Another study found that TV viewing is deemed as “indispensable” by 43% of the population.
The Centrality of Television in Japan Today • Today, the average for personal viewing per day approaches 225 minutes, and has constantly topped three hours since 1960. • A recent European survey places the number in excess of four hours, ranking Japan third in the world. • 261 minutes, this ranks ahead of the U.S. (at 255 minutes) and behind Mexico (265) and Bosnia (287). In the most recent assessment, Japan came in second only to Bosnia.
The Centrality of TV Advertising in Japan Today • Japan’s advertising market is the second largest worldwide • Some Facts/Figures: • Advertising outlays for TV outdistance all other media sources • At 34.1% • Its closest alternative conduit is newspapers (at 19.9%). • It amounts to $223,250,000 just for television • Dedicated to 957,447 ads • Consuming 6,016 broadcasting hours per year • Source: Dentsu Koukoku Nenkan, ’02 – ‘03 [Dentsu Advertising Yearbook, 2002 – 2003], Tokyo: Dentsu, 2002; pp.57,90,89.
The Centrality of TV Advertising in Japan Today • Advertising serves not only a major motor for Japanese television; it also works as one of the major means by which cultural communication occurs. • Ads serve a powerful socializing and ideological function, narrowly and repetitiously re/producing images of gender, cultural values, history, nationalism, and political, social and personal identity (among others). • On advertising and gender, see Holden 2000 • On advertising and cultural reproduction, see Holden 2001 • On advertising and nationalism, see Holden 2002
“Ukiyo-Ad”: Advertisements as Strips • Japanese ads often adopt the form of panels. • Ukiyo-e paintings of the 17th and 18th century serve as their cultural precursor • Like ukiyo-e, ukiyo-ads are fully realized (or else pieces of fully-realized) worlds. • They are “arbitrary slice(s) or cut(s) from the stream of ongoing activity.” (Goffman 1974:10). Video still-lifes, if you will.
The “Reality” of Strips Ukiyo-ads often stand as enclaves of invented reality which, nonetheless, are based on and transmitted into the “real world” as their own reality The constant communication of their values and practices works to re/produce society in accord with that worldview
The Scenario A woman enters a bar alone She’s wearing a clinging, shiny red dress A young man in a white shirt is behind the bar The woman sits alone at the bar, caressing the stem of her glass
The Scenario (continued) She raises her eyes suddenly to meet the man’s …and winks Shocked, the man drops the glass he’s holding As it shatters the woman’s lips part Entranced, the man reaches out to to touch the woman
The Scenario (continued) She meets his touch Then directs his fingers to her face
The Scenario (concluded) She regards herself in the mirror of her compact We see her embrace the man forcefully In a voice-over the man utters: "is it okay to touch your skin?"
Some Media Theory: Bindingness In recent work (Holden 2004, Holden and Ergul, forthcoming) I argue that TV in Japan is a “binding mechanism”. • TV is one of only a few institutions and set of fixed activities with a finite set of codes, languages, customs and meanings that are shared (at least interpretable) by the entire society and engaged in routinely, in a narrow, consistent set of ways.
Some Media Theory Moreover, despite a variety of genres, the communication tropes, constantly recycled personae, and relatively narrow range of content work to draw the viewer into an intimate web of proximity and “common cultural currency”. • One effect is to create a near-national uchi • A privileged space • Offering “familial”-like membership • A direct link between the viewer’s world and the invented, hidden, non-existent world of celebrities • An ontological configuration predicated on in-group “secrets”; whose currency is automatic, unconditional warmth; one which daily produces an ongoing collective history.
Ukiyo-e: a precis • As most of you probably know, ukiyo-e refers to “the floating world”. • Generally, this referred to: • Transience and pleasure • Likely because ukiyo-e came of age during the Edo period… • a time during which a rising merchant class began to emphasize (and subsidize) worldly pleasures; • they frequented the so-called “pleasure-quarters” and patronized theaters. • These two sources became the early subject matter for woodblock prints
Explaining Ukiyo-e Structurally There are 2 key dimensions to ukiyo-e’s inception and proliferation. • Production • Factors associated with its development and distribution. • Consumption • Factors associated with its maintenanceand use.
Explaining Ukiyo-e: Production The early woodblock prints were generally commissioned by the Kabuki and Noh-Theaters and by actors as a form of advertising.
Marrying Media: Kabuki and Ukiyo-e • Ukiyo-e artists produced theater posters and playbills. • These prints, which depicted famous actors, helped promote and then preserve the aragoto style of acting. Source: http://www.vmfa.state.va.us/ukiyoe/ukiyoe1.html
Wedding “Commercialized” Culture and Communication • Ukiyo-e prints were created for a mass-market, and their publishers dominated the creative process. As such: • publishers determined the subject matter • commissioned artists • oversaw the creation of the woodblocks, and • marketed the finished products. • To heighten public demand, publishers developed series of prints which they sold in installments. • Source: http://www.vmfa.state.va.us/ukiyoe/ukiyoe1.html
Explaining Ukiyo-e: Consumption At ukiyo-e’s inception there was a fixed social hierarchy: • Warriors, farmers, and artisans stood above merchants, who were the wealthiest segment of the population • Having their political power effectively removed by the shogun rulers, the merchant class turned to art and culture as arenas in which they could participate on an equal basis with the elite upper classes. • Source:http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ukiyo-e/object.html
Explaining Ukiyo-e: Consumption • Ukiyo-e provided not only the merchants, but those in the city and in less traditional professions a chance to participate in society. • This offered a means of attaining cultural status outside the sanctioned realms of shogunate, temple, and court. • Source: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ukiyo-e/object.html • The key actors in this consumption process included actors, artists, townspeople, and publishers.
Ukiyo-e: Art High or Low? At its inception, Ukiyo-e was not considered a fine art, rather it was a commercial art.
Communicative Arts and Cultural Continuity This distinction between High-Low / “Fine” versus “Commercial” art merits comment. • As Buruma recently observed, “even court painters of the Kano School made little distinction between decorative and fine art.” (NYR, June 23, 2005:14) • The same could be said in other (and all) cultural realms in Japanese cultural communications: where a tendency to separate high from low was not strictly adhered to – even prior to Modernism. Certainly, such melding is characteristic both of ukiyo-e and advertising.
Cultural Continuities There are some aspects of ukiyo-e and contemporary advertising that warrant special note. Both possess: • Production-consumption systems • Promotional dimensions in their communication • Referencing of cultural, political, social and moral aspects of the surrounding society • Melding of high and low forms of communication • Requirements for extremely advanced (popular) cultural literacy by their audiences in decoding texts
Societal System, Commercialized Culture, and Communication • The fact that ukiyo-e possesses socio-economic dynamics similar to the contemporary scene is significant. • The presence of a promotional system (an agency/promoter), celebrities, mixed in with depictions of everyday life, and the commercialized process of advertising these elements publicly leads to the spanning/melding of societal sectors. • It also produces societal bindingness between message producer, medium, content/consumed object, and message consumer.
The Historical Continuities of Communication/Culture • This historical continuity in media/system matters because I believe it suggests a seamlessness between (Japanese) culture and forms of communication. • As such, not only modes of communication, but the content of communication persist, helping to unify a culture across time. • Despite political, economic, ideological and technological changes, much of what came before is found in the present; what was found in a prior (and very different) medium continues into the current moment.
Ukiyo-e as “New Media” • Katsuhiko Takahashi (1992) has argued that rather than a form of art, ukiyo-e was akin to modern mass media, with the functions of information, advertisement and play. • See: Edo no nyu media (The New Media of Edo) • Viewing ukiyo-e as a fine art is limiting insofar as it ignores the functional value of ukiyo-e during its time.
Ukiyo-e as “New Media” An aesthetic and class-based theory is implicated in this, but Takahashi’s examples are most salient. The author observes that ukiyo-e reported on games, depicted scenes from scandal sheets, served as commercial messages, as fashion shows, and lampoons. • In some ways this makes it closest to the “wide show” • It also bears strong resemblance to TV advertising
How to Read Ukiyo-e Takahashi concludes in a way similar to semioticists who work with advertising or cultural studies researchers who assess media texts: • ukiyo-e prints should be viewed as objects for social anthropological analysis rather than art history. • This is similar, then, to work conducted by, say Goffman (1968) concerning gender in North American magazine advertising and Holden (2000) in Japanese TV advertising.
Static Media? One issue of concern to media theorists – but possibly less so to those engaged in Japanese Studies – is whether media are static, discrete entities. • Are they individual in their ontological characteristics, their operative aspects, and their effects • Or do they share similar ontologies, operations, and effects
A Theory of Mixed Media? Media Studies tends to distinguish between media forms • TV differs from radio, comics are different than the Internet But is it possible that media are melded? • Do they share “readability” • Is the way one encodes messages the same as the way other media encode? • So, too, is the manner in which one medium is decoded by its audience the same as the way in which another is decoded?
A Theory of Mixed Media? On this account: • ukiyo-e might bear considerable relationship to comics (manga); • So, too, would it be related to advertising – either in its tropes of representation, or its specific content. • One might claim historical continuity in both form and content (across media).
Ultimately: Ontological Similarity, Analogic Breakdown? • Ukiyo-e and TV advertising share extensive similarities. Above all: • Their polysemy • Focus on celebrity • Attention to everyday life • Enabling surveillance of privileged, unnavigable worlds • De-centered dissemination of knowledge and information • Reproduction of popular culture
Distinct Media Ultimately, though, we are talking about media with different “feel”, approach and perspective.
Distinct Media • Despite similar themes or subjects, these are not identical means of communication; • Moreover, the political, economic and cultural systems from which they emerged and within which they operate(d) differ.
Ultimately: Ontological Similarity, Analogic Breakdown? Above all, some key differences emerge: • Different communication strategies • TV ads embellish and draw viewers into the world of celebrity • They help forge more intimate links with personalities in society who are inserted into viewer’s lives through other genre (and media), at other times. • Thus, ads provide greater genre-spanning • Ads also manifest a greater bindingness function
Deeper Ontologies • Ａｓ you may recall, I have somewhat whimsically, perhaps foolishly grandiosely, sub-titled this talk “some thoughts toward a theory of representation, social structuration, and cultural values.” • The theory I have in mind is about communication and cultural continuity despite quite radical societal change. • This is what I will now address in the second half of this talk.
Deeper Ontologies I: Representation Let me begin with Representation. • It can be thought of in terms of any number of elements. Among the most salient may be: • Medium • Subject • Perspective • Modes of address • Aim • Tropes