Home » Selling Japan in Mad Men’s Postmodern America: The Visual Translation of Japanese Icons and Images Through a Lens of Western Advertising and Aesthetics

Selling Japan in Mad Men’s Postmodern America: The Visual Translation of Japanese Icons and Images Through a Lens of Western Advertising and Aesthetics

Vol. 10, No. 2 (2014): 135–161.

[tab: Abstract]

To what extent do Americans continue to fetishise images of Japan in Western popular culture? Evinced by generalised twentieth-century stereotypes, as well as twenty-first-century discussions of anime, manga and cosplay, it appears that World War II archetypes of Japanese society have had lasting residual effects that are slowly diminishing. This article unpacks cultural artefacts in order to understand how American’s view of Japanese culture has evolved since then. For years, reductionist cinema portrayals, along with Ruth Benedict’s 1946 anthropological study of Japan—a misguided attempt to redefine Japanese customs—impacted Western perceptions of a mysterious and militarised people during the ensuing decades. Benedict, in preparing her analysis, lacked immersion in authentic Japanese culture; instead, she attempted to gain perspective by interviewing Japanese Americans who had not lived in Japan since infancy. This important distinction significantly distorted her resultant theories on cultural differences. An examination of her influence—contextualised vis-à-vis the television drama Mad Men, films like Lost in Translation, and Walter Benjamin’s aesthetic aura—sets the stage for determining the extent of fetishism still present in contemporary American society. These segues provide alternate lenses for disseminating communicatively unfamiliar cultural spaces between East and West and exploring Japan through contemporary Western eyes. While negative sociocultural exchanges portrayed in popular media continue to exemplify both gratuitous cultural simplifications and post-World War II hostilities, American perspectives of Japan have improved in the ensuing decades due to globalism and increasing cognisance of regressive stereotypes. Strong American loyalties toward anime and manga further provide a positive outlook on progressive discernment and congruous cultural interests.

[tab: Author’s bio]

Paris Wittman Brown, a doctoral student in the English department at University of California, Riverside, has previously earned a Master of Arts degree in literature at San Diego State University in the United States. Her fields of study include the mid-twentieth century, gender and sexuality, Chicana/o American and Japanese literature, adolescent literature, science fiction, and intersections between literature and fashion. Additional interests widely revolve around horror cinema, mid-century aesthetics, popular culture and collecting antique books. She has taught writing and literature at San Diego State University and has presented essays on culture, gender and the horror genre at various popular culture conferences around the U.S. and in Taiwan. She is also the former editor of pacific REVIEW West Coast Arts Journal and the grateful recipient of the Eugene Cota Robles Fellowship Award.

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