Japan from the inside out

Inaccuracies in image and language

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, November 24, 2012

LAW professor/blogger Ann Althouse picked up a post from The Tokyo Reporter about the Tokyo police objecting to the publication in the weeklies Shukan Post and Shukan Gendai of photos of the Great Wall of Vagina by British artist Jamie McCartney. The great wall is “a series of rows of white plaster casts of the genitals of 400 women”.

The wall itself is the sort of vapid nonsense people in the West enjoy amusing themselves with these days (cf. Vagina Monologues, lady parts, etc.), but Ms. Althouse’s short post is worth reading for two reasons.

The first is that she writes:

The description is accurate but fails to mention how artistic it is.

The line has a link to pictures of the wall panels that makes it clear her comment is ironic.

Of course McCartney can’t understand it. Of course. He was quoted elsewhere as saying:

Japan is a sophisticated and forward-looking culture that should be able to accept all forms of creative expression. The purpose of the artwork is not to be sexually arousing but instead to be educational and alleviate the unnecessary anxiety many women feel about their genitals.

Isn’t it interesting how often people such as McCartney unwittingly parody themselves? Creative expression as psychological education, eh? Perhaps the sophisticated and forward-looking Japanese don’t consider vagina walls to be creative expression. But the less publicity given to this latter-day Barnum, the better.

Here’s the second Althouse observation:

I’m sorry to be pedantic, but don’t say “vagina” for “vulva.” I’m not concerned about obscenity. It’s the false advertising that bothers me. This is “Decorously Framed Vulva,” not “Great Wall of Vagina.”

Just as inaccurate is the The Tokyo Reporter’s description of the two magazines as “weekly tabloids”. Snort.

Tabloid is the term used to describe the form of certain types of newspapers. They are narrower and smaller than the conventional broadsheets. TTR here is using the term inaccurately to describe the magazines’ content. For example:

Tabloids also tend to be more irreverent and slangy in their writing style than their more serious broadsheet brothers. In a crime story, a broadsheet refers to a police officer, while the tabloid calls him a cop. And while a broadsheet might spend dozens of column inches on “serious” news – say, a major bill being debated in Congress – a tabloid is more likely to zero in on a heinous sensational crime story or celebrity gossip.

In fact, the word tabloid has come to be associated with the kind of supermarket checkout aisle papers – such as the National Enquirer – that focus exclusively on splashy, lurid stories about celebrities.

That highlights a problem with both the American image and the description of the Japanese magazines. For the first:

But there’s an important distinction to be made here. True, there are the over-the-top tabloids like the Enquirer, but there are also the so-called respectable tabloids – such as the New York Daily News, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Boston Herald and so on – that do serious, hard-hitting journalism. In fact, the New York Daily News has won 10 Pulitzer Prizes, print journalism’s highest honor.

There’s the second inaccuracy in the TTR description. Japan’s kisha club system for reporters means that journalists working for the respectable daily press are sometimes de facto prevented from writing stories they’d like to write because they might upset the political class, particularly the ruling party. Failing to conduct self-censorship could result in being cut out of the news loop.

But the Japanese print media devised a solution for that long ago: weekly magazines. Those publications are both a type of samizdat press and a proto-print Internet featuring information that the newspapers avoid. Indeed, some of them are published by the major newspaper companies, so they have direct access to that information.

As for the Shukan Post and Shukan Gendai, I’ve read articles in both magazines on political and social topics that were better researched and contained more useful information than many similar articles that appeared in Time or Newsweek during their heydays.

True, each issue is likely to include articles with showbiz gossip or content that appeals to the prurient interest. Some also have sexually suggestive comics and Playboy-type nude spreads. This week’s issue of Shukan Gendai, for example, has a group interview with some women discovering how to use dildoes — but that’s on page 172.

The magazines are also the occasional target of lawsuits. Based on observation over the years, however, it seems they usually win the ones brought by politicians. They more often lose the ones in which a celebrity is the plaintiff.

Thus, to dismiss them as tabloids in the pejorative sense is to do them a disservice. They’re much more than that, and it’s not possible to describe them using any single English word I can think of.

The irony is rich. The Tokyo Reporter website consists entirely of content that he used the word tabloid to describe. Perhaps he should start reading some of those articles he skips over in the weeklies to get to the stories that he prefers.


2 Responses to “Inaccuracies in image and language”

  1. Avery M said

    Immediately after reading this post, I clicked on the next article in my feed and was taken to this “artistic” slideshow in a major American newsweekly: NSFW obviously.

    I’d be glad if Japan didn’t try to disguise such stuff as news.

  2. Sir..
    Interesting clarification of the difference between tabloid and broadsheet, but I would urge you to moderate your dismissal of the work of public art in question. That some ladies wish to have a discussion with other folks about their lady bits, and do so in a novel manner, might be a bit clumsy, but is hardly evidence of a great societal slide towards foolishness.
    Many of the same wonder about their lady parts, and harbour needless concerns and reservations about them.

    Many men and (we can assume male-led) cultures do too; see the nuance behind the UK epithet “bloody”, the regimental toast based on the ditty found here:
    and myth, superstition and religious rules, laws and taboos that surround lady parts and ritual purity and cleanliness.

    Add that 9/10ths of all salafist cannon fodder are fighting for the right to be absolute lord and master over 4 uneducated under-aged women, and perhaps you might wish to widen your definition of foolishness. A line of plaster pussy aint gonna kill anyone, or even start a bar room brawl.

    Regards and cheers

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