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Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

sun splash body art tattoo branding self

phillipeImage from a beach festival I covered over the weekend called, unsurprisingly, “Sun Splash”.

In case the image isn’t clear, the guy in the picture has the logo painted on his shoulder. The body art/temporary tattoos were being done by the Teku Teku Daimyo guys, an environmental project who I interviewed a while ago. They started body art because they were bored at their “information booth” at an earlier festival, and quickly found they were getting a lot of attention. They’ll do requests, but they find many people walk up without something in mind, and so they often end up inking people with the Teku Teku brand or with the brand of the festival.

Now, that’s what I find interesting. This festival is a for-profit in its second year; the first year was rained off. It’s not hard to see why people would willingly get the brand of a local environmental group painted on their skin. But how could this festival possibly command the kind of brand loyalty that lets a customer unselfconsciously tote the brand around? Does it festival stand for something?

Take a more stark example: you wouldn’t be surprised to see someone with a facepaint or even a tattoo that said “Woodstock”, but if you saw a guy with a chest tat that read “The Carling Leeds Weekend ’02”, you would probably assume that it was a  horrible drunken mistake. Likewise, if I had sat down at the Teku Teku body paint booth saying, like many others, “just surprise me”, and walked away with a facepiece of the KFC Colonel, I’d probably be walking straight into the sea.

So what prompts those hot young things to offer up their bodies? Well, the festival does have elements that a customer might identify with or want to promote: it still feels local and has a pleasant ramshackleness. And the tattoo does have a kind of ‘I was there’ kudos, albeit in a very temporary, digital camera instant-nostalgia sort of way. Neither I nor any of my friends ever bought any Leeds Festival-branded tat, even when in desperate need of new clothes on the morning of day 3. But we did wear our weekender entrance wristbands as a badge of pride for six months or more afterwards; and heaven help you if you tried to suggest that the Carling Reading Festival was in any sense superior. Our riots were better.

The upshot of all this is that I sat in the sunshine for a while with my rum and coke and lashings of cocktail-gouging water, and I thought about how to recruit people as auto-branders when it’s a matter of life and death, not a question of transient fun.

There are always some people who will auto-brand, based on the merits of, or their relation with, the product or message in question. They are mavens or activists, A-players, boxset bullies who force their favorite show on you, with the entitlement to be offended if you don’t give it a good shot. Those people are great, they’re what marketers of every stripe have been trying to grab since Tipping Point, probably none with more success than the Obama campaign.

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Hence I first started thinking hypothetically about how to recruit “those guys”. They will be the battleground state for the next British election,all sides having paid neurotically close attention to the American proceedings. Some young, cool, potentially persuasive people will be longing for “their Obama”. Some will already be burnt out on the possibility. Add to that the fact that politics commands so little fervour in this country relative to America, and I suspect all sides will find it a challenge to get any hip teens putting up posters in sixth form or organizing debate parties.

It’s not helped by the fact that activism in this country has proven itself able to form itself into a bloc, what will come to be called ‘Generation G8’ or some similar shit, but this bloc is one which the two leading parties will probably find impossible to own. Arguably the concerns and priorities of the “four horsemen” align much closer than the unlikely union of Karl Rove’s bloc of business, heavy labour, religious conservatism and Southerndom. Nonetheless it would take an almost unimaginable shift in image for those people and the people they influence to support either leading party.

Passion is always cool, activism is always cool, but it may still not be hip by the time the next election rumbles around. Probably one or both sides will have got some foothold among peer-influencers, probably in part through the use of Social Networks to spread and ubiquitize increasingly complex messages, to counter the relatively primitive, pervasive images of the two lead parties which allow me to make such sweeping generalisations.

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Social Media allows you to spread complex messages more quickly, and as a Social Media sycophant I firmly believe it allows complex messages to be couched within the real relationships and networks which have far more influence on consumption and voting. If two of the people on your friend list get politicised, then it is instantly and potentially-pervasively visible. The argument is always in the light and always among real people.

One problem is shared by the Red and Blue teams, and that is apathy and political disillusionment, and that is why this war will be fought tooth and nail. UK politics is dogged by the appearance of impenetrability and a lack of a sense of consequence, which causes a reaction of increasingly simple stereotypes: politicians as hogs or dogs, incompetent or malicious (though “simple” belies the huge amount of sophisticated thought and design which goes into sustaining those images).

It should (theoretically) be relatively easy to convince individuals of the irrelevance of this image to political reality, which is why I believe that the that party wins the youth will be the party who first effectively communicates a complex message, one which entices young, independent-minded potential activists to identify with it, and which crucially pays respect to their ways and thoughts. The message may not take this exact form, but I think it will be the same in gist: It’s Time to Grow Up.

A message like that is a challenge to the reader, and when it is passed onto you by a person you respect, you’re challenged to take it seriously. It acknowledges the grimy past, makes a gesture of un-sugaring it, and it makes a show of asking not for your loyalty but your decision. It is, inherently, British.

If the theory were actually used the slogan would likely be softer, something twee like “Let’s Get Serious”, especially if used by Labour. As the incumbents Labour would find ITGU even more dangerous a slogan, but they have even more need of recruiting and building cells of people suceptable to a certain kind of aggressive message. And this is a message that would provoke votes, good and bad.

After all, slogans are public property, used to hang the authors as often as the opposition. The main danger of such a caustic, demanding slogan would be that while it tried to earn respect from one group it could be used to alienate another. By demographing the message you might be accused of political larceny: using different words to different people. And even if you wanted to, the idea of keeping the message within its target demograph is completely untenable. It would be harder, not easier to contain, assuming the message will be communicated on the supposed “youth-scapes” of the Facetubes and Myboxes.

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Even more important, transparency has to be the law when you’re conducting people politics online. If a message comes from your office, no matter how it’s released, you have to take responsibility for it, and let your opponents publicly hold it to any standards they wish. Attempting to astroturf or disguise your work in social networks may still work on some people, but it is kryptonite to the kind of thoughtful, hyper-brand-sensitive, potentially brand-loyalist person that you are trying to politicize. The kind of person who could read and respect It’s Time to Grow Up, and pass it on to people who want to grow up just like them.

robin by batamarang from bugs is icky

Even if the message is different from what I predict, the market is the same. They are sharp, they are pragmatic, they are active. They can take a message that assumes that they are realists, that they are bruised but not finished. They are IT-GUys. And, political idealist that I am, I believe that if you treat people like one, talk to them one-on-one, like they’ve got some sense, you’ll find that almost anyone can be one.

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But then, maybe I’m being idealistic and contradictory. I’ve argued extensively about the limitations of the Internet as a medium for political “radicalisation”, and after all radicalisation is what we’re talking about: recruiting activists, putting them in cells, giving them the tools to work with but little central instruction. Maybe it’s for the best that I don’t have the ear of anyone important. Yet.

So, thanks to Teku Teku and the fact that I was about to apply for  an unpaid internship for a green concern, I began thinking about the same branding problems in a situation when the message was environmentalism: relatively baggage-free and appealing across the board. Of course, the strategy is much the same: the liberal=environmental abstract=ideal equation isn’t as strong in Britain as in America, but isn’t going away anytime soon (though hopefully the irony is no longer lost on “conservatives” of every stripe).

I present to you then, a different slogan for the same theory: the name of a group, a movement, a new realism, a new aggression, a new appeal to the jaded: Out Of Our Way. A slogan for a group just entering adulthood and preparing the face the consequences of a previous generation’s laziness and abuse. For a generation ready for the first time to go out of its way, to lose some of its conveniences, for the sake of the future. A generation that realises that everything on Earth is part of our environment, that nothing is “out of our way”. And a generation that realises that nothing is out of its reach.

Right?

jivejournal

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PS Who are these people? They are some of these people.

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chroniclogo21From Paul Isakson. Found this at the top of Google returns for “future marketing”. It’s almost exactly a year old. Maybe I’m lazy for clicking on the first return; maybe I’m going undercover as a consumer. Who can tell? It advises against social networking marketing by “trying to be everyone’s friend”. It advocates an approach where the consumer doesn’t distinguish the marketing experience from the product experience. It quotes .. on the belief that brand and product have converged, and it advises all those who don’t have an interesting product in the first place to abandon hope.

Now, fairly shallow searching hasn’t yet yielded any particularly strong refutations of this argument, nor much that goes further on a theoretical basis. Paul Isakson had a post just the other day which asserted much the same thing:

“How should we leverage social media?”

paul isakson future marketing

Makes me think people haven’t been listening to him for nearly a year, or more.

The mutual backrub approach to marketing: if you give people something cool, they’ll talk about it. Reading about it made me think back to the quite parochial problem-solving I do with marketing in my blog. We wanted to get attention and an honest-endorsement from the administrator of a local-concern Facebook group. I went round and round in circles with myself trying to work out how to use our resources -free tickets to the event- to get the guy to mention it without seeming crass or setting off his antiflags.

Eventually we filled in with content expansion, something to make it worth a personal email, and I settled on cutting the tangible resources out of the equation, which allowed for a much simpler and more honest solution. An email bringing it to his attention and -crucially- asking for his advice on something (anything), and he mentioned the event with a simple endorsement on the group wall. Because he likes to feel like a broker in the community he started, and likes having something to talk about to endorse. This is the second magic spell that’s peculiar to community marketing: if you make people feel cool, they’ll talk about it.

That’s the magic behind “secret sellers” of the Pattern Recognition nightclub ilk, who drop brands into their otherwise rather extreme conversation. That’s the logic behind unique experience ARGs: cakes and honey. If ad eyeballs are the bread, then Unique Experiences are the circus.

They go beyond pattern recognition by persuading the experiencee to ignore the extent to which his experience is part of a pattern: instead, he is part of something special. The user may understand that he is a tesselating part of the pattern. “Groupmind” problem solving is a big part of current ARG design: the thinking is that people like to feel part of a group working towards a whole. But a large part of the power comes from the belief the user is if not indispensable, then at least special.

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Of course, specialisation costs money, crafting specialised experiences moreso. That was easy enough in the event promotion example: we had access to a guy with some level of clout within a small community, and it was all conducted more or less at the “amateur” level. We find it useful to walk a line between having name-recognition and being ourselves a “local concern”, which is the balancing act of brand fandom.

Professional engagement with amateur-level talkers or mavens or group participants either has to be dishonest or very, very carefully handled.

penny arcade marketing shelly yu missfit forums boards secret preteen

It’s an extreme example, but my mind always goes back to those journalists (from all levels of the citizen-professional spectrum) who invited themselves onto the boards of Facebook groups formed in the aftermath of the VT Shootings. I did a bit of study on that while working as a freelance researcher, but at their height the comments were going up faster than I could read them. Still, journalists going on and asking for input were largely met with vitriolic backlash, no matter how carefully they phrased. They were Not Welcome on those public spaces.

Kids my age described feeling “violated” when our University authorities knew that they’d been at a banned party: they didn’t say so, but the Uni had clearly been “snooping” into publicly-posted photos.

Fooling some of the people

This has all been talked about before. “Make people’s lives better” says Isakson, and quotes a CEO on how “brand and product have converged”. You can’t sell it unless it’s cool, and if it’s cool enough it largely sells itself. And there is a balancing act for cool: you have to put yourself out there, but not so much that it irritates people. Marketing is the obsessive-compulsive running for class President.

Another quote from the shareslides above is about a consumer who “doesn’t seperate the marketing experience from the product experience”. That would be the dream of a product which literally sells itself, but it’s frankly meaningless when you’re dealing with the basic synaesthetia of advertising. That is to say, describing one sensation with analogy to another: scent with erotic image, for example, or excitement with beverage.

[I can’t find a link anywhere for the Sprite “great snowboarders” ad, which is stupid because it’s the only one of theirs I can remember. It went something like this: [Exciting downhill, exciting downhill] “What do all great snowboarders drink?” [Dude spills straight into sprite machine] “The same as all the not so great ones”.

Instead try this out:

nicely done, but to be honest why even bother with the titlecard at the end? Make it a series of four :30 spots instead, with the guy getting angrier and angrier, the bottle more prominent, forever uncertain whether the clip is corporate-made or not.

That uncertainty is what’s fun about the Trader Joe’s Song (Via Brand Autopsy). Maybe this time, you think watching it, someone earnestly, honestly loves something for its own sake. Life really can break out in perfect song and dance, this once. So you want to believe.

Image ads like these are one long excercise in making image and product inseperable. But image can only do so by obscuring the product completely, hoping no-one ever actually tastes the product but instead internalises the advert (like, say, Relentless). Or by building a consensus about the relationship between the brand and the product. And it’s marketers’ ability to influence that consensus that’s dissolving, as a tradeoff for their new tools.

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Tim-Tam Slammers

Once again, these things have been talked about before. In an attempt to contribute to the worldwide brute-force attempt to solve these puzzles, I want to consider one small segment, from which we take today’s title: “The funny thing about my back is…”. It’s indulgence marketing, which I talked about a few days ago in connection with the Bourneville ad.  What would Utility Marketing look like when applied to the age-old technique of indulgence marketing?

Utility marketing is about providing a service that “gives people time back”, which is then associated in some way with the brand: it’s not about brand information as “pollution” or, in Anthony Lilley’s parlance, taxation. It’s part of the wider logic of making things easier to sell before you start selling them. Again from Brand Autopsy:

“Ask a Mighty Fine employee behind the counter how they’re doing and you’ll likely hear, “Mighty Fine.” They smile. They laugh. They look like they are having fun. Which all benefits the customer experience. Mighty Fine prides itself on hiring only “A Players” who are positive, supportive, and cooperative. To attract “A Players,” they pay above-average wages and offer much better than expected benefits. Mighty Fine knows by astonishing employees, they in turn, will astonish customers.

This is about a burger joint. But what would an A-player for the indulgence technique look like? Who is an expert in making you feel like you deserve that product, this once? Because whoever they are, they have an opportunity to provide a valuable national service by encouraging spending. More on Japan’s money-mattress crisis further down.

jell-o vintage ad racist hilarious jello mammy

Via Found in Mom’s Basement.

“Mammy sent dis ovah”

Jell-O is known to all sections as “America’s Most Famous Dessert.” In the South, for instance, it is inexpensive enough to be found in the cabins of old plantations. It is delicious enough to meet the standards of good living at the “Big House.” It is dainty enough for milady’s afternoon tea. It is appealing enough to turn the sinful, of any color, away from his neighbor’s melon patch.

It’s surprisingly racy, open-minded copy, after the manner of Spike Milligan: it challenges you with your stereotypes, offers up a bare-faced taste of the forbidden. And for getting past your effrontery, you’re invited to congratulate yourself, to indulge yourself. It’s a chauffeur-driven soup-kitchen dinner.

So how to think about this, in a modern connection? Advertisers no doubt already think about which poster will be placed next to which, or how ads are sequenced: they should start thinking about putting Organic Indulgence ads after car ads: Sustainable Furniture after overpriced cologne. They should identify through mutual rejection of excess, like the Obama-SUV ad.

It’s pointless to claim you’re thinking ahead of Google: I expect to soon see Gmail intelligent advertising responding negatively to keywords: charity donations or carbon offsets ads generated alongside emails with text references to “Vacation”, “Yacht”, “Promotion” or “Dubai”.

We know what an A-Player for a charity looks like: the magnificent Don’t Vote ads, or John Cleese on Comic Relief a few years ago staring in silence at the screen for upwards of four minutes while he’s “waiting for you to donate some money”, before shrieking “Oh get on with it, you cheap B*******!”

More than zero-footprint chocolate, I’m talking cocoa-bean picking vacations. I’m talking survival for indulgence: making your indulgence stores your personal Vegas.

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Money-Mattress

Note that it’s official, according to the Economist: Japan’s economy is nosing.

japan economy spending nosedive crash slump

Combine that with the announcementa few hours ago of the resignation of Finance Minister Soichii Nakagawa, who the other day appeared to be drunk at a G7 crisis talks press conference. How Hilarity Ensued.

Maybe it’s the right time for this, via AsiaJin: Virtual Meat for Hard Times.

air yakiniku virtual meat

Air Yakiniku is a video sensory-supplement for cheap dining: beyond simple fake-sensation ads, it’s free indulgence. You set the table with rice and sauce and laptop, click to run the video of a hand sizzling and then picking up the meat, and then you chow down on a mouthful of rice, eyes fixed on the screen, senses hopefully totally fooled. Personally, I just bring a book to our canteen, and try not to look at what I’m eating. I’m currently reading the superb Eileen Chang. I figure I’ll try and get ahead of the Nobel Literature curve this once.

Lastly, today’s thumbnail comes from the Chronic Catnip Company, which has one of the most entertaining, well characterised pitches I’ve ever seen on an utterly useless expenditure.

I’m going to bed, then school, then work, then make-up, then to research how Nudges could influence the Wealth Effect.

hearts@minds

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Image post up at If it Has a Name, from the Nagasaki Lantern Festival.

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nagasaki manga-ka portrait sketch

There I was, peacefully pondering the remarkable level of Oedipal tension subcontext in Back to the Future 2, when we found a manga-ka doing portraits for a measly grand. Mine, as I mention on If it Has a Name, is similar to a picture of me done by some Chinese students of mine a few years ago: it seems to deeply begrudge the beard attached as an afterthought to an otherwise blank expanse of emasculate bishi features.

manga mangaka sketch bishi bishonen

manga mangaka sketch bishi bishonen

manga mangaka sketch bishi bishonen

Cho-chan (male, 22) posing for a sketch.

I’d love to write about the cultural significance of Japan’s love affair with the bishonen, the gender-ambiguous razor-jawed boy-woman. Bishi protagonists are generally the sign of weak or indulgent plotting, while as a sidekick/secondary character they generally serve to highlight the relative normalcy of the protagonist with extreme martial ability, sports, queerness or flamboyant humour, similar to the figure of the “perverted best friend”.

"What childish, infantile, immature and entirely uncreative mind could have come up with Buttlord GT is entirely out of my comprehension"

"What childish, infantile, immature and entirely uncreative mind could have come up with Buttlord GT is entirely out of my comprehension"

Compare the non-protagonist at the centre of The 10k Commotion, whose mystic bishi-abilities (especially at Dance Dance Revolution) drive the story while never allowing him much of a personality.

dynamite 10k tenkay commotion

Also compare the absent Mary-Sue poetess protagonist at the centre of Priya Sarukkai Chabria’s generation 14. The actual protagonist is both a clone and a reincarnation of her ‘Original’, whose work was so revolutionary that it threatened her post-dystopian world, causing her to be killed midsentence.

generation 14 priya sarukkai chabria

Can’t find a single better cover image, and it’s nowhere on Amazon. Best get it from Penguin India here. Extracts here.

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The clone narrator has a mutation which enables her to remember her Original and her other past lives, and her cognitive development is a combination of fan-fiction and a Bloom-style Oedipal urge towards her ineffable, genetically perfect poète fatale ancestral donor. She is urged to to become her, to recall her work perfectly, but she also wishes to slay her with her own Work, establish her own identity. It has its problems but it’s excellent psy-fi. Recommended.

manga mangaka sketch bishi bishonen

Nat with her alternate-universe femme fatale persona.

Finally, the best thing about Generation 14 so far, appropriately enough, is the epigraph. Like The God of Small Things, which Emiko kindly lent me, it’s obsessed with the multiplicity of life and hence of Work: Roy’s epigraph is John Berger, “Never again will a single story be told/ as though it’s the only one”. Chabria’s, which I will re-rob without shame for Iland, is a Leonard Cohen extract which I somehow hadn’t come across before.

Ring all the bells that still can ring.

Forget your perfect offering.

There’s a crack in everything.

That’s how the light gets in.

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Is plagiarism a problem on the internet? Well, yes. The waka I wrote at If it Has a Name is, I said, a simple sentiment in a consciously finite format, and so I find it hard to believe it has not been written before, even if it is formally incorrect: I line-break a subject particle, for instance. I don’t have the heart to google it.

Is plagiarism inevitable on the internet? Well, logically it is becoming exponentially more difficult to identify except in oneself, and so it may be approaching a stage where it exists suspended between being inevitable and being indeterminable.

As a concept, is plagiarism being subjectivised out of existence? Well, that depends on what you believe about reading the internet. Whether you believe that online people are automatically exposed to a proportionally, ideologically and stylistically broader field of reading material. Or whether you believe that online reading allows people to constrict their reading, to micro-manage their language and its signifiers. Which is the old argument about the Daily Me all over again.

Extract from a covering letter, sent with CV to a very interesting company who wanted to know applicants’ opinion about the success of one internet institution. I haven’t heard back. Oh well.

Feel free to skip.

I took every opportunity for personal research during my course to study online communications, including a course essay on the language of bias in supposedly non-ideological “News Watchdog” sites, and my thesis, entitled “The Information Sphere: Ideology and Langauge in News on the Internet”.

Inevitably, some of the ideas I formed in this thesis have been modified by the online news revolution in the late stages of the American election, and the current status of The Huffington Post is an interesting study.

In the thesis I argued that the internet does not have an inherently ‘radicalising’ influence on newsreading, as in Sunstein’s ‘Daily Me’ argument, nor does the proliferation of ‘citizen journalism’ necessarily herald the deprofessionalisation of journalism as many have argued, notably CNN’s Christiane Amanour.

This said, I did argue that because of the experience of choice in newsreading, and the increasing experience of participation, users would tend to develop ‘personal news cycles’: first referring to a small group of professional newsroom services, which are increasingly pressured to present “unbiased” newswire copy, the users then research and participate in news communities grouped by affiliation.

At the time of writing I cited Drudge, but his power as a maven ended with the election and his embarrassing himself (in my opinion) in the final weeks. The current era belongs to the more openly slanted magazine/conversation-styled Huff, and its web and talk-radio counterparts on the right wing, of which a web leader has yet to emerge.

I think Huff’s popularity is partly a result of its nurturing a returned sense of community in politics, which Drudge’s ‘insider’ aggregation approach rejects, and partly a result of its responding to a demand for personality in news content.

For the future: successful attempts to create a single ‘news homepage’ have rarely worked and will probably get rarer, and so I think Huff’s investment in for example sports and even entertainment reporting is probably wide of their core business, when specialised alternatives like Gawker are proliferating.

teenaged in the pace age

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Update: Instead of “are proliferating” I should have said “are proliferate”, though CVs in general make poor canvases for experimental adjectivism. I need to find myself a word that’s between proliferate and profligate, to describe the status of sites with a high, cultivated visibility but an uncertain readership, like Gawker or American Apparel ads.

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Rough up

napsterbadgesmall1I had a great idea for a sitcom tonight, while walking around the gigantic new mall that’s opened just across the paddyfields from our dorm. I had been thinking about how Megavideo‘s closing down on its non-subscriber free use, and I was talking to a friend about the vast discrepancies between different films in release delay in Asia. After all, if Dark Knight came out here in Japan three months after the American release, everyone who would have watched it would have already pirated it. Hence, in Japan it’s been out for months is available for rent, while Wall.E is only just out now, presumably because there aren’t many families who queue up rips they’ve downloaded to show at their kids’ birthday parties.

Or do they?

Thus was borne The Pirate Family. A hypermodern take on classic sitcom formulae, like the traditional scene of the patefamilias sweating and cursing over the snarl of busted, 10-year old Christmas lights, his kids whining about why they don’t just buy a new string every year.

Except here Dad, belly protruding and ponytail a-quiver, is cursing over his antiquated KaZzaa and DivX player trying to get the family’s evening viewing to play, while his consumerist ragamuffin kids whine why they don’t just get it from iTunes. “Will you shut up! It’s the principle of the thing! You kids just want to pay for everything!”

“The family that rips together, stays together” says mother from the sofa, swiftly minimising quotationgarden.com as she does so.

“But I don’t want to watch An Inconvenient Truth again!” cries little Arwen. “Shh!” hisses her brother Data. “Better that than The Times of  a Sign*, or late M*A*S*H or Torchwood.”

“I wanna watch Mythbusters!”

“You take that back!”

41531j5qn_w

Maybe I got a little carried away.

The new mall is set to change our lives, frankly. It’s certainly going to change how we look back on this year in seven months’ time, and the sorts of things we say in the advice package we write to our successor scholars. “You lucky devils” will likely be the gist, but still. I honestly can’t say whether life will be better with one of the biggest malls in Kyushu five minutes’ walk away, but I suspect it will be a lot more expensive. It will be easier for us and the kids who come after us to, say, eat Italian or conveyor-belt sushi. But really, who cares? I have a fairly unpromising diet of ramen when left to my own devices, but there’s nothing stopping you from buying vegetables and eating well here.

But what last week was the sticks of a small city in Japan has become the sinkland surrounding a commuter shopper’s paradise. I’d love to be able to say that the area will benefit from the presence of thousands of families out for Sunday worship at the mall, but it’s unlikely to do anything but clog up the rail stations, choke the waste disposal with garbage, and sprawl across the paddy fields without its food-court denizens ever venturing out for inferior local coffee.

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I was directly responsibly for confirming the grimiest prejudices of gaijin in a whole group of Japanese guys just trying to finish work. Sat in the food court we had been speculating about what would be done with all the unsold donuts from the Mister Donut, when we turned around and noticed that dozens on dozens of donuts, pastries, flans and the like were being wedged, pile on crumpling, uniform brown pile, into a bin. Stomach churning and outraged, I went over and asked in broken Japanese whether, if they didn’t need the donuts, they could give them to me. No, store rules, I was told by the supervisor, and the two young men went on folding pastries into the bin.

I’d like to point out that I don’t feel stupid for what I did, despite my horrible Japanese and the looks of disgust I was given. They are stupid for throwing away what could probably heat the whole mall for an hour on burnt sugar alone.

I’m going for my Christmas shopping there tomorrow, while the opening sale is still on. It will be a fascinating, delirious experience.

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professionally short attention span

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PS Christiane Amanour on why the internet is a liability to journalism. I have to believe she is not correct, and have expended thousands of words arguing so without ever being able to fool myself all of the time. I still don’t think she’s got the longview down, but then who am I to criticise, when I mock and despise the excesses of our new mall while not recognising its liberating potential? Right?

Believe me, if you saw some of the outfits being marketed in this place, you might think differently. The cry of my generation will be “no, see, there is a difference between Barbie and Bratz“, those obscene warped husks of femininity. Just as my parents’ generation had to see a difference between making fun of Reefer Madness and making light of Ecstasy. Or whatever.

PPS the forecast said snow for tomorrow, but cold though it is I doubt it. Manky though snow would be around here anyway. “It’d be like snowball Urban Warfare,” I said earlier this evening. “Like Stalingrad. Charging through the slush, over the barriers. Two rounds to a man. Use them wisely.”

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ascension

eurionsvgOpen Letter to the Man, supplementary: the project to convince my local magazine employer to build a free forum. I’ve been spending time reading the legal contracts used by webhosting companies, particularly Bluehost. Now, if anyone has any advice or horror stories about choosing one hoster over another then I’d love to hear it, but I’ve spent far too long reading glowing endorsements on what turned out to be shell review sites to believe any host is going to be perfect. I’d settle for perfectly well-meaning, but it’s in the nature of legalese that these companies have already prepared themselves for abuses not yet thought of, and in doing so retain the kind of powers that would give the average Free Culture reader an aneurism.

Below is an extract from the ToA used by Bluehost, which seems to be fairly standard. The terms may be altered at any time without notice, and use or continued use of any of the company’s services constitutes aquiescence to the terms. Maybe it’s a mark of my generation that I found the inclusion of profanity surprising. It’s a very specific kind of freebooter ignorance: I can scroll through linear miles of images of truly awful things without batting an eyelid but I balk at the notion that someone might seriously try to limit the distribution of such things through their hardware and under their questionable legal “jurisdiction”.

Feel free to skim.

12. Child Pornography. The use of the Services to store, post, display, transmit, advertise or otherwise make available child pornography is prohibited. BlueHost.Com is required by law to, and will, notify law enforcement agencies when it becomes aware of the presence of child pornography on, or being transmitted through, the Services.

13. Other Illegal Activities. The use of the Services to engage in any activity that is determined by BlueHost.Com, in its sole and absolute discretion, to be illegal is prohibited. Such illegal activities include, but are not limited to, storing, posting, displaying, transmitting or otherwise making available ponzi or pyramid schemes, fraudulently charging credit cards or displaying credit card information of third parties without their consent, and failure to comply with applicable on-line privacy laws. BlueHost.Com will cooperate fully with appropriate law enforcement agencies in connection with any and all illegal activities occurring on or through the Services.

14. Obscene, Defamatory, Abusive or Threatening Language. Use of the Services to store, post, transmit, display or otherwise make available obscene, defamatory, harassing, abusive or threatening language is prohibited.

The whole hosting edifice works because no-one seriously expects hosts to ever really act upon the caveat emptor they supply. The companies are just covering their backs in case of the advent of an iPatriot Act, and leaving themselves room to exercise a common sense policy in the case of extreme misuse of the format. At least it’s an American company, and as such has a notion of the broadly positive terms of Fair Use, which legally empowers a common-sense approach that’s often assumed to also be enshrined in British Law, which of course it isn’t.

[Two sides to googling “fair use”: hundreds of Fat Boy Slim album torrents “defending Fair Use”, and the story of the star of his first album cover who sued for unlicensed use of image. The court ruled that because he was smiling in the picture, he had wanted to have his picture taken, thus constituting fair use. Thanks to Japanman.]

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An assumed ‘common-sense’ pseudopolicy, such as it is, is communicated in the Bluehost contract  where specific, severe abuses such as child abuse imagery or copyright infringement are referred to in earlier clauses, while the more catch-all terms like “profane material” come in later, shorter clauses impling a generalised right to refuse. Though it’s always the short clauses you have to watch out for.

Of course, if you don’t like it, you can buy your own server. Or don’t, and stay in a backwater, certain that you’re aware of every foreign or polluting current which enters your pond, and handle it as you see fit. My generation has been forced to concede that being aware of something, being able to speak its language, discuss it, even fictionalise it, does not necessarily convert you, make you an advocate, make you tainted by it.

Yet at the same time everyone familiar with the internet has seen the same natural cycle countless times: where any decent forum will eventually become more dimwitted and drama-ridden as more and more unknown entities arrive and start ‘fluencing the tone, till everyone good leaves. It’s even happening to the Achewood assetbar, long the preserve of intelligent yet weirdly uncritical enthusiasts. No matter how good it is, it’s only a few trolls away from degenerating into flaming rubbishness.

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One of the lesser-known Livejournal Wars came around the middle of last year when thousands of people woke up to find their groups and pages banned.  At the request of Warriors for Innocence Livejournal had instituted a new policy aimed at cracking down on “paedophiles and their sympathisers”, groups and individuals using it to trade “sexually abusive images and ideas”.

The policy, however, was to ban every account which listed keywords like rape and paedophilia in its interests or registered a high number of hits on those words, resulting in the banning of several rape support groups and numerous fiction and fanfic-writing and trading communities. Livejournal, vast hive of self-absorbed drama that it is, erupted in outrage and the parent company pressed the ‘back’ button a few days later, going back through each banned site individually to verify its use.

To paraphrase Jay-Z: when you argue with fools from a distance people can’t tell who is who. But though it’s easy to make fun of Livejournal’s squalling mass, its users were rightly enraged that short-sighted policy had lumped thousands of them in with a tiny minority of genuine mis-users. Such is the potential of censorship. We trust whoever arbitrates it to share our sense of decency. Or we don’t, of course.

p

I’m trying to set up a local forum for English-speaking foreigners in Japan, because we have enough of a name in our city to try to get most of the local online gaijin conversation happening under our banner. I’ve talked to my boss a lot about the need for a clearly laid out moderation policy.

He’s already more or less vetoed the idea of having a Japanese language forum at the same domain, in part because he doesn’t want conversations he can’t understand perfectly happening in his backyard. He also vetoed the idea because he has doubts whether he’d find a native Japanese speaker with the same notions of ‘moderation’ as us, or who’d express them in the untranslatable subtleties of forum-speak in a way he or I would agree with or even recognise.

Though I don’t agree with everything he says, Will Hutton has shown that braving accusations of neo-yellow-perilism can pay off. Japan is a very foreign place, not least in its often mystifying, even clandestine politics and its confusion of earnest Western-style Okinawa hippies, disconsolate consumerist teenagers, radicals of every stripe.

Once when I was just entering my teens I asked my Dad whether China and Japan weren’t, basically, the same, and he told me why not in some detail. A couple of years later I opined that America was pretty much like Britain, only more so. “No,” my Dad said. “America is the most foreign place I’ve ever been”, which at the time included Japan, Europe, Scandanavia and much of the Middle East.

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I started this blog to ask which seemed more distant, Japan or five years in the future? I’m pretty sure I have an answer, though not a very satisfactory one. Nothing will ever really be as foreign as the future, particularly when it comes to communications. But then, communication technology’s influence on the future is so unpredictable and so alien because that influence will increasingly be determined by people who ‘we’ in many ways do not understand.

The internet has exposed its values to people, making everything available free and without judgement. But that doesn’t mean that people are infected on exposure: you aren’t tainted, but you aren’t converted to a warts-and-all freedom-loving shareista. On English blogs the talk is always about forwards or backwards: whether the net will grow wild or be potted. But the real direction will be determined by people whose forums we can’t read or participate in. The truth is, right now the future is just as foreign as everyone else is.

ichi go ichi e

p

PS. the thumbnail image I use for technology posts is the so-called EURion constellation, which features prominently in the floral decorations on Japanese banknotes. I would scan in a version to show, but, you know.

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