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Japanese Popular Culture In Egypt

July 6, 2014

BannerOne of the main things that led to the research that became Connected in Cairo was an interest in the different ways Japanese popular culture–especially, but not limited to Pokémon–was localized differently in Egypt and the US.

There’s a chapter on Pokémon in Connected in Cairo, and Pokémon appears as an analytical problem in the first and last chapters of my first book. I’ve written about Pokemon in Egypt as part of children’s worlds of consumption, and as a case study for understanding indexicality in media practices.

So, inevitably, there had to be a course. I taught  an anthropology class here at Miami University entitled “Pokémon: Global and Local Cultures” this summer. Here’s the course description:

This course is about global cultural flows. Using as our chief case study the movement of Japanese cultural materials—from Godzilla to Pokémon to sushi—across cultural borders, we will look at the movement of cultural forms through global contexts shaped by transportation systems, new information technologies, and the global capitalist economy. Students will learn to draw on concepts and methods from ethnography, practice theory and semiotics to explore how texts, games, toys, styles and other cultural forms are produced, circulated, appropriated, transformed and localized.

Please note: this was not a course on Japanese popular culture per se, about which I cannot teach authoritatively, but a course on global cultural flows, world systems and localization, with most of the case studies being drawn from Japanese popular culture.

Several of the lessons either focus on, or at least touch on, Japanese popular culture in the Middle East, especially Egypt, so I thought I’d share those lessons here:

Lesson One:

Cultural FlowsCulture is not static; it moves rapidly through the world, carried by human agents, communications and information media, and systems of exchange. As people encounter new cultural representations, practices and artifacts, they appropriate many of them, transform them, and adapt them for local use, integrating them into their local cultural repertoire.

Lesson Three: Globalization

Global flows take place along networks contoured by relations of power.

[Before using the slides, I started this lecture with a discussion of The Hunger Games as an example of how World Systems work that they would be able to understand by analogy. This was based on a brilliant strategy conceived by my colleague John Schaefer]

Lesson Four: Localization

Localization involves the appropriation of global cultural flows by multiple social agents and the integration of cultural forms to local contexts.

Lesson Nine: Moral Panics & Radical Resistance

Localization, alterity and recontextualization can lead to resistance against cultural flows.

Lesson Eleven: Oshin, The Bold & The Beautiful, and the Great Escape

Cultural flows from different places can intersect, compete, and be localized in very different ways [and] media that people describe as “just” being for escape is analytically rich if you ask where they are escaping from, and where they are escaping to.

[This lecture is heavily indebted to a wonderful fieldwork-based class paper a young woman named Kanako Inoue wrote for me in one of my classes at the American University in Cairo in the early 2000s]

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