In the aftermath of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, the internet has become a place where people from around the world can come together to offer their support to those in need. YouTube has become a hotspot for such pleas, with several coming from the editors of the popular manga magazine Shonen Jump and renowned manga artist Toriyama Akira. Toriyama’s acclaimed manga and anime series Dragon Ball is frequently seen as being one of the catalysts for the explosion of Japanese popular culture in the West, and this clip (titled "Genki Dama Saves the World") illustrates how that recognition can serve a function beyond solely that of entertainment.
Popular culture is a window into exploring the society that produced it, the people who consume it, and the ways it is integrated into cultural practices around the world. Japanese popular culture, once rare in Western shopping centers, is now a common sight. Pop-cultural icons like Son Goku are now recognizable in the international community. As this clip shows, these characters can begin to mean something more than just entertainment in times of crisis; it embodies a moment where Japanese popular culture and real-world tragedy intersect in a single message that is aimed at the international community in the time of Japan’s greatest need. As Paul du Gay et al argue in Doing Cultural Studies: The Story of the Sony Walkman, cultural meaning is, as Baudrillard proposed, not found in an object itself but in how that object is used (90).
This week of In Media Res is an exploration of globalization and Japanese popular culture in the wake of a terrible tragedy. Post-WWII Japanese popular culture has frequently reflected a need to come to terms with the atomic bombings and the nation’s changed presence in the world. A question that continues to come up in light of recent events is how the earthquake and tsunami will impact popular narratives in the years that follow? How will those representations be understood on a global scale?
Japan needs the support of the international community. Let this week’s theme be a celebration of that nation and the functions of popular culture, both locally and globally. Please remember to take the time during our discussion to send Genki Dama to those in need.