Monday, 27 February 2017

My Thoughts on the Karlie Kloss Kimono Debacle

I know I am hopelessly late (as always), but I really, really wanted to write about this. It's sort of related to my previous post on whether foreigners can wear kimono. Basically, while I was not-sleeping one night, I came across this article from someecards:

The main point of the article seemed to be that Karlie Kloss had culturally appropriated Japanese culture, as seen by this quote:

And her apology:

But when I was scrolling through the replies, I noticed that the Japanese people I saw didn't see anything wrong with the shoot. I think I saw someone who was 'half-Asian' tweeting about how it's a problem, but all the accounts that looked to be Japanese were generally encouraging.

So I thought, could it be that only her fans reply?  (If you want to read more, RocketNews24 did an article on it)

So I decided to check google some more. I didn't see any matome threads, but I did see a Girlschannel thread. Girlschannel is kind of like 2ch, in the sense that it's anonymous. There's also an upvote/downvote option (like Reddit) so you can see what people agree with.

And, in my opinion, they tend to be more critical than Twitter. Or at least that's what I thought when reading the reactions to Kouhaku. So anyway I chose a few comments that were reflective of what they thought (heavily upvoted) and/or repeated and translated them (not a literal translation)

This is the original post, which basically talks about how the shoot was criticised as discrimination and yellow face, and that Karlie apologised.

Users did not like the OP

These are the first three reactions, which are quite typical and were repeated in various ways throughout (there are like 450+ comments and I skimmed the first 300 but I screenshotted mainly from the first two pages because they had the most votes)

1. "I don't mind"

2. "Which part of this is discriminatory?"

3. "I'm more concerned about the sumo. Sumo wrestlers are supposed to have muscles even though they're fat."

And worryingly, some of the reactions are a little xenophobic in an unexpected sense (though I've seen this come up a few times in the Katy Perry and Boston museum incidents). This is comment number 5.

"I don't get it. What do you mean "discriminatory against Japan"? Japanese people don't get mad at such things. We're different from Korea!"

And I wasn't kidding about the sumo stuff (comment 22):

"More importantly, is that sumo a real sumo wrestler? If someone practices sumo wrestling [sorry can't find an elegant way to translate this] they should have more muscles and a cooler body"

Comments like this appeared quite a few times.

And someone brought up Katy Perry.

"This reminds me of when Katy Perry was criticised for her kimono-inspired clothes for some reason. As a Japanese woman I don't see any discriminatory acts..."

Well actually Katy Perry got mentioned two times in the first 100 comments.

"There was a group who made a fuss when Katy Perry added Japanese elements to her performance, right? Even though it was a beautiful performance and Japanese people didn't mind... Karlie came to Japan for this photo shoot and the other photos are beautiful.

As for yellow, I don't see it (lit' there are no other meanings') unless you're talking about the yellow and red writing."

And people tried to find reasons for the uproar.

"This is by Caucasians who don't like Asians, right? "Don't dress like Japanese because you're white" This apology is not for Japanese but for Caucasians." (comment 36)

"Is it because she was hit by yellow light so she appeared 'yellow'?" (comment 37)

Last comment that caught my eye (comment 96):

"This photo was taken in Mie prefecture, right? I'm from Mie and I find it sad/tragic that a photo taken in my hometown got criticised. Even though I thought it was really beautiful! I know Karlie apologised but I wish that she won't blame herself."

To summarise:

Japanese people don't see the problem with Karlie's photos. They're more concerned about the sumo wrestler.

My Thoughts Part 1

I actually find this very concerning because the gap between the "allies" of the Japanese and the Japanese is huge. They are seeing problems where the Japanese don't see any.

If this was framed as being specific to Japanese-Americans, I could understand the criticisms, but since it was framed as 'appropriating Japanese culture' (I.e. Concerning every Japanese person) it seems to have completely missed the mark.

And not only that, it encourages (in a backhanded way) Japanese people to be more mistrustful of groups that they are wary of. The comments here only mentioned it a couple of times (and mostly against white folks), but in the previous cases, quite a few people were attributing the criticism to jealous Koreans and Chinese. So it's a trend (luckily a slight trend) that really should not be encouraged.

And if you think that the Japanese are just unenlightened about how they're being discriminated against, well, how condescending and White Mans' Burden-esque of you (general you, not to anyone in particular). The Japanese people are not being oppressed on this issue - there are Japanese articles on Huffpost and Buzzfeed - and to ignore their opinions is to look down upon them.

Which come to think of it I saw a comment like that (comment 70):

"This time, it's the people saying 'Discrimination against Japan' that are looking down on the Japanese and that's sad (laugh).

How rude lol. I don't care so don't use such excessive caution"

(Sorry the ending of the first part was a little hard to translate).

I really do think that there's a problem (and a lot of disrespect) to put words into the mouths of a group of people who disagree with you. Almost like the "alternative facts" thing. In my opinion, these criticisms should be much more specific ("this offends Japanese living in Western countries" rather than "this is an insult to all Japanese culture") if not discarded altogether because I really, really can't see the problem in this. At least not how it's currently framed.

My Thoughts Part 2

Part 1 was what I wrote on my Dayre, and quite a few people replied to me. From the ensuing discussion, I came to the conclusion that:

1. The problem was wrongly framed. If this was a casting issue, then I think a lot more people would have been supportive of it.

Personally, I would have liked a lot more details (for example, what was the vision the director had in mind, were they were working with tourism boards - Japan is really enthusiastic about encouraging foreigners to try kimono and yukata, whether there were specific Asian models who were considered but passed over for Karlie Kloss or if she was their first choice, etc) before I feel comfortable saying that "this is a case of discrimination in casting", but the whole "there was a problem with a casting" argument is still a lot stronger than the "this is cultural appropriation" argument.

2. Like I mentioned in my thoughts part 1, the people who were upset were mainly Japanese/Asian-Americans. But, this was framed as a problem for all Japanese people, so they naturally did not get it. I did wonder if I was the only non-Asian-American Asian who thought that way, but it seems like quite a few people think so, so I really hope that in the future, Asian-Americans don't make their opinions representative of all Asians.

I mean, even if you just say "Chinese", Singaporean-Chinese are different from Malaysian-Chinese who are in turn different from Mainland Chinese (and there will be differences between people in different regions) who are different from Hong Kongers who are different from Taiwanese and we're still talking about the same ethnicity here. It would be disingenuous to use one opinion to represent all.

Anyway, these are my thoughts. I'd love to hear yours!