Tuesday, November 19, 2013

You Have Got to Be Shitting Me

Really, Arama? Fucking really? I know you're a gossip site but are really that desperate for traffic you had to re-publish a misinformed, biased article to spin a ridiculous, frivolous debate about social justice?

Oh well, I guess that's journalism!


I hate talking about social justice. Especially on the Internet. I think the concept is great but is so horribly skewed and misconstrued online that I feel like it does more damage than good. My biggest problem with online social justice is that most of it is done through scolding rather than educating. Generally speaking, on the Internet, people tend to take offense with either unintentional or intentional homophobia/transphobia but instead of trying to educate someone on the matter and helpfully explain to them why what they said was wrong, they'll rail on about how what that person said was offensive, without taking the time to at least try and explain why. Doing this only furthers rifts and leads to heated and often misinformed debates about social justice. The subject alone is a touchy one, with no clear black and white angles, which is why I don't like talking about it. Along with sometimes poor or inaccurate knowledge, generally speaking online social justice is a field that I am uncomfortable in, despite being supportive of its ideals. Hence the only thing I like to do regarding social justice is trying to be accepting of others beliefs, orientations, and societal values in my own life.

I'm not going to attempt to teach social justice or debate about it because I have neither the proper knowledge nor the ability to do so. If you have strong feelings about social justice, then by all means that is okay with me, as long as you're not being an asshat about it. The point is I do not like talking about it. I just want to run a fun and happy little J-pop blog that talks about idols and where the most controversial thing I write about is foreign teenage girls trying to become idols in Japan. If I'm going to write about debatable topics, I'd rather it be the no-dating rule than something social-justice related. But then, one thing came up. One thing that's turned me into a sealed pressure cooker filled with boiling water. And slowly and slowly the temperature has been turned up, until my lid exploded off. Metaphorically.

I am, of course, talking about the "homophobic" comments said by A-chan in an interview and the repost onto popular Japanese news/gossip site Arama They Didn't.

I use quotations because there's been debate about just how "homophobic" A-chan's words were. A week ago, a news website called Blouin Artinfino posted a translated interview of Perfume talking about their music, concerts, and other various topics. A-chan in one part of the interview talked briefly about their international fanbase, particularly a gay couple. She said, "'Overseas, there were more men than women, and also people who were neither!' says A-Chan. 'A gay couple came to our singing session and one of the guys introduced to us his 'girlfriend.' But the guy gave me a huge rose saying, 'I love you so much! ­– I also love him (a guy), which means I like guys, but because I love you so much he doesn't believe I like guys! Tell him something to convince him that I like guys!' and I was like, 'what in the world am I supposed to say to that!' A lot of extraordinary things happened.'" The statement was short, but international fans were abuzz about, first on Tumblr.

Then came the repost on Arama with the new title of "Perfume makes shocking homophobic comments in new interview." and you would have thought a bomb had exploded in the idolsphere. As I'm typing this, the repost has 229 comments featuring all fifty shades of opinions. There are even people who are so pissed off they claimed that they'll stop listening to Perfume. I had more-or-less brushed this off by the time it was reposted onto Arama. Before the repost on Arama, the article with the "homophobic" statements had already been circulating around Tumblr. And if any of you go on Tumblr, you know how social justice-y that website can get. And while there were some miffed Perfume fans about the comments A-chan made, a lot of people, myself included, took it pretty maturely. General consensus with Perfume fans on Tumblr was that there wasn't enough context or solid evidence to support the "homophobia" of A-chan's statement. And then we all moved on. And just when I'd finally dropped this, I see that repost, that fucking repost on Arama They Didn't. I am livid. I am absolutely livid.

I don't even know where to start with why I'm angry about this. Furthermore, I'm not sure if I'm so pissed off about this because I'm a fan of Perfume or not. Maybe this is all just a subconscious defensive reaction triggered by my love for Perfume and disbelief that A-chan could make homophobic comments. And if you took offense with what A-chan said, go ahead and dismiss me as a pathetic fan jumping to the aid of a group that I'm clearly biased to. Maybe I am. But either way, that doesn't alleviate my anger at both the repost and the original article. I will get to my personal opinions about A-chan's "homophobic" comments in a moment. There are 50 opinions about that as it is. Wading through all these overblown reactions about said comments is really what has been digging into my side. However, people's individual reactions are not what irk me about this entire incident. Not completely at least.

If you are gay or transgender and took offense in A-chan's remark, I can respect that. It's your opinion, and as someone who is asexual and cisgender, I can't exactly relate to the sentiment of someone of homosexual, bisexual, or pansexual orientation or someone who doesn't identify with their biological gender. Where I take issue is the source of all those reactions: I have more of a problem with the journalism of both the original article and the repost. Had the repost not happened, I'd like to think that this article would be remembered by only Perfume fans as an awkward, poorly worded interview. However, that was not the case and if everyone's going to start bitching about social justice, I might as well join in. Unlike social justice though, I can bitch about poor journalism and not feel completely uneducated. Both the original article and the repost on Arama have problems, with one having more noticeable ones than the other.

First of all, there's something about the interview itself that comes off as a little biased against Perfume. Like phrases such as, "the trio seem ironically behind the times when it comes to female empowerment, choosing to present themselves like most Japanese female pop groups — as submissive, docile, doll-like women." The article also covers a lot of weighty interview topics, and without the right communication skills, answers to those questions can make someone come off in a negative light. It's a very manipulative method of communication. And then there's the lack of the original Japanese answers from Perfume. There is not an original transcript of the article, just the translation. As I have stated before, Japanese is a fucking complicated language and English is a fucking complicated language. Grammatically and phonetically both are incredibly different. There are phrases in the English language that don't exist in the Japanese language and vice versa. So who knows what kind of phrases got lost in the translated article?

A-chan's wording and connotations in the translation could be completely different from what she originally said. The thing is, unless someone has a copy of the original interview, we don't know. Yet people are automatically assuming that what she said in the translated article is verbatim to what she meant in her original language. Another big issue a lot of people have taken with A-chan's comments about gender, particular the parts where she says people of "neither" gender were overseas fans and identifies one man in the gay couple as the other man's "girlfriend." The fact that the word "girlfriend" is in quotation marks implies that was the word the man himself used to identify his partner, not A-chan's own words. And I know a gay couple who sees themselves in the man and wife roles, so it's not impossible. The next part is basically him asking A-chan to convince his partner that he still likes guys despite loving Perfume as well. In the interview, she said "What in the world am I supposed to say to that!" as though she were surprised. And maybe she was. It's a perfectly normal reaction.

As for the "neither" bit in Perfume concerts, the girls have a call-and-response system where they shout out "Boys! Girls! Neither!" and the fans cheer with each one they identify with. This is probably why she said that there were fans that were men, women, and neither. Because that's what they did in the concert. The interview overall felt very poorly handled and clunky, tackling a bunch of difficult topics. Even worse is that the bit about gay fans is highlighted as a major point of the article. The thing is the controversial blurb is one paragraph of twenty-three and what's the title of the article? "Perfume on Expressionless Pop and Gay Fans." You'd think going off just the title that the latter part is heavily delved into much more than it really is. I know an article's title is supposed to be attention-grabbing, but the title seems to be trying really hard to grab attention. To me, it comes off as yellow journalism. You know, when an article uses tactics such as scandal-mongering and sensationalism with the objective of not so much presenting true information, but attracting attention, both negative and positive. And if the original article came off as that, then the repost the repost on Arama is even worse. That one practically reeks of yellow journalism. Then again, any gossip site is dripping with yellow journalism, but I feel like this article made an extra effort to be yellow journalism. The "homophobic" statements were bolded; the reposter added this at the bottom:

"Vile. (protip for all the str8s of arama: insinuating gay people are neither man or woman, and calling a gay man's partner his 'girlfriend' = not cool). Boycott Perfume. Buy Shiina Ringo's smash hit new song "熱愛発覚中" on itunes now."

Although I agree that Shiina Ringo's Netsuai Hakkakuchuu is a freaking awesome song and you should all listen to it that's the thing I least take offense with. Whoever reposted this has a legitimate point somewhere in all that passive-aggressive spite. No, you should not assume someone's gender based on stereotypes. And if you do by accident, then the best you can do is apologize and try not to make the same mistake again. But whoever reposted this presented it in such a negative, mean-spirited and biased light. The title is negative, their comments at the end are negative and insulting, and calling for boycott of a group is such an immature maneuver. It's kind of thing I'd expect from a 10-year old who just discovered the Internet. Then there's the practically shameless plug-in of another artist this person is clearly much more biased towards. If you go through the comments section of the repost, you can also see that the person who published the repost has taken generous time to reply to every single comment that disagrees or contradicts their opinion, usually in a very condescending and childish way.

I guess I shouldn't expect any different from a site like Arama, but even I didn't think they'd stoop so low to allow someone to post something with such flimsy justification behind such negative bias. And what really gets me is that people are falling for it. The repost on Arama is a blatant, pandering grab for attention, presented in a way that's meant to attract negative attention and spread hateful thoughts. The original article looks objective compared to the repost. I don't like seeing drama in the idolsphere, and for the most part, Perfume has been spared from anything truly outrageous. To have a scandal like this happen to them is ridiculous, and the unprofessionalism of the reposter only adds to it. In fact, I think most of my rage is directed towards them rather than the people reacting to the article. Because that person was the one who insinuated the negativity; everyone else is merely responding to it.

The real question about this entire controversy is this: are the negative bias and reactions justified? Was what A-chan said truly homophobic? Or was it a naive statement that was spun out of context? Or was it a poor translation of a much less offensive comment? The thing is depending on which one you think is true, you can argue strongly for each one of those theories. The fact that you can do that makes me personally think there isn't enough solid evidence to determine any of those theories. Not without the original, untranslated transcript. When I first read the article, before all this pointless drama happened, I found A-chan's comments to be awkward and kind of offensive but not actively trying to insult an entire demographic of people. If anything, she sounded more oblivious to the implications of her words, if the translation is directly what she said.

What I did was read the quote out loud; after all, this was a spoken interview. Maybe it would sound different out loud than on paper. When I did, it came off more as culture shock than homophobia. She seemed surprised, but not offensively. Did she sound demonizing? Not really. But that's why homophobia is such a touchy subject; you don't really know what's "homophobic" and what's not, especially when you don't have context. If there were maybe more things A-chan said about the subject of gay fans, then maybe these newly-formed opinions about her and Perfume would make more sense. But the thing is there aren't. There's only this one article, this one tiny, ambiguous blurb from an article. The fact that people are debating about the "homophobic" nature of A-chan's remarks should be enough to show that this isn't a clear-cut matter. But to boycott the whole group? Keep in mind, A-chan was the only one who said anything about this topic; Kashiyuka and Nocchi didn't. I think this is a combination of poor journalism, unclear translation, and biased circumstances. I'm not mad at other people's opinions about this; I'm mad at the source for these opinions.

If you took offense with what A-chan said and now feel conflicted about buying Perfume's music, I will give you the same advice my ex gave to me: if you like an artist's music, but not the person who sings it, illegally download their music. Ta-da. Problem solved. Now I'm gonna go bang my head against a wall in the hopes that I can forget this entire thing happened.

10 comments:

  1. As a gay guy, this doesn't offend me at all!

    Actually, thinking about the internet responses makes me sad...

    Come on, people, THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX, she's from Japan, the country where being gay is a reason to suicide. Homophobia, just as xenophobia, are on the story of Japan.

    And, as a traditional country, this kind of thinking won't disappear that soon.

    A-chan was just created that way. In Japan, people that aren't straight refer themselves as neither as well.

    I'm from Brazil, and here the intimacy level is HUGE, we hug each other for anything. If I go to Japan and hug someone suddenly, they will talk the same things to me, and act like I'm not polite. But I was raised like this, and I don't see any problem about it, so as A-chan when she "said" it.

    People have to remember that the world don't spin around themselves, and that there are different cultures and costumes for each country...

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    1. Okay, it makes me feel better that someone who is gay shares the same feelings I do.

      And THANK YOU. Culturally, Japan has different views regarding homosexuality. It takes awhile for these kind of views to change; just see how long it's taking in the US!

      I learned in my Spanish class that a lot of South American/Central American countries are a little more intimate which I think is pretty cool! And it just goes to show that there are a lot of cultural differences that don't always match up with viewpoints from other countries.

      I think a lot of people don't realize or accept this, saying that just because a culture's different shouldn't be an excuse. But I think it SHOULD at least be taken into consideration.

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  2. I like how the person who wrote the post called anyone who disagreed with them ignorant, even though they evidently didn't know Japanese and didn't really know anything about homosexuality in Japan.

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    1. They sounded very hypocritical, not to mention overly defensive. I found their comments to be incredibly insulting. And I love how anyone who is actually informed in Japanese attitudes toward homosexuality and provided rational, objective thoughts was quickly shot down by the reposter and labeled as a "butthurt" fan.

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  3. Nicely done, Nia. You have asked all the right sceptical questions and your analysis of the bias in the repost, as well as the community's response, is refreshingly cogent.

    If I have anything to add it's that the use of simple punctuation can have a devastating effect on skewing a statement. Take the quote: 'Overseas, there were more men than women, and also people who were neither!' and ask yourself 'how do we know she said that with all the emphasis that exclamation point imparts?' If she were merely speaking matter-of-factly the sentence should instead end in a period and would seem completely uncontroversial. The use of an exclamation or a period dramatically changes how her observation is received. But even if there were some emphasis in her delivery, what was she trying to convey? Shock? Excitement? Amazement? It's not fair to speculate without bearing witness to the original interview, her body language and facial expressions, not to mention being fluent in her native language and its nuances.

    If there's one thing scepticism has taught me it's not to rush to judgement on emotionally charged, second hand, and likely misinterpreted evidence that you have no way of vetting for yourself.

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    1. Thanks, I just really had to get off my chest all this irritation regarding this entire incident.

      You bring up a wonderful point about punctuation. Especially since there are differences between English punctuation and Japanese punctuation. Again, the fact that this was a translated interview that didn't provide the original transcript. You're absolutely right, there is simply not enough to go on from just this interview to know what A-chan was truly trying to express in her comments. I hope that she wasn't trying to demean a certain group of people, but we don't know. And yet people are jumping to conclusions about what she said despite the lack of evidence.

      I don't like judging things until I have the full story either. I think this entire incident is a good example of why.

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  4. To be honest, this is a problem that is endemic to Asian pop fandom in the West in general. There is very little quality control with regards to how information is being disseminated. Concerning the original article, Robert Michael Poole appear at least to be someone who's living in Japan and would have some adequate knowledge of what Japan is like. That said, we don't know anything about how this interview was conducted: was it through a translator, or did Poole speak Japanese with them? Was there a Japanese transcription, or did he jot down what Perfume said in English during the interview already? These are important details to consider before you launch an attack on someone's character for what that person supposedly said.

    At the very least, it doesn't seem Poole himself doesn't pass any value judgment within his own article. It seems to me that he didn't know that much about Perfume going into the interview, and decided to do some research, and threw out what found to augment the actual interview into a coherent article. He certainly didn't seem to actually point to that comment as homophobic himself. It's only when that Arama poster got his/her hands on this article that this whole thing was twisted into this huge scandal. It's a style of "reporting" that I've found quite common in these half-blog half-news sites, taking out small details and blowing it up into some sort of giant debate. It turns into context-free free-for-all Internet brawl that at the end of the day contributes negative value to these big social issues. It's basically teenagers/adults who are behaving like teenagers but really should know better, thinking that their opinions are much more important than what they are actually worth, screaming at each other in their echo chambers.

    Oh, I'm not a fan of Perfume and barely listen to any of their music. I don't know anything about any of their three members. If I'm forced to judge this A-chan based on that one translated personal story, I'd say she's more just ignorant of LGBTs and their issues. Her choice of word, if that was her choice of word, was poor, but it showed absolutely no malice. I have no idea how, given the way she set up that comment and her tone, anyone could say this is homophobic. Now her nonintentional disrespect towards LGBT people does perhaps point to a general problem in Japan regarding homosexuality that is certainly worth discussing. But simply equating ignorance with hate only hurts the LGBT cause. Compare what she said with what someone like Orson Scott Card says about homosexuality. THAT'S homophobia.

    Sorry for the long rambling post.

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    1. You're right, I shouldn't have jumped to conclusions about the original interview. I'm sure Robert Poole is a very professional journalist, and it was foolish of me to jump to conclusions about his character and opinions. I think it just bothered me that not all the circumstances were displayed. Then the Arama repost emerged, and I just go really angry and some of that anger may have been misdirected. Still, I stand by what I've written, and all I can do is apologize.

      As a fan of Perfume, I don't think the three of them, especially A-chan, would intentionally make homophobic comments. What A-chan said mainly came off as ignorant in the most naive way possible. If anything, it does reflect Japan's view on homosexuality. And shouldn't this be the issue at hand rather than one comment from a Japanese celebrity? Unlike hate, ignorance is much easier to solve. Thank you for bringing up Orson Scott Card; if anything can be classified as homophobia, it's his outlook on it.

      It's okay! Long rambling posts are my favorites to read!

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  5. I want to make a post about this but all I really have to say is this:

    HOW IS THIS COMMENT CONSIDERED HOMOPHOBIC WHEN SO MANY JAPANESE ARE IGNORANT WHEN IT COMES TO SITUATIONS LIKE THIS? WHERE DID SHE SAY "EW, GAYS ARE NASTY AND I WAS CREEPED OUT!"?? NOWHERE, YOU BASTARDS. STOP THROWING AROUND SENSITIVE TERMS.

    *rage*

    Yeah, you see. That'd be my whole post. I can't take when people throw terms like homophobic and racist around. They're such serious words and should not be taken as lightly as people do now.

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    1. Oh, Dyamond. That's pretty much the same sentiment I have about all this... It really bothers me too that terms like homophobic and racist are so casually tossed around on the Internet. I'm sure people have good intentions, but the way they're going about using these two words is doing more harm than good to both LGBT and racial equality.

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