Sometimes I Wish I Got Off as Easily as Vampire Weekend

The kids aren’t alright ;-(

My challenge to you META no TAME and Neojaponisme readers: name one of the 10,000 ways this essay could have been written to make the same point about Harajuku without being a pointed personal take-down of me.

Sheesh, it’s like 2004 again or something.

W. David MARX
March 31, 2008

52 Responses

  1. lauren Says:

    I thought you guys had a ceasefire agreement??

    But without that’s post I wouldn’t have known this blog was here. I hope he didn’t out you like that time when he revealed your wife’s ID to the masses. Good times!

  2. W. David MARX Says:

    I thought we had a ceasefire too. In the sense that I don’t write about him anyway, and I told him to stop writing about me. All that quiet makes it too tempting for a sucker punch, I guess.

    Next he’s going to collect all the unflattering pictures of me on Flickr and make some kind of story up that justifies their use.

  3. lauren Says:

    He states in the comments he wouldn’t do it if you weren’t so mean about certain things.

  4. lauren Says:

    Sorry, that was very unclear. I meant that it’s silly to call *you* mean to justify his meanness.

  5. Mitsuko Says:

    I left an admittedly snarky but not nasty comment on his blog wondering why he still bothered with the Marxy-bashing, but he screened it out.

  6. H. Says:

    I think poor old Momus has been feeling a tad wounded ever since the New York Times deemed his blog “dullsville” and “a chore to get through.” Hence his need to lash out at more readable blogs!

  7. Susan Says:

    Momus seems to have a strange obsession with you. I guess you’re some kind of threat to him. You’re a threat to the “Mr Japan” role he plays on Click Opera, since you actually live and work there and speak the language and so on. You’re a threat because you’re two decades younger and you also put out indie albums. That’s how I read it, anyway.

  8. Aceface Says:

    “I think poor old Momus has been feeling a tad wounded ever since the New York Times deemed his blog “dullsville” and “a chore to get through.” ”

    Well,NYT is not known for readable Japan-reporting either.

    So you guys do read each others blog.
    That reminds me of an anectode that Chyukaku-ha’s propaganda”前進”‘s best readers are Kaku-maru members and vice-versa for Kaku-maru’s “解放”.

  9. Jared Says:

    To answer your question, Marxy:

    1. He could have included any sociological analysis, instead of assuming that Japan is a classless society, which reinforces the neo-Orientalist idea that Harajuku fashion is a result of the fact that Japanese people are just so totally cool. “Japanese creativity”: sorry, how is that different from Western creativity?

    2. He could have dropped the art vs. marketing hook, which contradicts his usual position as one of those anything-goes post-modernists who see no difference between art and capitalism.

    3. He could have actually paid attention to your argument, which seems to be that Harajuku fashion is insufficiently top-down, and that’s a bad thing for democracy (not that he ever cares about Japanese democracy; see #1). He says you’re giving props to marketing spooks and denigrating the kids, I read your essay the other way around.

  10. M-Bone Says:

    “could have been written to make the same point about Harajuku without being a pointed personal take-down of me.”

    It couldn’t have – it only exists as a takedown of you. You’re his favorite structuralist (is that what you are?) punching bag. He seems to attack with “Japan is uniquer!”

    “since you actually live and work there and speak the language and so on.”

    Momus doesn’t speak Japanese? That might explain the love of cultural relativism.

  11. lauren Says:

    Momus does not think that he needs to be able to speak the language and summarily rejects it as a real hindrance to understanding Japan/its people. I can’t remember his justification for this, but I didn’t find it particularly convincing.

  12. M-Bone Says:

    “I can’t remember his justification for this, but I didn’t find it particularly convincing.”

    I’m not surprised, it strikes me as difficult to make a justification like that sound convincing. I am curious, however, as to how someone could even attempt such a justification – does anyone have a link? I did a quick Google search and didn’t find any direct statements.

  13. Fionn Says:

    he is so bitter. No wonder he covers his blog with light and fluffy images. It’s the opposite of his seething hate-brain!

  14. lauren Says:

    Here’s something to start you off, M-Bone:

    Click Opera – Why I don’t speak Japanese
    http://imomus.livejournal.com/32969.html

    Everything he says there is all fine and good in and of itself. But acting like impaired language ability has little to do with comprehensive understanding of the culture is fucking ridiculous. I couldn’t quickly find any examples of anyone going “b-b-but you don’t speak Japanese, Momus!” and him actually addressing it, though I found a couple of times where someone mentions it, but it isn’t addressed.

    see also: http://www.expatica.com/de/life_in/leisure/remaining-foreign-an-interview-with-momus-32650.html

  15. looppsf Says:

    To Momus:

    moral relativism is bullshit

    booyah

  16. LS Says:

    This was your father’s blog. An elegant weapon for a more civilized age.

  17. W. David MARX Says:

    I am not sure if there’s any new insights to be had about why Momus writes these essays or has such a desire to lash out at me. I also am bummed out that I have to play the victim card like this to make myself feel better after the assault.

    He says you’re giving props to marketing spooks and denigrating the kids, I read your essay the other way around.

    I am not sure what he thinks marketers do, but I have to say I always think I’m clearly the most cynical and skeptical trend-spotter I’ve ever heard of. My message is not that “kids suck and let’s exploit them”: my message is “Japanese youth have traditionally been overly-influenced by the media, and we try to deny this narrative in various ways, aiming to make consumers sound like they have more free agency than they really do.”

    If Momus really wants to start embracing popular trends among Japanese youth, he ought to stop talking about Togawa Jun and start praising O-nii-kei fashion, Minimaru GT, the sub-Sweet Valley High conventionality of keitai novels.

  18. LS Says:

    I have to say that in my limited immersive experience with Japanese culture that the lack of concern for “grassroots” authenticity was enormously refreshing. Momus’s apparent desire to defend Harajuku’s originality and creativity and Marxy’s somewhat gloomy debunking of the “Harajuku myth” are two sides of an argument that perhaps only Westerners care about. It’s the pathology of a culture in which “I liked their first album better” is a socially essential idiom. Aren’t we (Westerners) crippled by the idea of the true self and the idea of fashion as the honest or dishonest, legitimate or illegitimate expression thereof?

    Maybe the kids just like to dress up.

  19. W. David MARX Says:

    They do like to dress up and they like to dress up in socially-legitimized ways. I have tried to say, it’s not grass-roots but that doesn’t make it bad, although I have been probably too subtle about it and my political leanings spoil it.

    I don’t think Harajuku needs “grass-roots” authenticity to be interesting. I just don’t think we need to attach “grass-roots” authenticity to it because it’s interesting.

  20. LS Says:

    I see your point, and we’re really having a discussion about the West, then, and not Japan. Westerners ascribe a bottom-up structure to Harajuku fashion because it is a way to validate its interestingness for a Western audience.

  21. W. David MARX Says:

    Yes, we are having a discussion about how the West views and projects upon Japan.

    Do most Tokyo people hold Harajuku in the same regard as the West? My guess is no. You ask and always just hear, “Oh those kids aren’t even from Tokyo,” which is like saying they are “bridge and tunnel” in NY. Not a compliment. FRUiTS was a huge step forward for the idea of creativity in Harajuku – it wasn’t an obvious or easy thing for Aoki to have stood up for these kids.

    But I think that FRUiTS also “distorted” the market from its “natural” state by creating a reward structure for fashion extremism. He couldn’t capture the streets without affecting them.

  22. LS Says:

    Schrödinger’s street fashion?

  23. Aceface Says:

    I’m I the only one who thinks it’s good for this blog to have a nemesis like Momus?
    I mean he does give you some elevated position as the one who is worth mocking,right?

    Jared:
    “Harajuku fashion is insufficiently top-down, and that’s a bad thing for democracy ”

    I laughed here,but then again since Japanese democracy WAS built from top-down,it makes sense.

  24. W. David MARX Says:

    I wish this blog had a nemesis. Not me.

  25. Curtis Says:

    I hope you’re not referring to my photo of you being unflattering — on the other hand, anybody will look bad next to the chameleonic item idem.

    I just can’t take Momus seriously. I actually like his blog, but only look at the photos. :-)

  26. Rory P. Wavekrest Says:

    “I wish this blog had a nemesis.”

    YeOldeJaponisme.com

  27. feffrey Says:

    He’s angry cos’ you is right.

  28. lauren Says:

    Aceface, I think that Momus provides an excellent alternate viewpoint to marxy. Even if I don’t agree, I almost always have to reconsider – a very good thing. But it’s not productive to the discussion to attribute every point of contention to some personal flaw of marxy’s.

  29. W. David MARX Says:

    Sorry, let’s be clear here: Momus does not offer an “alternative” viewpoint on Japanese society based on a coherent philosophy. He shifts positions to wherever his opponents look most vulnerable, and if you call out hypocrisy or incoherency, he states that being coherent is not important. If you point out that he is incorrect, he points out that being “interesting” is better than being “right.” When you question his intentionally-warped readings of your statements, he accuses you of “making it personal” to avoid answering the questions. When you try to settle things by answering his charges, he changes the subject to another line of attack or finds the same imaginary scandalous reading in what you’ve said.

    He holds an imaginary version of you up to absolute standards and then claims that he is a relativist. He forces you into the ring by the most childish insults couched in rhetoric, pivots around you, punches you in the back of the head, and then asks why you play so dirty.

    Actually, maybe this is just how he treats me, since I seem to be the single person he rages against on a constant basis.

    In the past, I have confused Momus’ attacks on me as an opportunity for counter-argument and self-examination. In the last five years, however, responding to these criticisms has brought me absolutely nothing other than instigating more usually-baseless and distorted attacks.

    Since Momus’ tirades against me very much impact my emotional state and waste my time, I from this day forth will no longer read, comment, or acknowledge the existence of Click Opera, Momus, or Nick Currie. I don’t mean this as a dramatic gesture, to be quoted outside of this blog. I simply see this as the only way I can try to prevent any further outbreaks of this mean rash.

    I hope you all have enjoyed this very one-sided and ultimately petty “rivalry,” but my life is too short to keep wasting precious time on damage control from flailing and mean-spirited attacks.

  30. Joseph K Says:

    Gaah depressing.

    Yes, we are having a discussion about how the West views and projects upon Japan.

    What? Somebody didn’t understand this already? All the “rebukes” I can remember from you are of rose-coloured articles from foreign press.

    If Momus really wants to start embracing popular trends among Japanese youth, he ought to stop talking about Togawa Jun and start praising O-nii-kei fashion, Minimaru GT, the sub-Sweet Valley High conventionality of keitai novels.

    This reads a bit like fighting words. In his second last paragraph he states that the people he talks about aren’t “”the kids” or represent a democratic movement, a grassroots creativity”.
    I think you made the right decision in lowering your cynical tone for these new blogs and trying to drop the nemesis thing. So, I dunno, maybe relax with the “should”s?

    Schrödinger’s street fashion?

    Made me laugh out loud, that did.

  31. Aceface Says:

    Lauren:
    I agree,But you know what,the thread gets 30 posts within less than 24 hours and that’s not a but thing for this blog,and it does show the loyal marxists either love or love to hate Momus,a lot.
    Not a bad blog topic,me think.
    And at least the topic put you back to posting which has been lost for long time!

    Marxy:
    Calm down,young man.Do you think Nich Currie chose his alias after Morning Musume?It comes from Greek god of mockery!
    He’s playing his game and you shouldn’t play with his.But you know what,he wouldn’t want to waste his own short and precious life for you,had you not written some topics that intersts him and persuade him to think worth mocking.I never really read his blog and had never posted any comment there,so I can’t say much,but it is a good thing that you stop reading his.

    BTW,you all think Harajuku is not that interesting fashion area?If so,why do I see so many tourists with camera taking pictures?
    The kid’s clothes might have been inspired more from various teen-magazines than their own creations,but who exactly is a “grass-rooted” fashionista?Mahatma Gandhi? And most of the beautiful people in Soho and Beverly Hills are not the real locals but probably from Nowheresville,USA too.

  32. M-Bone Says:

    “”but who exactly is a “grass-rooted” fashionista? Mahatma Gandhi?”

    That’s an interesting point. Marxy, do you have an opinion as to what constitutes an “ideal” fashion production / consumption environment?

  33. feffrey@gmail.com Says:

    That’s an interesting point. Marxy, do you have an opinion as to what constitutes an “ideal” fashion production / consumption environment?

    Here’s my stab -there is no ideal fashion/consumption environment. There’s just fashion, consumption and the ecosystem that surrounds it. At a quick skim I think that’s the point.

  34. Saru Says:

    Hey, Marxy, how about a heads-up before linking to Click Opera–I feel like I’ve been Rick Rolled! I long ago made the decision you made above, and was glad his endless drivel about “You said ‘termial’!” disappeared from your comment section.

  35. Jolly Says:

    Maybe you could sue him for character defamation and then he could ask folks to bail him out with 2 cds of unlistenable simpering bullshit masquerading as music. Just a thought.
    Oh wait, that would involve the Japanese court system, and certain parties could only recite ‘sensual’ words like “boner” in Japanese in their defense.
    OH, SNAP!

  36. lauren Says:

    Aceface: I’m quite amazed you remember me! But it’s true, the sheer drama of this has brought me back here. I guess I never really made the transition from Neomarxisme for whatever reason (maybe Neojaponisme seemed a bit too esoteric for me? I can’t remember.), but I’m here now and this all feels very familiar. Like Marxy said, it’s 2004 all over again.

    But the funny thing is, I also quit reading Click Opera, but for some reason I decided to check out that particular post. I could have easily missed the whole thing! I think it was the weird emoticon in the title that drew me it. Apparently I can smell this storm in a teacup from a mile away.

  37. M-Bone Says:

    “Marxy, do you have an opinion as to what constitutes an “ideal” fashion production / consumption environment?”

    Perhaps we should follow up on this at another time. Talking about it now may cause another Momus rant.

  38. W. David MARX Says:

    With all this Harajuku stuff, my criticism has not been that it’s a BAD market because it’s top-down, rather we should stop celebrating it for its perfect embodiment of “bottom-up” cultural creation. As I stated at UCLA, maybe kids actually enjoy copying top-down styles and dressing exactly like Ebi-chan; there is a Western bias in thinking that dressing in an individual, non-directed style is the goal for everyone.

    I am not sure there is or needs to be an “ideal” fashion system. Harajuku leads the world in terms of concentration and output, but I am saying, we can’t take that positive result and project it backwards to prove a perfectly bottom-up model.

  39. LS Says:

    Marxy, do you have an opinion as to what constitutes an “ideal” fashion production / consumption environment?

    It’s the subject/object dichotomy that we’re tripping over here. Much like the cat in the box is both alive and dead until you open the lid to look, no coherent “fashion” exists until it moves through legitimizing systems of outside observation and validation. That’s just it’s nature. So we should simply leave behind the idea of a non-prescriptive fashion environment. Before the photographers arrive, the waveform has yet to collapse.

    The unacceptability of the dead-alive cat and of authentic-inauthentic fashion plays up our Cartesian anxiety a bit, though. Perhaps revelations resulting from work at the Large Hadron Collider will finally resolve the Momus/Marxy wars, along with the absurdities of quantum mechanics.

  40. Aceface Says:

    “maybe kids actually enjoy copying top-down styles and dressing exactly like Ebi-chan; there is a Western bias in thinking that dressing in an individual, non-directed style is the goal for everyone.”

    That’s more of YOUR bias and not “western”,no?

    I mean,do I really see that many Ebi-chan type in Harajuku?I know I do in Roppongi or Aoyama or Ginza,but Harajuku actually attracts more variety of people.I’m not in the position to preach you the existence of Ura-hara street brands or Goth-loli girls or Rockabilly folks,but they are,in a way that make Harakyuku different from other part of the city and that’s what attracts these teens coming all the way from Kisarazu or Utsunomiya,and armies of foreign tourist with cameras.I shouldn’t overstate the creativity per se(especially,now the street culture has shifted to Akihabara and by completely different group of people),but you are undermining it too much,me think.

    And about Japanese uniformality.You see,I was living in New York in the mid 80′s,and when GUESS jeans was a boom at the time.Almost everyone was wearing that stone-wash denims in the class.When REEBOK was in,everyone was wearing that sneakers with that tiny Union Jack is on.
    And there was the John Hughes movie “Pretty In Pink”starring Molly Ringwald,about a girl in the marginal position in highschool campus,who expresses hereself by dressing unlike everyone else.
    So I thought,hey it’s the same as anywhere else.

    Reading statement like that,I have to say Momus does have some point in his argument,though he is not presenting it that well.

  41. Aceface Says:

    Above statements are coming from a dude wearing a pajama his wife bought in UNIQLO,mind you.

  42. W. David MARX Says:

    So I thought,hey it’s the same as anywhere else.

    American and European also filter down in similar patterns, but Japan has a much more impressive infrastructure for planning out trends and transmitting them to the public. What other country has 115 fashion magazines – mostly dedicated to catalog display of products?

    I mean,do I really see that many Ebi-chan type in Harajuku?

    If you look at both Harajuku and Omotesando, I think there are plenty of Ebi-chans walking up and down the street. (I saw a girl the other day with EXACT flower paisley dress that Ebi wore in the March or April issue of CanCam.) Moreover, less extreme Harajuku girls also follow mass trends. Right now, look how many people are wearing those flower print bohemian dresses over denim etc.

    That’s more of YOUR bias and not “western”,no?

    I think those interested in fashion in the West generally feel this way. This is the “politics” that pushes them towards fashion. They are ones most likely to write about fashion too.

  43. Aceface Says:

    “I saw a girl the other day with EXACT flower paisley dress that Ebi wore in the March or April issue of CanCam.”

    Awwlright,You won about invasion of Ebi-chan acolytes in Harajyuku/Omotesando.I think I can see that trend especially the Omotesando is now becoming more and more like a duty-free shop at the airport.
    But if you extend the area to Yoyogi Park and Takeshita doori,Ebi-channess is not entirely dominant.

    “What other country has 115 fashion magazines – mostly dedicated to catalog display of products?”

    So that may be the proof of diversity and not uniformity in the Japanese fashion?

  44. W. David MARX Says:

    So that may be the proof of diversity and not uniformity in the Japanese fashion?

    That’s a good point, but there is an almost uniformity in CONTENT structure. Even Kera is based around advertorial. CanCam and Spur are different as night and day when it comes to fashion (OL vs. high-fashion), and yet each has at least 1/3 of its pages dedicated to “tie-up.”

  45. Aceface Says:

    What is the differnce between MAXIM and LOADED,NATURAL HISTORY and SMITHONIAN,TIME and NEWSWEEK,HARPER’S and VANITY FAIR,VOGUE and ELLE?
    They all look identical to my eyes.

    I think this has something to do with conservatism in editorial policy since they all try to make a mag as cheap and as profitable as their rivals and this is universal.

  46. Wife Says:

    I guess it’s true that “every a**hole has a following,” because as horrible as Momus is, I see that he *still* somehow manages to maintain a readership chorus. He seems to be some sort of shepherd for the try-hard masses, but I don’t understand how anyone could actually be a “fan” of such a repulsive personality. Especially when his attacks on you prove that all of his “follow me, I will be your artsy, elitist god” arrogance is obviously just an act. Insecure, much?

    Marxy, don’t worry about him. He’s just out of control with fear that you have and/or will somehow surpass him or take his place. Know this: If he didn’t fear you, he wouldn’t feel such a need to tear you down and put you in your place. As someone else said, you’ve obviously made him feel threatened. You’ve got something on Momus and he knows it. You win.

  47. ffffffff butts Says:

    I just want to say that these recent posts have very much clarified a lot of things for me in response to the positions you’ve taken on the blog, and just want to say thanks for the info and conversation, I find it incredibly interesting.

  48. Davide Says:

    I know this might ignite more unwanted controversy, but one of the reasons why I find myself drawn to Neojaponisme has to do with its attempt to (honestly) maintain a certain kind of academic integrity. Momus’ free intellectualism does little for me and my research, while your attempt to discuss popular culture by building on ideological histories and foundations is refreshing and insightful.

  49. M-Bone Says:

    I second Davide’s opinion. I don’t think that Marxy would have any trouble getting an article through academic peer review. I absolutely can’t see Momus’ inconsistent cultural generalizations flying.

  50. statiq Says:

    Up to now this has actually been very positive for the both of you, both wouldn’t be as read without the divergence in point of view and all the succeeding internet drama.

    The white and skinny Biggie and Tupac Shakur of orientalism…

  51. W. David MARX Says:

    I don’t think that Marxy would have any trouble getting an article through academic peer review.

    For the record, I very intentionally mix any academic-type analysis with social criticism, so I think most of my writing would NOT be ready for scholarly journals without being rewritten from a relatively neutral standpoint.

    The white and skinny Biggie and Tupac Shakur of orientalism.

    Orientalism, huh?

  52. M-Bone Says:

    “without being rewritten from a relatively neutral standpoint.”

    Indeed. I didn’t mean that you could take a Neojaponisme article and have it accepted right away, but I do think that you could write something for a journal for scratch without much trouble. There are also some academic forums that welcome an social criticism approach.