Since the 1980s and 1990s, cultural commodities produced in Britain and Japan have enjoyed an upsurge in global popularity, thus encouraging the state in the two countries (and in others) to look to “culture” as a lucrative source of economic revenue. Cultural policy and Japanese Studies scholars often foreground the newness of this phenomenon, rather than explain how historical conditions have shaped the British and Japanese cultural industries. My dissertation demonstrates how an earlier history of Anglo-Japanese relations informs this recent turn to cultural commodity production and export. This historical awareness helps us recognise how seemingly innocuous forms of Japanese consumer behaviour and state policy today replicate economic relations and cultural hierarchies established in the context of informal Western imperialism in East Asia more than a century ago.
Why do young Japanese women today “choose” to consume British “high” cultural goods, such as English Heritage tourist attractions and Harrods tea? Why do the Japanese state and cultural industries “choose” to focus their energies on exporting popular culture products under the banner of “Cool Japan”? By comparing British and Japanese neo-Victorian texts – ranging from A.S. Byatt’s novel Possession and its film adaptation to Harrods advertising and the Lady Victorian manga series – I demonstrate that these “choices” are motivated by a desire to acquire elite forms of cultural capital associated with the image of “Victorian Britain.” In invoking “the Victorian” through their detailed depictions of textiles, tea, and other 19th-century paraphernalia, Japanese neo-Victorian manga in particular indicate that the flow of luxury goods from Britain to Japan in the 19th century was responsible for engendering this desire for cultural capital. This longstanding yearning for an aristocratic “Englishness,” I argue, drives Japanese companies and consumers to continue enriching the British economy long after the heyday of British imperialism in East Asia in the 19th century. Yet on the other hand, the Japanese cultural industries compete with the British heritage industry in promoting a deliberately “popular” form of Japanese culture, thereby giving rise to competition and collaboration between these two cultural empires in the global creative economy.
I am currently revising the dissertation for publication as a book entitled "Empire of Culture: Neo-Victorian Fiction and the Global Creative Economy."
"Spreading the Word: What Fifty Shades of Grey Means for World Literature"
I am currently writing up a journal article on Fifty Shades, which derives from a teaching assignment for the "Modern World Literatures" course I taught at Warwick in 2015/2016. How does the global popularity of Fifty Shades complicate our understanding of World Literature as “literary works that circulate beyond their culture of origin,” and which are “actively present within a literary system beyond that of its original culture” (Damrosch)? By applying the practice of close reading to a novel few would call “literature,” this article uses Fifty Shades as a premise to rethink existing paradigms in the field of World Literature.
I have also published an op-ed piece on Fifty Shades for JSTOR Daily. "Fifty Shades of Affective Labour for Capital" was published on 17 January 2018 to coincide with the release of the Fifty Shades Freed movie adaptation.
Since the early 2000s, there has been an emergence of romance novels, films, television dramas, and blogs that feature romantic, familial, and fraternal relationships connecting people and places, especially global cities, in East Asia and North America, Europe, and Australia. The South Korean television drama, Assorted Gems [Boseok bibimbap] (2009 – 2010) opens with an American man renting a small room in a Korean family’s cramped home. The drama emphasises the man’s ordinariness, as he mingles with the locals and forms an ambiguous friendship/romance with one of the daughters of his landlord. This on-screen multicultural conviviality mirrors that in Eat Your Kimchi, a blog created by a Canadian couple who have lived in Korea and Japan, and who are fans of K-drama, anime, and other Korean and Japanese popular culture products exported worldwide.
This conviviality forms a stark contrast to rising nationalism and xenophobia in the United States, Europe, and East Asia. It prompts us to discover transnational forms of solidarity both smaller and larger than the nation and the region. My project examines popular love-story narratives set in East Asia and asks, how does the transnational circulation of highly emotional popular culture texts create transnational communities united by feelings of love, friendship, and kinship?
Moto, Naoko. Lady Victorian [Redii Vikutorian]. Vol. 5. Tokyo: Akita Shoten, 2001.
James, E. L. Fifty Shades of Grey. London: Arrow Books, 2012.
Assorted Gems [Boseok bibimbap] (2009-2010)