Christina M. Spiker

Christina M. Spiker

Art Historian | Professor | Digital Humanist

Lessons Learned from Mechademia 2016

Mechademia PosterWell, back to the grind after a crazy week of Asian pop culture madness. Mechademia was a lot of fun, and the weekend felt like such a whirlwind! Hard to believe it came and went. Here are some general reflections on the conference.

  • This year’s theme was “worldbuilding,” and the papers of the conference took unique approaches to the concept. From Leticia Andlauer‘s  ruminations on otome gemu and the ways that fans in France build their own worlds through avatar creation and imagined romance to artist/engineer Yuzuru Nakagawa‘s engagement with theories by Otsuka Eiji and Ito Go and his proposal for a new theory of animation from the artist’s perspective that embraces the technical necessity of realistic backdrops to support symbolic characters; it seemed that “worldbuilding” manifested in many surprising ways. Sean C. Hill asked us to interpret the world of Haruhi Suzumiya through a Jungian lens, radically changing the way we perceive the characters and the protagonist’s mind, while Cindi Textor sutured the global and the local in her exploration of the Korean animation Wonderful Days. The keynote lecture by Mark J. P. Wolf titled “Building a Better World: Utopias, Dystopias, and Imagined Futures” explored the history of visual representations of utopia and dystopia, and the potentiality of applying visionary thinking often found in movies and games to real world problems. Rather than remaining in the realm of textual analysis, Wolf challenged us to think beyond the fictional world to the real life applicability of invention and design.
  • In some ways, the conference represented an interdisciplinary crashing of worlds! It made concrete the fact that scholars and students who work on popular culture hail from many fields, and the study of these objects and communities cannot be bounded within a single disciplinary framework. We saw scholars from Asian Studies, Game Studies, English & Comparative Lit, Sociology, Communications, Psychology, Art and Art History, Media Studies, Film Studies, etc. On the one hand, this is liberating! On the other, it makes me realize that we have a lot of work to do to make our ideas truly relatable across disciplinary lines. At these kinds of conferences, it becomes crucial for each of us to do the rhetorical work necessary to make our ideas accessible, and I realize that everyone (including myself) has a way to go before hitting that sweet note.
  • Every conference should have a creative element. I think this is a real strength of Mechademia. Perhaps it is working in a combined Art/Art History department, but I am always thinking about how much I have to learn from my studio colleagues. The conference combined traditional academic panels with creative workshops (on digital painting, cosplay, etc), anime screenings, short film screenings, and a fashion show; and the synergy was something to behold. I think bearing witness to the creative process allows us to reflect back at our own scholarship as a creative act.
  • This was my first time live-tweeting an entire conference. I learned a lot through the process of doing it (although I still have a lot to learn from @racgonz, who introduced me to the idea). But it was a fun process to record the ephemerality of a conference and your evolving thoughts throughout the weekend. Somehow, it kept me on my toes as I thought through my questions for each panelist.

So that wraps up an action-packed weekend! I still feel like I need more feedback to recognize some of the shortcomings of my argument about Street Fighter II and Samurai Spirits, so I will be looking for a new venue to field some other aspects of the project. Slowly, my ideas are materializing…

Gender and Race in Street Fighter II and Samurai Shodown: Presentation at Mechademia

I am continuing my journey down the rabbit hole of Japanese arcade fighting games with a presentation at Mechademia: Conference on Asian Popular Cultures at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. The program is forthcoming, but I will be presenting “Fighting Stereotypes: Reimagining Gender and Race in Street Fighter II (1991) and Samurai Shodown (1993)” on September 25th. Our panel is on the Global and Local, and runs from 10-12pm.

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I have had a personal goal of participating in Mechademia in some way, shape, or form ever since I began teaching Japanese visual culture. My students at both UC Irvine and St. Olaf College took well to the myriad essays found in the Mechademia series, which I hear they are rebooting with Mechademia 2.0, Volume 1 of the Second Arc on “Childhood.” I find many of the readings to be accessible to undergraduates, and they went a long way in offering alternative interpretations of the works we were screening in class. I hope that I will have an opportunity to use the series as a resource here at St. Kate’s. Regardless, it scares me to think that I’ve been reading essays from Mechademia since just before I entered graduate school… How time flies… Has it really been that long?

While my paper at Console-ing Passions focused primarily on Ainu representation in Samurai Shodown and its relationship to indigenous activism through the 1990s, the work I am presenting at Mechademia explores a different avenue of inquiry (although Nakoruru, Rimururu, and Mamahaha will still make a significant appearance). My preliminary research on arcade fighting games in Japan taught me one important lesson: there isn’t too much work being done in that arena. But games like Street Fighter II have so much potential to explore as both domestic and international products. While playing at world-building (and, in some cases, destroying), they also negotiate notions of gender and race with combat strength and Cold War politics. My paper will take a look at the image of Chun-Li in Street Figher II and Nakoruru of Samurai Shodown in an effort to start a conversation about the aesthetics of race and gender in the genre. It is an invigorating break from editing this chapter on the 19th century. So for now, I leave you with this epic image of Chun-Li about to kick butt as only she knows how.

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Lessons Learned from Console-ing Passions 2016

Well, I returned from the Console-ing Passions Conference at Notre Dame without any hardship, and I had a wonderful time exploring topics that are very much foreign territory for me. I think we, as academics, can learn a ton by attending and participating in events that are outside of our field, even if slightly. Here are my takeaways.

  • There was a lot of good discussion about issues of representation in everything from television to film to video games. Even my own paper focused on indigenous representation as frame of analysis. But during the forum “Back to Black: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Contemporary Media Industries,” Kristen J. Warner (University of Alabama, @kristenwarner) was reflecting on representations of blackness on TV and asked a question of the audience that has stuck with me: “Does representation even matter?” Do we cede ground in the fight when we accept a plastic or superficial representation just for the sake of diversity, rather than fighting for a nuanced, complex, and dynamic representation of race and gender. When so many arguments revolve around seeing diversity on TV in a visual manner, what happens when these fictional characters lose the texture of their culture, and the only thing authentic about them is literally surface? And is this really okay with us? Throughout the panels, this was a question that kept sneaking its way in to conversations, and one that I’m grappling with presently…
  • Another issue that was raised by presenters like Ron Krabill (University of Washington, Bothell) was regarding participatory media and a notion of radical reciprocity. He investigated the rhetoric of “global citizenship” ever present in college and university mission statements, and how this notion of becoming a global citizen is paired with creating global subjects. We strive to educate and “culture” students, and sending them abroad is a major component to this puzzle, but I do often find that students come back and talk about their own experiences and what they saw, rather than the communities they engaged with and people they met. I wonder why we do not discuss reciprocity in the discipline of art history or visual culture? How can we encourage this deeper kind of collaboration between students of different cultures so it is not just about a singular “experience”? After all, visual culture travels, and there is a lot of untapped potential in comparing different cultural approaches to its creation and analysis.
  • But the last thing that struck me was how much work needs to be done in other cultural contexts. The conference was great in so many ways, but many of the panels (and media studies/TV studies itself) seemed to be very focused on the United States. As the keynote, Aniko Imre (University of Southern California) explained, we often forget that media like television permeated a variety of cultures, including those east of the wall. She discussed soap operas in Eastern Europe (work that comes out of her new book, TV Socialism), and what fascinated me was how certain genres such as the soap opera take on entirely new dimensions when examined in a Czech, Polish, or Hungarian context. In effect, it destabilizes certain reified definitions of genre. Even in my own classroom on Japanese visual culture, my students watch portions of Japanese TV (commercials and all), and they are occasionally surprised at how the experience of watching television can be so radically different from their own. This kind of analysis raises crucial questions regarding how the medium itself communicates across space, and in the case of Imre’s work, challenges our perceptions of how TV under socialism operates.

The conference was enlightening for me, and I’m looking forward to engaging more explicitly with scholarship in this vein when I teach visual culture. I’ll be curious to see how different this will be from work that explicitly focuses on Japan at this year’s Mechademia at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.

 

Ainu and Video Games: Presentation at Console-ing Passions

This paper is a bit of a “break” from my recent research on visual and material culture in the late Meiji period. I will be chairing a panel at Console-ing Passions (International Conference on Television, Video, Audio, New Media and Feminism) on Japanese visual culture, with papers presented by Colleen Laird from Bates College (“Screened and Not Heard: The Transnational Treasure Text of Kikuchi Rinko”), and Sho Ogawa of the University of Kansas (“Internalizing Hybridity: Japan’s Gay Boom and Reconfiguring National Identity”). Our diverse panel will explore the convergence between media and gender studies in and out Japan.

Nakoruru’s stage background in the original Samurai Spirits (1993). Nothing like an Ainu man and woman surrounded by forest friends…

The paper I’m presenting is titled “Recasting the Indigenous: Virtual Ainu Ambassadors in Japan’s Samurai Spirits, 1993-2008.” This project has been on the back burner for a little while, but it is fun to get back into contemporary visual culture for a bit. I will be discussing the role of two female Ainu video game characters–Nakoruru and Rimaruru–from the video game Samurai Spirits (Samurai Shodown in the US). As the title hints, I have been trying to think through the role of these characters as cultural ambassadors in 1990s Japan. The topic feels timely with the impending creation of the new Ainu museum in Shiraoi in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where the marketing of Ainu culture will undoubtedly be important for Hokkaido tourism. In addition to investigating their domestic popularity, I’m also looking at the localization of these characters in the US. This is inspired by a class that I just finished teaching, Visual Culture in Modern Japan, where issues of localization kept creeping into our discussions. I’ve been thinking long and hard about the transformation of Ainu/indigenous visual signifiers when transported abroad to a culture with no framework to understand them.

楽しみにしています。

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