Some controversy has erupted because of the new Avril Lavigne video, “Hello Kitty”. You can watch it here, but be forewarned that it may cause seizures:
The video has sparked mixed emotions among most people, including many Japanese. Some say that the video is offensive because it is racist, while others say that it is offensive because the music is terrible and the video poorly done.
It is easy to mistakenly assume that someone is perpetuating a racist stereotype, when in fact this is not the case. Recall that when the film Lost in Translation came out, many people accused the film of being racist because of they thought Matthew Minami was parodying an off-the-wall Japanese talk show host–they did not realize that he is an off-the-wall Japanese talk show host, doing what he does best. And of course, many years ago, a young music critic in a Dallas newspaper ripped into Linda Ronstadt because she had a “fake” mariachi band open her concert. He was astonished by her show of insensitivity and poor taste in perpetuating racial stereotypes with this “parody” of Mexican music. A day later, the Dallas newspaper was forced to print a retraction, as Ronstadt is in fact part Mexican, and as the mariachi band was in fact a nationally recognized group from Mexico. Far from perpetuating a stereotype, Ronstadt was showcasing and celebrating an important part of her own culture.
There is this element in play, which is why someone such as Moe Lane defends Lavigne’s new video because he finds it not so different from this real video from Japan:
However, Lane misses an important point: This is a Japanese woman being wacky and weird. This is not a foreigner aping the wackiness and weirdness one sometimes finds in Japan.
A comparable parallel would be white minstrel performers in 19th century America. It is true that they began by merely aping black minstrel performers, but within a very short time their routines were no longer a tribute to the black culture, but a mockery of it.
Lavigne tried hard to include nearly every cultural stereotype she could find for inclusion in this video. Indeed, the purpose of the video is consciously to make money by tying into Japanese camp. However, while most Japanese might acknowledge that videos such as “Ponponpon” are wacky, the Japanese themselves do not consider them campy. If they spark any laughter, it is because Japanese people are laughing with other Japanese people, and not at them. Lavigne, on the other hand, invites us to laugh at them.
If this is not racist, what is?