You are on page 1of 10

04/05/2015

M/CJournal

ResignificationandCulturalRe/Productionin
JapaneseTelevisionCommercials
ToddHolden
RespondToThisArticle
Volume4

Issue2

April2001

"Andthen"MarilynMonroehawkedaredcar,whileacrankysararimandebatedBill
Clinton,tothetuneof"AllYouNeedisLove":

Introduction
WhatdoMarilynMonroe,BusterKeaton,SalvadorDali,BillClintonandTheBeatleshavein
common?That'ssimplethesamethingasMikaelGorbachev,SadaharuOh,CharlieChaplin,the
MonaLisaandPeterRabbit.
Confused?
Well,thenitprobablywon'thelptolearnthatLadyDi,ElvisPresley,theBerlinWall,Natsume
SosekiandTheAddamsFamilyareallinthemix,aswell.
Stillstumped?
Don'tforgetErnestHemingwayandScottiePippin.
Brainfrappd?
AlbertEinstein.Bewitched
Uh,that'sa1970sAmericansitcomnotyourpresentstateofmind.
Allsharingtimewithmermaids,cowboys,ClarkKent,Batmanandthosemythicalriverimpscalled
"kappa".

Thelistisvirtuallyendless.Buttheanswertotheriddleisquitesimple:theyallmadeappearances
inJapanesetelevisioncommercialsin1999.1
Ofcourse,theseactors,actresses,writers,politicians,athletes,televisionandcartooncharacters,
paintings,andworldevents,weren'tallconjuredtostandbythemselves.Mostoftentheywere
juxtaposedwithJapaneseactors,insertedintoJapanesesettings,orbroughtintocontactwith
productsforsale.Inalargenumberofcasestheywerenotonlyintermingled,butmutated.Most
http://journal.mediaculture.org.au/0104/japtele.php

1/10

04/05/2015

M/CJournal

importantly,though,theappropriation,alterationandblendinggenerallyhadlesstodowith
commercialthanculturalcommunication.For,inJapan,whereadvertisingasagenreis
increasinglycharacterizedbydiminishingattentiontoproduct,2adsnowtendtoadopttheroleof
culturalhistorianasmuchasthatofcommodityhawkertheymorefrequentlynowserveassocial
commentatorratherthansimplypopularentertainer.Andtheinsertionofsuchexocultural
elementsintoadtextassiststheperformanceofthesenewagefunctions.
Indeed,theendlessstreamofGreekmyths,Hollywoodmovies,historicalevents,popularsongs,
scientists,athletesandnovelistsnowembeddedinaudiovisualspaceconstitutesaphenomenon.
Suchcontentispartandparcelofanongoingprocessofculturalenfoldinginwhichelementsfrom
beyondthespatial,temporaland/orideationalboundsofcontemporaryJapanareloadedinto15
secondcommercialcommunicationforimmediate,localconsumption.Itismycontentionthatthis
modeofdiscourseamountstoastrategyforinterpretingcontemporaryexperience.Importantly,it
isneitherapassivenorbenignform.Asthispaperseekstoshow,suchculturalenfoldinghas
importantconsequencesandfarreachingimplicationsforJapanesesociety.
Theintentionalinterminglingofpreviouslyunrelatedsymboliccontentfromalienspatiotemporal
contextsisacommunicationactIcall"resignification".

ResignificationExplained
Asitsnameimplies,resignificationisasemioticprocessmeaningthatitinvolvesthecreationof
meaningfromsigns.However,resignificationisaparticularkindofsemiosis:onewherenewsign
elements(signifiers,signifieds,signs,significations)areliftedfromtheiroriginalcontextsand
insertedintoothersemioticsequences,thoughnotalways(indeedseldom)inthepositionthey
occupiedintheirpriorincarnation.

Twoaspectsaremostsalientaboutresignification:first,strungtogetherinunrelentingsequence,
suchrecyclingamountstoaphenomenonofsociologicalimport.Mostespecially,because,
procedurally,resignificationbothreflectsandassistsculturalmutation.
Restated,therepeatedinsertionintoadtextofexospatial,exotemporalculturalimagesandideas
issopervasiveinJapantodaythatitmustqualifyasamajormodeofcommunicationawayin
whichoneofthemajorinstitutionsincontemporaryJapanesesociety(advertising)choosesto
interpretandprocesshumanexperience.Further,becausetwokindsofcasescanbefoundthose
inwhichresignificationseekstoreflectprevailingsocialreality,andthoseinwhichitappearsto
redefineitwecanhereaverthatresignificationissociallyre/productive.
Inotherwork,3Ihavedetailedthetechnicaldimensionsofresignificationthesevenways
inductivetreatmentofJapaneseadshassuggestedthatresignificationiseffected.Inthespace
thatremainshereIwouldliketofocusonexposition:introducinganumberofexamplesof
resignificationinJapaneseadvertisingtoday.FromthatempiricalbaseIwilldrawsomeinferences
aboutthenatureofJapanesesociety,thenclosebyspeculatingaboutthepossiblecultural
consequencesofthisphenomenon.

EvidenceofResignification:10RecentExamples
1. AnadforanicysprayfeaturesLeslieNielson,starofthe"NakedGun"filmseries.Here
though,Nielsonplaysamarshalinthewildwest,ratherthanamodernday,bigcity
detective.Nonetheless,Nielsonimportshiscinematicpersonaasabumbling,dimwitted
defenderofjusticeintothead.Hissheriffisaburlesque,sexistandsociallyinappropriate
hero.Thus,asthreevillainsseektobaithimbyrestraininganattractivebarmaid,Neilson
calmlystrollsoverandshootsthecoolsprayintothehelplesswoman'scleavage.Predictable
http://journal.mediaculture.org.au/0104/japtele.php

2/10

04/05/2015

M/CJournal

forthisgenre,thedamseloffersupanorgasmiccooofpleasure.
2. Apert,blondhairedwomancoiffedandclothedinthestyleofanAmericanhomemaker,
circa1970,standsinthedrivewayoutsidehersprawlingsuburbanhome.Allatonceshe
dropsintoacrouchandextendsherarmstowardherHondacompact.Jetsofpixiedust
emanatefromherfingertips.Cuttoacloseupofherbehindthewheel.Shewigglesher
noseandwrigglesherearsandsuddenlybabiesinstrollersandspotteddogsbegintotalk.
Forthepopculturallyliterate,thesearereferencestoproductsfromHollywood'srecent
past:television's"Bewitched",cinema's"LookWhoTalking","LookWho'sTalking,Too"and
"101Dalmatians".
3. Amustachioedmancladinearlytwentiethcenturyattirestrikesathoughtfulpose.Cut
fromthetableuponwhichhiselbowreststoanexterior,whereheisnowcontemplatinga
luxurycar.AlinedpaperwiththeJapanesescript"sorekare"("andthen")flashesonthe
screen.Atthisjunctureinasecondversionacatscampersbeneaththecarandtheman
stoopstocoaxitout.Bothpaperandcatarereferencessignifiersfromdeepculturaltext
employedtoassistadreadersindecodingtheman'sidentity.HeisSosekiNatsume,
arguablyJapan'smostesteemednovelist.Weknowthisnotonlyfromtheopeningpose
whichcomesfromafamousphotographbutalsofromthecues"AndThen"and"Iama
Cat",twoofhispublishedtitles.
4. Amidtwenties,shaggyhaired,waiflikemanslurpsinstantramenalongside:(a)former
SovietPresidentMikhailGorbachevashedelivershis1985"perestroika"speechtothe
Politburo(b)homerunkingSadaharuOh,asheswatshisworldrecordbreaking756th
homerunand(c)agroupofrevelersatoptheBerlinWallduringitsfestivedestruction.In
themostrecentversionthroughthewondersofroboticsandtapewizardrytheyoung
manexchangeshiscupofbrothforElvisPresley'sguitar.LikeWoodyAllen'sZelig,or
WinstonGroom's"ForrestGump",thisCupNoodlescampaignamendshistorybyinsertinga
fictionalprotagonistintoactualevents.
5. Topromoteitssystemofintegratedphotocopying,Canonemphasizestheabilitytoprint
realistic,highqualitycomputergeneratedandFaxtransmittedimages.Asprooftheyoffera
mediumtightshotofaJapanesemodelwithbareshouldersandunadornedhair.A
backgroundisetchedin,followedbyaquickflashoflight.Suddenlythemodelistransformed
intothelikenessoftheMonaLisa.Cutbacktotheoriginal,bareshoulderedshot,againa
flashoflight,andthewomanistransformedintoafamousJapaneseportrait.Finally,asthe
commercialcomestoaclose,themodelisshownonglossypaper,unspoolingfromthe
copier.SheisreclininginacostumeandposeidenticaltothatinGoya's"TheMajaClothed".
6. Thecarnamed"Rosso"("red"inItalian,"aka"inJapanese)andthemodel,UmemiyaAnna,
aredisplayedwiththeanchoredscript:"AnnaAkaRosso".Annaistintedredfromheadto
toe.Red,ofcourse,beingtheuniversalsignifierforpassionanddesire.4Notatrivialpoint,
asthesightoftheredAnnaisenoughtocausethebloodofamaleonlookertoboil.Steam
gushesfromhisearsageyserwhichprovesofsufficientforcetopropelAnna'sskirt
skyward.Duringthecourseofthewindyinterlude,Annastrugglestorestrainthehemof
herrisinggarment.Thesituation,aswellashergesture,isanunmistakableimitationof
MarilynMonroe'sturnonthesubwaygratein"TheSevenYearItch".5
7. Inanadforhairreplacement,amanisassaultedbygaleforcewinds.Heendsupbeing
blowndownthedustystreetonhisback,tossedlikearagdolluntilhemanagestolatch
ontoatree.Clearly,thesituationhelpsconveythatthiscompany'sproductworks,butwhy
isitanexemplarofresignification?Closescrutinyofthesecomparativephotossuggeststhat
theimagesfromthead(lowerright)arepainstakingreproductionsofasequencefroma
BusterKeatonmovie(upperleft).Thesearenotmerelyimagesinspiredby,noreven
modeledafteranearlierculturalproduct(asintheAnnaMonroecaseabove)theseare
frameforframereproductionswithaJapaneseactorstandinginforKeaton.
8. In1998,afteryearsoftrying,Japan'snationalsoccerteamfinallyqualifiedfortheWorld
Cup.Thegoalthatbookedtheirpassagewasdramaticallystruckinovertimebyasubstitute
player.Okano,thescruffy,shaggyhairedstriker,becameanationalhero,histriumphant
momentreplayedendlesslyonJapanesetelevisionandrehashedinthepress.Shortly
thereafter,Acom,amoneylendinginstitution,appropriatedthefinalsequencethelunging
goalie,thereboundtricklingoffhishands,theslidingstriker,Okano'sdisbelievingruntoward
hisfrenziedteammatesasthenextinstallmentinitslongrunningadcampaign.Because
Acom'sserieswassetinouterspace,theWorldCupwasrefashionedasaqualifierforthe
"GalaxyCup",andthestrikerwasagreenalien(ratherthanaJapanesehippy).However,
http://journal.mediaculture.org.au/0104/japtele.php

3/10

04/05/2015

M/CJournal

justaswiththeKeatonad,ineveryotherparticularthekeyimageswerepainstakingly
reproduced,theninscribedwithnewsignificatoryvaluewhensetintothenewideational
context.
9. AfleetofVWsrollsontoadock.ThecamerapansskywardwheretheAmericanspaceshuttle
idles.Insidemissioncontrolatelevisionistunedtoapubliccelebration.Thecamerazooms
inonthescreenintimetocapturearedGolfpullingtoahaltoutsidethegatesofan
enormouscathedral.Walkingdownthelongredcarpettowardthecarareabrideand
groom.Cuttoacloseupofthecouple:PrincessDianaholdingabouquet,grinningbroadly,
onthearmofPrinceCharlesinformalmilitarydress.TheVWstopsinfrontofthepairand
theyappeartogetin.Thecardartsoff,zigzaggingaroundalineofprotestors.Cuttoa
chaoticscene,soonrecognizableasthefrenzieddestructionoftheBerlinWall.6Asasection
ofthewallisyankedfromitsmoorings,agroupoffastmovingrevelersstreamforwardto
commandthepreviouslyblockadedsquare.TheredGolfzipsinfrontofthecelebrantsand
quicklyenterswhatwasformerlyEastGermany.Cuttowrittentext(inJapanese),situated
abovethe"VWGolf"logo."Therevolutionisnotover"itintones.
10. 3salarymensitinasmokybarafteralongdayofwork.Oneman,wipinghishandsandface
withamoisttowelette,rants:'Allthistalkaboutglobalization,etceterabutJapanismade
afoolofbytheworldOnceandforallwehavetospeakoutgatsun.'7
Hepusheshisglassesatophishead.'Ifitwereme,Iwouldsayit!'Hewipeshisface
vigorouslywiththetowelette.'I'dsayit,gatsun.'Superimposedoverhisimageishis
personaldatainwhiteletters:'ItohMasayuki,37years,corporateman.'Theframe
fadestoblackandwhite,freezes.ActionresumeswithItohthrowinghistoweldownin
disgustanddeclaring:'BecauseI'mthattype!
Cuttoanextremecloseupofthetowelettenowlyingonsomeone'sknee.Asthe
camerapansback,wefindthekneebelongstoBillClintonor,atleast,anactorof
amazinglikeness.HeisseatedoppositeItohsaninaroomthatlooksverymuchlike
theOvalOffice.Surroundingthetwoaretranslators,advisorsandsecretservice
agents.Thepresidentiallookalikeflicksthetoweloffhislegwithdisdainandsaysin
Clinton'sdistinctivedrawl:"So!I'dliketohearyourhonestopinions''Totheswellof
mariachimusicItohgulpshard,staresvacantlyatthePresident,andtriestomuster
thatsuddenlyelusive"gatsun".

Analysis:MakingSenseofthePellmellMix
AsconceivedbyBarthes8theprojectofsemiologywastoobservesignswithinthesocialsetting
and,byfittingtheminto"chainsofsignification",revealtheunderlyingnatureofsociety.
Signification,though,isonlythefinalstepinalongprocession,andalongthewayitisrelatively
easyfortheanalysttobecomewaylaidbythearcanaofsignswhichcolorisasignifier,whichpast
moviesceneasignified,whichcompendiumofeventsasignification.Itischallengingandofttimes
fun,butinordinateattentiontothesemechanicsthreatenstoderailthelargerobjective:
understandingadvertisinginculturalcontextseeingresignificationasaprocessthathas
meaningsandimplicationsinthelargersocialworld.
Attentiontothislatteraimleadsusintwodistinctdirections.Thefirstisdenotative:thesurface
meaningofresignification.Heretheconcerniswiththeplaceorfunctionofthephenomenon
withinsociety,aswellasitsusesandtangibleimpacts.Thesecondthreadisconnotative:
centeringonthedeeper,significatorymeaningofresignification.Therepetitiousappropriationof
culturaltextfromotherspaces,times,ideationalsystemsandmediaanditsrobustinclusioninthe
focal,contemporary(inthiscase,Japanese)televisioncontext,hasmuchtotellusaboutthe
developmentofsociety.

Denotation:ResignificationasSocioCulturalPhenomenon

http://journal.mediaculture.org.au/0104/japtele.php

4/10

04/05/2015

M/CJournal

Barthesmodelofsignificationistwotiered.Itholdsthatthefirstsignservesasthebasisfora
significationrelativetothatsign,butthatitalsoservesasthefirstcomponentinasecond,more
deeplyensconcedsignsequence.Inthiswayanad/signtellstheanalystnotonlyaboutthedatum
immediatelyinfrontofher,butalsoabouttheexistenceofadeeper,societalwideprocess.This
process,Inturn,eitheraccountsfor(i.e.re/produces)orelseisgivenimpetusto(i.e.is
re/produced)bythead/sign/significationbeingobserved.Byjoiningtheresultingsignificationsof
thissecondchainwithnumeroussignificationsofsimilarilk,theontologyofthelargersocietyfrom
whichthesignoriginatescancomeintofocus.Inaword,thesecondordersignhelpselucidate
society.
Inthisway,wecanseethatreferencesinJapaneseadstoHollywoodmovies,Japanesecartoon
characters,Greekmyths,sports'stars(American,Europeanand,increasingly,Japanese),popular
songs,andtelevisionandstagescenarios,arenotsimplysingular,isolatedinstancesofcultural
reference.Theyaremorethansimpleevidenceofculturalreproduction.For,whenjoined,they
serveasacommentonthenatureofcontemporaryJapanesesociety:asocietyofpellmell
combination,ofpromiscuous,incessantmix.
Butwhat,specifically,doreferencestoSamanthaStevensofAmericanTV's"Bewitched",Princess
Diana'sweddingtoPrinceCharles,theBeatle's"AbbeyRoad",thefalloftheBerlinWall,anda
gesturebyMarilynMonroe,(etcetera,etcetera,etcetera)tellus?
Standingbackandlookingatthesesignsasarelatedsetofsignifications,ittellsus,most
obviously,abouttheimportofforeigncontentinJapaneseads.Asobviousasthismaybe,itisnot
atrivialobservation.InothercountriesforinstanceMalaysiaandtheUnitedStatesforeign
contentinadscanbedecidedlyscant.9Bothofthesecountriesarequiteinsularintheir
commercialworldviews.Theirmediationsareaimedatreproducingindigenousculture.By
extension,andconsequently,thewarehouseofexogenousimagesandideascanbequiteempty.
ContrastthiswithJapan'sadworld:thepeople,placesandpracticesfromoutsidecontemporary
Japanareincrediblyrichandwideranging.Certainly,thisworldisfullerwhencomparedtoitsown
communicationenvironmentfromonlyafewyearsbackbackwhenJapanwasaphysically
isolated,ideationallyexclusionarycountry.

Suchsignificationsdomorethanmerelymix,though.Theyinformviewersthathistoryselective
thoughitmaybeisimportantthatelitesandhighachieversstarsoffilm,television,recording
http://journal.mediaculture.org.au/0104/japtele.php

5/10

04/05/2015

M/CJournal

studio,courtandturf,andpoliticalofficeareimportantthatmedia,itself,isimportant.The
recurrentappearanceofresignifiedsignstellsJapanesethattheirsisasocietyinlargepartattuned
toanddrivenbymediaanditsmanyproducts.
Underconditionsofresignification,Japaneseadsalsotellrecipientsoftheimportanceofindigenous
myths,ofpastculturalpracticesandbeliefs.Thus,kappamakeperiodicappearances,asdo
kimono,enka,sumo,geisha,theEdoera,samurai,andastrictorderingbasedonmanners,age,
andgender.

Atthesametime,culturalproductsfromthewestarejustaspervasiveandsalient:aboveall
movies,televisionprograms,andpopmusicfromthe'60sand'70s.10Increasingly,adsintroduce
"alien"ideaspracticesandbeliefsonceperceivedasantitheticaltothecontext.Forinstance,
currentadsdepictsuchantipodalactsas:
ayoungwomanspreadingherarmswideonajettyandscreamingtotheoceaninEnglish:"IwishI
wereabird"
afatherdotingonhisfamilywiththesuperscriptbeseeching:"findtimeforthefamily"
collegekidshangingoutinaninternetcafewiththeadvisory:"maketimeforyourself"
popularstarsdrivingthebackroadsofAmericatellingoneanother"thetruthisoutthere"
anendlessparadeofkisses,clutchesandfondlesbetweenaggressiveyoungheterosexualcouples.
Forasocietythatwasinsularforhundredsofyearsandstillretainsaconsiderableisolationist
mentalityduetolanguage,geography,psychology,rituals,beliefsandpoliticalhistorythenew
mixofexoculturalcontentwitheverydayJapaneselifeisfarfromatrivialdevelopment.

FirstOrderConnotation:SemioticLiteracyandtheAdAudience
Evenmoreimportantthancontent,though,iswhatthatcontentcommunicatesaboutthe
audience:abouttheirintellectualcapacity,theirlikes,interestsandpractices.For,thisconstant
emphasisonresignificationunderscoresapresumptionaboutaudiencecompetence.Adschockfull
ofexogenoussignsdemandafairlyhighlevelofsemioticliteracy.Withoutthatliteracy,the
signifierswouldbeundecodablethesignifiedsformedwouldstrayfarfromadvertiserintention.
And,ifthatwerethecase,theadswouldamounttonothingmorethanglossyinjokesincredibly
expensiveproductionswhich,savefortheirpossibleentertainmentvalue,wouldstandashollow
enterpriseswhoseprimarymeaningswouldbelostontheirrecipients.11
Butforaudiencememberswithabaselinelevelofsemioticliteracy,whoarealsoreading(i.e.
activelyprocessing)advertisingtext,theproximateeffectofresignificationistoaddtowhatBerger
andLuckmannhavecalledsocietalmembers'"stockofknowledge".12Theconsequenceofthe
pellmellexplosionofsignswithinJapan'ssimulation/stripuniverseisthattheviewer'ssymbolic
universe13hasexpandedbeyondmeasure.SuddenlyGreekgods,Hollywoodicons,current
Japanesesingers,internationalsportsstars,foreignpoliticiansandkeyhistoricaleventsarewoven
intoasingularideationalcloth.Thesesignsareoftenmixedandmatchedeitherwithinindividual
adsorincontiguouscontext.Forinstance,inthecaseofintraadmelding,renownedJapanese
http://journal.mediaculture.org.au/0104/japtele.php

6/10

04/05/2015

M/CJournal

cinematictoughguy,TakakuraKenliesonatatamimatdressedinJapaneseyutaka,thedroneof
astreetmatsurioutsidehiswindow.HeguzzlesKirinbeertothebackingofthethemefrom"A
ChorusLine".Inthecaseofinteradmixing,Ken'sadmaybefollowedbyoneforinstantnoodles
inwhichthefamousthoughancientandbynowquiteobscureJapanesemyth"Sayuuki"is
refashionedforacontemporaryaudience.
Thesignificanceofresignification,then,isthis:theadvertisingpublicisbroughtintocontinual
encounterwithsignsthathavebeenliftedoutofonespatio/temporal/ideationalcontextand/or
appropriatedfromothermediaforms.Theconstantcommunicationofthiscontenthastheability
tostimulateusers,possessiveofahighlevelofsemioticliteracy,to"see"theirideationaluniverse
inanarrayofdiffering,butspecifiable,ways.Aboveall,adreadersareproddedtoperceivetheir
worldasmoreglobal,transhistorical,synthetic,polyideational,andmulticultural.This,byvirtue
ofthefactthataconsiderablenumberofthesignstheviewernowencountersemanatefrom
spaces,epochsandmediaformsbeyondthelocal/presentmediation.Inessence,underthe
repetitivepulseofadvertising,strongpressuresareexertedonJapaneseadreaderstodevelopa
moreextensiveworldliterature.Theresultisanaccruinglibrary,chockfullof(generallypopular)
cultural,exocontextualtext.14

Conclusion:ResignificationandMediaCulture
Ihavereservedsecondorderconnotationthequestionofsocietalontologyfortheclose.Japan's
currentconfigurationcouldbecalled"MediaCulture"a"totalenvironment"inwhichan
enormousportionofthesociocultural,politicaleconomic,historicomythiccontentundergirding
societycirculatesthroughmedia.15Throughaconfluenceofmediaforms,suchideationalcontent
servestoframe,inform,prod,guideeveninfluencehumanorganizationandbehavior.
InMediaCulture,advertisingis,atonce,agreatcommunicatorofculturalcontent,aswellasone
ofthegreatestconsolidatorsofthesectorsitscontentrefersto.Withitsenergy,sheerspeed,
licentiousblendingofformsandcollisionofideas,advertisingcompelssectoralunionforinstance,
theeconomicwiththecultural,theculturalwiththepolitical,theeconomicwiththepolitical.This
maynotalwaysleadtofelicitousresults.
Thus,forinstance,intheBillClintonad,describedearlier,thelinebetweenpolityandeconomy
becomeseasilyblurred.Thereisaproductforsale,buttheadtextdownplaysthedrinkand,
instead,highlightsthedebatebetweenatypicalsararimanandanAmericanpresident.Putting
asidethequestionofwhetherameetingbetweenthoseofdifferinglinguistic,occupational,status
andnationalrankscouldbepossible,16theadvertisementsetupcommercializeddiscourseunder
theauspicesofthepolitical.
Similarly,considerthefollowingadfortheorangedrink,Nachan.Inthisofferingtheadaudience
watchesatwentysomethingwomansuppingthebeverageforsaleasshewatchesatelevision
dramabroadcastinherfloating(i.e.simulation/strip)world.Herdrama,alsocalledNachan,
featuresaheroinestrikinglysimilartothestarofanactualtelevisiondramatherenownedstory
onNHKcalledNonchan.Intherealworldserial,Nonchanisacourageouswomanlivingin
posbellumJapanwhomustgooutintotheworldofwork,provideforherfamilyandkeeptheir
frayingunityintact.Theprotagonistinthefloatingworldscene(whoalsohappenstobeknownin
reallifeasNachan!)staresraptlyatherTVscreenastheNachanonTVtakesastrongmoral
standinfrontofherfamilyandcoworkers.Tothesaccharineswellofviolinssignalingtheendof
today'sinstallment,thead'sprotagonist(Nachan)utters:"howstrongthatNachanis!"She
punctuateshercommentarybyquicklyquaffinghercanneddrink(Nachan).Thecommercialcloses
bypanningbackfromherapartmentwindow.Fromavantagepointacrossthestreetthead
audiencespiesintotheyoungwoman'sspare,televisioncenteredexistence.
Atonelevelitmayalljustbeapleasureathrill,ajoke,ateaseforthememoryassomepopular
culturestudieshavecharacterized"thepopular".17Atanotherlevel,though,byassistinginthe
developmentofsimulation/stripsthatplayonpreexistingculturalthemes,yetalsoworkto
combineandconsolidateourperceptionandexperienceofactualsocietalsectors,resignification
servesasapowerfulre/productiveforce.Initslicentiousblendingofthecultural,economic,the
moralandsocial,resignificationtrivializesevendebasesthevaluesattheheartofatleastone(if
notall)oftheengagedsectors.Theoriginalculturaltext(forinstance,U.S./Japanrelationsor
Nonchan)iscooptedandrenderedmoreobscurebythecommercialtext(crankysarariman,noble
Nachan).Butevenmoreegregiously,"reality"isrefashionedinaformthatmakescurrent
existence(therealworldsalariedworker'sgruelingexistencethespare,mediacenteredexistence
ofNachan'sfan)seemmorepalatable.
ThisiscertainlythecaseintheClintonad.Thesararimansuddenlygetshissay,hischanceto
http://journal.mediaculture.org.au/0104/japtele.php

7/10

04/05/2015

M/CJournal

ceasebeingamereeconomicdrone.AsfortheNachanoffering,itismorethecasethatwrapping
the"realfiction"withinthe"fictitiousfiction"possessesthepotentialof:(a)reifyingthevirtuous
heroineoftheformeraswellasallshesignifies(i.e.hertravail,theoriginalproduction'snationalist
message)orelse(b)devaluingwomen'sstruggle(whichwasamajormessageofNonchan)by
associatingitwiththeproductforsale.
Whateverthecase,examplesofsectoralabsorptioninadvertisingareextensiveunderconditions
ofMediaCulture.And,asthefollowingpanelimplies,oftensuchabsorptionistheresultof
resignification.

Thebrilliantprovacateur,Baudrillard,onceaverred:"todayweareexperiencingtheabsorptionof
allvirtualmodesofcommunicationintothatofadvertising".18However,inwitnessingthe
extensiveuseofculturalenfoldinginJapaneseadvertising,onemightfairlybegintowonder
whetherwearen'tontheroadtowardtheabsorptionofadvertisingintothecommunicationmode
ofresignification.
Notes
1.SprinkledthroughoutthetextisvisualdocumentationofwhatIamcalling"resignification".
Fromliterallyhundredsofimages,soundsandsituationsemployingexoculturalsignifiers,Ihave
selectedthefollowingwhich,itishoped,providesomesenseofthecontemporaryresignification
richmilieuinJapanesetelevision.Theseinclude:
Panel1(lefttoright):SalvadoreDalisThePersistenceofMemoryinanadforNTTDataMikael
GorbachevannouncinghisPerestroikapolicyinaNissinCupNoodleadTheAddamsFamilydriving
throughEdoeraJapaninanadforHondaOdyssey.
Panel2:(left):adforVictoria(Englishblacktea)(right):TheBeatlesAbbeyRoadalbumcover.
Panel3:(left):adforCanonCopiers(right):GoyasTheMajaClothed.
Panel4:(left):adforRossocars(right):MarilynMonroeinTheSevenYearItch.
Panel5(lefttoright):AmericancowboysinanadforJapanesecellphonesaJapanesemythical
rivercreature("kappa")inanadforKinchosantimosquitovaporTigerWoodsfrontingNiagara
Fallsinanadforcannedcoffee.
Panel6(lefttoright):JapanRailwaysLawsonconveniencestoresNationalHomebuilders.
Panel7(lefttoright):JapanRacingAssociation(JRA)placingtheEnglishword"Dream"atthe
centerofanadwhosetextencouragesthemarginalizedinsocietytofollowtheirdesires(inthis
caseexemplifiedbybettingonponies)SuntoryWineemployingkohaku(thedecadeslong,
immenselypopular,NewYearsEvesongfestthatpitsstarstudded"white"versus"red"teams)as
amotifforsellingtheirlineofwines(andintroducingafamoustransvestitefortheroleofros)
NissanMotorsnamingacar"Liberty",thencraftinganadthatdemonstrateshowthevehiclecan
http://journal.mediaculture.org.au/0104/japtele.php

8/10

04/05/2015

M/CJournal

freemenandwomentobetterconducttheirdaily(albeit,gendered)chores.
2.Atrend(orstage)Icall"productleastadvertising".Owingtothefactthatthis"culturalframe"
consistentlycircumventsnarrativeandideationalunityIhave(howeverreluctantly)labeledthis
stage"postmodern".OnculturalframesseeW.S.Leiss,et.al.,SocialCommunicationin
Advertising:Persons,ProductsandImagesofWellbeing,NewYork:Routledge,(1990).Fora
detailedanalysisofthepostmodernstageinJapaneseadvertising,seeT.J.M.Holden,"Reading
MalaysianandJapaneseTelevisionCommercials:postmodernism,semioticliteracyandpolitical
economicdevelopment",inProceedingsoftheInternationalConferenceonJapaneseStudies:
JapanSoutheastAsiaRelations,Singapore:NationalUniversityofSingapore(2000).
3.ForthosewithMicrosoftExplorer,thePowerpointpresentationdetailingthetheoryandtechnics
ofresignificationcanbeviewedonmyhomepage,
http://www.langc.tohoku.ac.jp/~holden/Presentations/Presentationstop.htm.
4.Regardingredassignifier,seeG.BranstonandR.Stafford,TheMediaStudentsBook,London:
Routledge,(1996):p.7.Asforitsextensiveuseinadvertising,seemyworkoncoloruniversals
("TheColorofMeaning:TheSignificanceofBlackandWhiteinTelevisioncommercials,"
InterdisciplinaryInformationSciences,Vol.3,No.2(1997):125146)andculturespecificcolor
conventions("TheColorofDifference:CritiquingCulturalConvergenceviaTelevisionAdvertising,"
InterdisciplinaryInformationSciences,Vol.5,No.1(1999):1536).
5.Annasdemurdipofthekneesandonehandedrepulseofthecurrentisnotidenticalto
Monroes.So,too,AnnastightredministandsinstarkcontrasttoMonroesflowingwhitegown.
Assignifiers,then,theclothesandposesdiffer.This,though,isonlyindegreeandnotenoughto
expungeoneofthesignifiedsthattheJapaneseadconjures.Certainly,though,Monroesact
carriesdifferentmeaningthanAnnas:theformer'sbeingvolitional,thelatter'sunwittingand,in
manyways,victimofthemalessexistgaze.Despitethedifferences,though,onebyproductof
Annasstruggleisthesignified:"Monroeonsubwaygrate".
6.AsasigntheBerlinWallanditsfallarequitepopularinadvertising.Besidesthetwoads
mentionedinthispaper,athirdlastyear,forSonyWega(television),producedinEngland,also
featuresashotoftheWallfallingalongwithimagesofPresidentKennedyinDallasjustpriortohis
assassination,theAmericanmoonwalk,theWorldCupandNelsonMandeladeliveringaspeechas
PresidentofSouthAfrica.Asanaside,theappearanceofsuchexoculturaltextinaBritishad
providescredencetotheideathatresignificationisnotmerelyaphenomenonpresentinJapanese
advertising,butisalsoextantinadsinotherculturalcontexts.
7."Gatsun"isthewordJapaneseusetodescribethesoundmadebyamalletstrikingatree.Itis
appliedtosituationsinvolvingaforcefulimpact.
8.Barthes,R.Mythologies,(A.Lavers,trans.),NewYork:TheNoondayPress,(1972[1957]).
9.Forasustaineddemonstrationofthispointanditsimplicationsforthemaintenanceofpolitical
powerinMalaysiaseeT.Holden,"TheMalaysianDilemma:Advertising'sCatalyticandCataclysmic
RoleinSocialDevelopment,"Media,CultureandSociety(2001).
10.Amongthemanywesternsongsbackingadsin19992000were:TheBeatle's"AllYouNeedis
Love","GivePeaceaChance"and"Obladioblada"Yes'"OwnerofaLonelyHeart"the
Platter's"OnlyYou"TheCarpenters"WeveOnlyJustBegun"andQueens"Bohemian
Rhapsody".Thelistisaslongasitiseveraccreting.
Moresignificantisthequestionwhy.OnesubscribingtoMannheimssociologyofknowledgewould
almostcertainlyassertthatthisconfluenceisattributabletotheagecohortcraftingcommercial
communicationtoday.Asa"generation"theiruniformuseofmusicalsignsfromthe1960sand
70sstandsasapowerfulpotentialinfluenceoverculturalre/production,theculturalknowledge
thatwilllingerinsociety,andthedemandsforresponsethatwillchallengefuturegenerations.On
thispointseeK.Mannheim,IdeologyandUtopia:anintroductiontothesociologyofknowledge,
(L.WirthandE.Shils,trans.),NewYork:Harcourt,BraceJovanovich(1936).
11.Thereis,though,somethingtothe"adsasentertainments"argument.I,myself,haveargued
thatthisisoneofthecentralfeaturesincontemporaryJapaneseadvertisingafeaturethathelps
separatethemfromtheirwesternbrethren.Entertainment(asthemajorobjectiveofthead)is
oneofsevenelementsthatconstitutesthe"postmodernapproach"toads.Foradetailed
discussionofthisandthefourstagesprecedingthisstageofadvertisingcommunication,seemy
"ReadingMalaysianandJapaneseTelevisionCommercials:Postmodernism,SemioticLiteracyand
PoliticalEconomicDevelopment,"ibid.
http://journal.mediaculture.org.au/0104/japtele.php

9/10

04/05/2015

M/CJournal

12.P.L.BergerandT.Luckmann.TheSocialConstructionofReality:atreatiseonthesociologyof
knowledge.GardenCity,NewYork:AnchorBooks,[1966].
13.Onadsas"strips"seeGoffman,GenderAdvertisements,NewYork:HarperandRow,(1976).
Thisideaofcontrivedandsubstituted"reality"anticipatesBaudrillardsmoresophisticated(and
morewidelyapplied)concept,"simulation".(SeeJ.Baudrillard,SimulacraandSimulation,(S.F.
Glaser,trans.),AnnArbor,MI:UniversityofMichiganPress,(1994[1981]).
14.ItisnotaccidentalthatthesewordsarereminiscentofthosepennedbyMarxandEngelsin
TheCommunistManifesto.Recallthatduringtheirearlydiscussionofcapitalismsinherentlogic,
theywroteofthe"batter(ing)down(of)allChineseWalls":thedemiseof"nationalandlocalone
sidedness"and,initsplace,theriseofa"worldliterature".Withresignificationasamajor
communicationmodeemployedbycontemporaryadvertising(itself,aservantofcapitalism),this
globalizingeffectisnolesstruetodaythanitwasbackin1872(andlikelymuchmoreso).
15.MyconceptionofMediaCulturesharesmuchincommonwithKellners,thoughhiswas
constructedwithreferencetoAmericaandattendedlesstoadvertising.Atthesametime,Japans
MediaCulturefeaturesgreaterintegrationbetweenmediaandamongstthesocietalsectorsthan
theAmericanconditiondescribedbyKellner.JapansMediaCultureisalsocontingentonthe
extensiveoperationofthe"culturalindustries"inparticularpopmusic,organizedsport,television
andadvertisingtocirculatesocietalvaluesandpractices.SeeD.Kellner,MediaCulture:cultural
studies,identityandpoliticsbetweenthemodernandthepostmodern.LondonandNewYork:
Routledge(1995).
16.DuringtheperiodthatthisparticularBossspotaired,PresidentClintonhappenedtovisit
Japan.Healsohappenedtoconvenea"townhall"stylemeetingwitheverydayJapanesecitizens.
TheeventwassponsoredbyacommercialTVstationandinpromotingtheevent,anewsanchor
(whowasscheduledtohostthemeeting)imploredJapanesecitizenstosendintheirmost
"gatsun"questionsandopinionsareference,ofcourse,totheBossad.Aftertheeventwhichwas
roundlyhailedasasmashingsuccesscitizensandpress,alike,cameawaysaying"ifonlyour
politicianswerethataccessibleandstraightforward!""ifonlywehadmoresuchopportunitiesto
dialoguewithourleaders"NotunliketheItohscenariodepictedintheBossad.
17.See,forinstance,thisviewasarticulatedbyJ.FiskeinUnderstandingPopularCulture,London
andNewYork:Routledge,(1989).
18.Baudrillard,ibid.,p.87.

http://journal.mediaculture.org.au/0104/japtele.php

10/10