Anne of Green Gables
Why are tween Annes all redheads?
Anne of Green Gables
Why are tween Annes all redheads?
Private Birthday Party is a private collection of found photographic slides that depict Kansas City’s early drag ball culture throughout the 1950s and 1960s.
Billboard for ViiV Healthcare in Shinjuku Ni-chome (pre-censorship)
Artwork by Poko Murata (村田ポコ)
In December 2013, gay artist Poko Murata was hired to make artwork for a billboard promoting HIV awareness in Tokyo’s gay neighborhood, Shinjuku Ni-chome (新宿二丁目). Now, the billboard has been censored by decree of the Shinjuku ward office, which asserted that Murata’s artwork runs contrary to “public order and morality” (公序良俗). Murata made a revised version of the image, seen above, which was also rejected by the government office because it contained “visible underwear.” Poko Murata rightly calls out the decision as gay discrimination on his blog, and one only needs to glimpse the motorized sex robot advertisements that float around Shinjuku to sense a double standard at play.
It was an event of no minor significance that Murata’s artwork found its way onto a billboard to begin with. Male-male eroticism once played a significant role in Japanese culture— in the Edo period, a booming print industry allowed for erotic “shunga” woodblock prints, as well as an entire genre of literature about male-male sexuality, to flourish. In the wake of the Meiji Restoration, and throughout most of the 20th century, that history was swept under the rug of “old Japan” in the name of rapid Westernization. Gay artists sought refuge in the small-circulation “perverse magazines” of the post-war era, and their pieces were displayed not publically, in museums, but on the walls of gay establishments in neighborhoods like Shinjuku Ni-chome.
Gay artwork began edging out of the shadows in the the 1970s, when Barazoku (薔薇族) magazine became the first mass market gay publication in Japan. The early days of Barazoku weren’t easy— frequent police interference resulted in writers, artists and the magazine’s publisher being charged with crimes of obscenity by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department’s “public morals” office. Never defined explicitly by Japanese law, “obscenity” in practice often comes down to the visibility of genitals, which explains the various self-censoring techniques employed by the publishers of gay manga. Those thin black lines are there for a reason, namely police intimidation.
Since the ‘90s, Japanese gay artwork has started to surpass the boundaries of the gay press. The BDSM manga of Gengoroh Tagame (田亀源五郎) and the comic essays of Kumada Poohsuke (熊田プウ助), among others, have reached a broader audience within mainstream Japanese culture. This doesn’t mean the situation is any less dire for artists who dare to show just a little too much male skin. In April 2013, fashion photographer Leslie Kee was targeted in a sweeping censorship dragnet by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police, after Kee published a series of nude photos of late porn star Koh Masaki. The police arrested Kee, his gallerist, his publisher, and even the 61-year-old manager of Lumiere (ルミエール), the famous gay bookstore in Shinjuku Ni-chome.
Amidst this climate of censorship, Poko Murata’s artwork being featured on a billboard seems like a truly extraordinary thing. In a post about the billboard on his blog, artist Yuji Kato (加藤悠二) characterizes Murata’s artwork as humorous, yet refined— charming, with a little sex appeal. Murata’s pieces are generally upbeat, flirty, and heartwarming. He’s contributed to sexual health awareness campaigns before, including two campaigns for Quality of Gay Life (QOGL), put on by the Japanese non-profit Tokyo Gay Friends for AIDS. Kato calls Murata’s work for HIV awareness part of “a growing desire,” on the part of gay artists, “to contribute in their own way to the gay community.” You can see evidence of this encouraging trend in the efforts of artists like Gengoroh Tagame, Inu Yoshi and Jiraiya, who have all contributed artwork to causes promoting sexual health.
While the billboard in Shinjuku Ni-chome is ostensibly a public service announcement about HIV awareness, it’s really an ad for ViiV, “a pharmaceutical manufacturer that specializes in the development and sale of HIV treatments,” owned by GlaxoSmithKline. Late last year, ViiV announced Poko Murata as the winner of a contest to illustrate the billboard for the first six months of 2014, with an artist yet to be chosen to decorate the ad space in the second half of 2014.
Murata’s resulting image is notable for including a variety of gay types: a gachimuchi (ガチムチ) central figure, a middle-aged “ossan” (おっさん), a chubbier “debu” (デブ) figure, even a couple of bishonen boys. Their arrangement is casual yet provocative. It seems to imply, without judgement, that these people could have sex in any number of non-heteronormative configurations. It’s an ad about HIV that doesn’t stigmatize sexuality or shame the gay community. Almost immediately after the billboard went up, the Shinjuku Ward Office targeted the advertisement, alleging complaints from local residents about the “unpleasant” artwork.
Poko Murata was not included in discussions between the ad agency and the government office. He’s told they were given an ultimatum by the Shinjuku officials: “accept the guidance of public office in order to continue the project beyond two terms.” After his revised version of the ad was once again rejected, the agency further covered up the central figure in Murata’s drawing. “The final adjustments were not by my hand,” he writes.
Murata sees this interference with his artwork as indicative of systemic prejudice and discrimination against gays, and reflective of the larger problem of excessive regulation in Japan today (see also: the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s excellent pieces about the increased censorship crackdown in the lead-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics). The incident has soured what should have been a positive experience, leaving Murata disappointed, full of anger and chagrin. He predicts the second term of ViiV’s billboard project will be met with much more scrutiny and restraint by the ad agency.
Ultimately, the incident amounts to little more than a multinational pharmaceutical company bowing to the pressure of the Japanese government’s homophobic politics, alienating the drug company’s target audience along the way. Poko Murata was given an opportunity to spotlight gay artwork in a public space, and it was immediately was covered up by the very officials who are supposed to be representing the gayest ward in Tokyo.
We think we’re immune to marketing and advertising but we’re not. And yeah, eventually, everyone realizes this, but usually not until after we’ve sunk a fortune in suites of Apple products and sweat equity at Facebook. I would never suggest dismissing the art of sales, though. Without it, everything would look like Linux.
But that pesky “look like” element of delivery mechanisms is precisely where marketing and sales haunt my every move. These are just appearances. In a perfect world, I learn to love whatever “plain text mode” is, and depend no longer on the emotional response I await in consumer gratification. In the real world=eyes, feelings, taste.
Reading George Packer’s New Yorker feature on Amazon was an experience in extreme self-reflection and cogitation, beyond what I’d expected in typical “I knew that already” disdain and “welcome to capitalism, y’all” pessimism. I heard dozens of past arguments ringing for attention during the bits about consumer advocacy (e.g. “I’ll stop using amazon when you find me a cheaper place to get diapers”), and the bits about labor rights—I had no idea working in an amazon facility represented upwards of 10 miles of walking and that performance was quantified by fulfillments per… MINUTE. I was fully nauseated at discovery of each new detail on Jeff Bezos. He’s a liberatarian. He doesn’t like music.
I felt the strangest tug when Packer went into one of the major pitfalls of Big Publishing that led to its own demise: its inability to leave expensive Manhattan offices.
While I have always complained publishers were slow on the internet game (I’m talkin’ “what is a blog?” seminars at BEA in as late as 2003-slow), I do admit the charms of our most bourgeois of arts—neither aristocratic nor proletariat by industry—lie so dearly in New York as its threshold. Because for as long as I can remember, almost every single book I read had one thing in common. On that stupid copyright page, right under the title and author name, without fail, was always the same two word phrase:
This was when copyright pages were still the first thing in a book, of course. I’m looking at several paperbacks on my desk as I write this, with sclerotic covers revealing lists of endorsements where the excess pages of a signature would in the past be left blissfully blank. [There you go, another example of my ambivalence toward advertising.]
I feel my journey to New York has been inextricably linked to the copyright provenance of all those books I read. If every second page of every book I read said “Seattle,” you’d be sure I’d be there now, and find even some forgiveness for Amazon because of it (though probably not grunge music… cf. Linux).
Now that I live here, I can’t say I hadn’t been advertised to; that this wasn’t some long-game strategy by publishers to get their most ardent readers to consent to indentured work for the farm that fed them. But to the naysayers, I’ll just say: I’ll stop admiring New York when you find me a better place to wear diapers.
DO THIS. Get it now. Seriously, it’s in limited quantity… Also: Valentine Day sale!
Photos from the final day of the LA Art Book Fair! We were lucky to have such awesome booth neighbors on both sides: Original Plumbing and the great Anal magazine, which published a brilliant feature on Gengoroh Tagame in its second issue! Anal's sweet-hearted editor Ricardo Velmor is seen here showing off the Jiraiya Sweatshirt and his new zine, Hoy. Plus, some satisfied sweatshirt customers, including our good friend Edie Fake!
MASSIVE at the LA Art Book Fair. Thanks to everyone who came to play with us.
In Hair Pieces, the photographer Rebecca Drolen examines the relationship between human beings and our hair, highlighting the impulse to deem body hair beautiful or strange. Inspired by what she calls the “archival” power of hair to outlive the rest … Continue reading
Eugene picked me up in a limo. The dress I wore looked better when I tried it on at the store, where I nervously did the math between price tags and Mom’s wallet. I felt like a trafficked child bride in it when he wrapped his arms around my shoulders to slow dance. It explains why I refused to kiss him even after having a crush on him the entire duration of the year leading up to the dance. I can’t remember anymore at what point requiting a crush would stop feeling like the end of all of my affection for someone, but I do know it was a sign of immaturity that someone’s reciprocation made me flee every time.
Gavin was my favorite prom date. I wore a ribbon around my throat and borrowed his best friend’s dress. We talked about the independence of Hong Kong. I wonder what he’s up to now. I broke his sunglasses when I plopped into his passenger seat.
Philip was an amazing artist. In a different universe we would’ve been soul mates. The theme of our prom was “Almost Paradise.” How the 1984 ballad became the theme for a 1995 prom is beyond me. Though… I guess “Gangster’s Paradise,” while more timely, would’ve made for a significantly less charming prom theme.
I was Jason’s beard. It was the closest I got to the Asian gangster clique, the source of my constant derision, their wannabe attempts to be “hard” all but parodic, but they were also just hilarious. At least three of them did end up in prison.
Brian brought me to his high school prom, where news cameras were waiting to capture “on the street reactions” of classmates to the school’s first openly lesbian pair (the school refused, and then recanted their refusal to let them come). We all rearranged ourselves to appear in same sex pairs, and I held hands with a blonde girl I’d only just met seconds earlier.
Jimmy and I watched my boyfriend dance with other people.