Author: Clancy Carr

Hi there! My name's Clancy Carr and I'm a student studying Communications and Media at the University of Wollongong, Australia. I'm a staunch believer in the expressive potential of the video game medium and occupy myself discussing and picking apart games and the creative industry that facilitates and nurtures them. You can find my deconstructions as well as other scholarly pursuits here on my blog: https://carroftheoverflow.wordpress.com/

Clancy’s Digital Artifact

 

I first have to apologize for the occasional ‘pops’ in recording; I did my best in Audacity to mitigate this annoyance but they’re not completely eradicated. I had a lot of fun exploring Mixi, and it was a very interesting experience to say the least. Please have a quick flick-through my digital scrapbook if you’re interested in seeing some of the visual aspects of the site, and read my blog posts which go into greater detail.

Thanks again to Jessie Davis and her contact in Japan for making my project at all possible!

Dissecting Mixi: A Reflective and Critical Review

When I first set out to join the Japanese social media network Mixi and document that experience, I was operating based on assumptions and opinions that I’ve come  to question after having engaged with a plethora of  sources that have expanded my contextual understanding of Mixi. To that end, Norman Denzin wrote that ‘the critical, performance ethnographer is committed to producing and performing texts that are grounded in and co-constructed in the politically and personally problematic worlds of everyday life’ (2003, p.270), and so my further research has focused on the evolution of Mixi.

Having been written in the early 2000’s, the reading mentions the periodic paradigm shift of ‘connections between the public and the private… being dismantled’ (p.260). This is an interesting insight, as Mixi and Facebook’s launch the following year embodied this transition. However, the behavior exhibited on Mixi historically has been different from that of Facebook. User’s were noted to operate mostly anonymously because they often felt uncomfortable freely speaking their mind.

I had also assumed in my earlier post was that both Mixi and Facebook were fundamentally the same service, catering to different regions, however from my own experience Mixi relies heavily on interacting with groups of like minded people rather than ‘real-life’ friends. The promotion of communities and specific threads, almost like a forum, feels like a mix of some services that I’m familiar with like Reddit and NeoGAF mixed with the functionality of Facebook. Because of this focus on tightly knitted community, there existed a place on Mixi to talk about the Australian city of Dubbo in 2005, whether as visitors or citizens. By  contrast, the official Facebook page was created in 2012, just 4 years ago.

This was an epiphany for me; realizing Mixi wasn’t just a place to talk about Japanese culture. Having said that, one of the motivations for Japanese netizens to venture beyond Mixi and embrace both MySpace and recently Facebook was to escape what’s popularly referred to as ‘Mixi tsukare’ (a fatigue of the service). To free themselves from ‘Japanese cultural norms’ as Philip Seargeant & Caroline Tagg explain, these alternatives gained traction. Professor Toshie Takahashi, speaking to users of both Mixi and MySpace concluded that ‘MySpace is about me AND them, and Mixi is about me WITH them’ (2010, p.453). This correlates with the fear of standing out from the crowd should you speak against the accepted narrative.

As I wrote in my earlier blog post, and should have passed-off as simply wanting to approach the website as objectively and expectation free as possible, my initial lack of research into choosing a suitable website meant I chose one that happened to be on its way out. By the developer of Monster Strike‘s (2013) own admission, Mixi as a social network was ‘on its knees‘ and the demise was inevitable. Monster Strike saved the company at the 11th hour. The author compares this unlikely reality to ‘Myspace creating the next Angry Birds’. A particular point of interest to me, is that the hit game was developed by the producer of Street Fighter II (1987) & II (1991), Yoshiki Okamoto. Perhaps more broadly relevant, the article states that the company hasn’t bothered trying ‘to tie Monster Strike to its own fading social network’, which seems to suggest that Mixi is irreparably doomed.

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The unexpected savior

When digging up some of the history of  Mixi, I found this YouTube video by a teacher at the Osaka Jogakuin College in Japan. From 2007, when Mixi still was the predominant service, it’s conveniently in English and interestingly illustrates a familiar attitude emerging from young social media users on Facebook: a push-back against older generations who try to join their social circles. Functionally there’s two social media landscapes; like a ‘kids table’ and ‘adults table’ that are barely separated.  Additionally, seeing the service in its early years is helpful as it highlights some similarities and shows where the service has come from.

In addition to it already fading rapidly in popularity, perhaps caused by this, one of the key epiphanies was the realization that Mixi requires the possession of a phone with a number registered in Japan. I had ignored the fact that there was no official English interface for the website and assumed it was just because they figured no-one outside of the Japanese focused community would want access. This realization told me that, unlike Facebook, Mixi as a social network wasn’t concerned with servicing other markets. Facebook’s Country Growth Manager Nikkei Trendy states their service is a ‘real’ social network (real names), but also a personal advertising opportunity. Moreover, Facebook acts as an ‘infrastructure’ due to it’s pervasive APIs weaved into other sites which makes international market penetration, I imagine, easier. Mixi’s response from exec Tsuji Masataka stated their users valued the ‘stronger ties’ and values closed community. This experience surprised me; I’d assumed that any social media would embrace open accessibility to gain and maintain users.

McLaren declared that true ‘reflexive, performative ethnography’ values many subjective accounts, has no established, authoritative narrative, and doubts accounts given by historically privileged voices (1997, p. 170). As a person entirely dislocated contextually and culturally from the target audience of Mixi, it makes my assessment of it undoubtedly flawed and so I’ve done my best to align my thoughts with others’ and try to comply with Denzin’s ideal critical ethnographer: ‘…committed to producing and performing texts that are grounded in and co-constructed in the politically and personally problematic worlds of everyday life’ (2003, p.270).


References not linked:

  • McLaren, Peter, 1997, ‘Revolutionary Multiculturalism: Pedagogies of Dissent for the New Millennium’, Boulder CO: Westview
  • Denzin, Norman, 2003, ‘Performing [Auto] Ethnography Politically’, EBSCO Publishing

 

Probing ‘Mixi’: Japans Re-birthed ‘MySpace’

My decision to dive into and experience a Japanese social media service was one influenced by a desire to explore an unknown place and use documented material to convey what it is like to use a foreign media service that I’d imagined would be comparable to Facebook, and then successfully convey that experience to others. That criteria for success I determined as being demystification. If I could observe and make note of both operational and behavioral differences and similarities, with the aid of screenshots I’d consider these epiphanies to constitute a successful autoethnographic work.

The methodology I applied was that of recording observations and thoughts via screenshots and comments, particularly focusing on the processes undertaken during my foray and mentally comparing them to my experience of their ‘domestic’ counterpart (Facebook). This coupled with a particular focus on key pivotal ‘epiphanies’ moments accounts for my operational methodology.

And so, I set out to determine which website I should dip my proverbial toe into…

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Mixi‘s official logo

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Now That I’ve Got Your Attention…

As Eric Cohen noted in his piece ‘Flooded: An Auto-Ethnography of the 2011 Bangkok  Flood‘ auto-ethnography  is essentially a focus on the researcher and ‘his/ her position and involvement in the field’, whichever field that might be. My first attempt at this method involved the viewing of Gojira (1954), which I initially felt was an inherently flawed exercise due to my having already seen the film multiple times. I persisted nonetheless, and tried to distance myself from it and focus on details I hadn’t noticed before, tiny things like Japanese light-switches always being flicked up to activate and not down.

This first post was an attempt to distance myself from my previous experience with the film in order to create a fresher source of observations to analyse in the future (see: now). Yet at the same time, I didn’t want to appear totally clueless because that would be insincere so I instead filtered my remarks through a mental screen that asked ‘have I ever made this point?’ or just to play the Devil’s Advocate. For example, I noted that many shots are actually edited in a fast manner whereas others are as expected: slow and deliberate. As a self appointed guardian of Gojira’s reputation I staunchly rebuked the notion that the suit ‘looks fake’. Indeed, Godzilla buff James Rolfe, I argued, states that CG in the 2014 movie Godzilla is faker.

This is my ‘pattern of cultural experience’, as Ellis et al proposes. My previous experience with the film in an educational capacity,while holding a continued personal interest in afterwards, led me to produce observations that were at odds with those of a first viewing. As such, I tweeted obscure gifs of things like particularly bizarre shots from a later film, as well as one of Godzilla water-skiing in a Snicker’s ad. Moreover, as an admittedly easily amused young man, these goofy, irreverent episodes juxtaposed against the literal and metaphorical destruction of culture in Gojira proper amuses me in a ‘how far he’s come’ kind of way.

As an exercise, the structure of auto-ethnography as a tool to write about a particular experience and the impact of it is uniquely positioned to give the reader a deeper understanding of the writer’s thoughts and a invaluable glimpse into their perspective. For myself, the process of recording my initial thoughts and now revisiting them with a broader understanding of what auto-ethnography is has helped me better understand why I recorded what I did at the time and what motivated me to do so.

It is clear now, for example, that my remark of ‘it didn’t appear to be your average soulless ‘summer blockbuster’ film’ was preempted by my understanding of the film as a cultural touchstone that does mean more to people than would initially be believed. I wasn’t aware how much my previous viewing and studying would affect these kinds of statements, but returning to them it is clearly influenced by repeated viewing and not an merely innocuous off-cuff remark.

That concludes my auto-ethnographic deconstruction of my earlier, but not earliest, ruminations on Gojira (1954). Refreshments are at the back.

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My thir-, ah, FIRST viewing of Gojira (1954)

My in-class experience with the seminal Japanese ‘monster’ film Gojira (1954) is not one likely shared by many of my cohort. Having previously studied this film at an HSC level I already possessed some thoughts and facts surrounding the text from my prior viewings and research which revealed the text’s societal, contextual meaning in Japan both at the time of its premiere and today, many years in the future. My interest in the film led to a passive interest in the later ‘Godzilla’ films. Indeed, hours prior to re-watching Gojira with my peers I was watching a group of Canadians view the… decidedly goofier, Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973).

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‘Decidedly goofier’

So, I went into the film with a preexisting appreciation for it and its legacy, perhaps not ideal for testing the autoethnographic approach to research. However, I tried to disassociate some of my experience and take notes regardless and freely remark on what I thought at any given time. (more…)