August 3, 2006
Japanese Band Demonstrates Power of Pop Cosmopolitanism

With Henry Jenkins' new book Convergence Culture having been released (more on that later today), I thought it would be appropriate to write about something that C3 research manager Joshua Green pointed me to earlier today: a stunning example of what Henry calls "pop cosmopolitanism."

The gist of being a "pop cosmo" kind of person is that you use popular culture to learn more about distant places or to help generate cultural exchange. And that's what is happening with the major American grassroots support of a popular Japanese band...a band who has never had any mainstream media coverage in the country and whose albums are not even available for sale here.

Robert La Franco has written a fascinating piece for Wired about the phenomenal popularity of the Japanese rock band Dir en grey, whose lyrics are all in Japanese but who nevertheless have a strong American following.

He event recounts the travels of one wheelchair-bound fan, Lauran, who has traveled from coast-to-coast to watch the band perform on their first tour of America this week. If they weren't getting any plan in America yet, they will now, as they've had an album released in May, in addition to the four-stop tour, and have now been signed for the band Korn's Family Values upcoming tour.

The band was largely discovered through their MySpace page and through word of mouth among the burgeoning fan community, as fans who were converted by the group's unique sound began to proselytize. Others purchased CDs or DVDs of the band through eBay or discovered them through the world of anime and video games, where Dir en grey's music can be found. The band has been playing sellouts, and La Franco even recounts one incident in which "half the audience hoisted blue glow sticks in unison, a stunt arranged entirely via the online community site LiveJournal."

And is it profitable? Aside from landing the touring deal with Korn, the band has already made more than $80,000 in ticket sales and $65,000 in merchandising.

We've written about incidents of pop cosmopolitanism here on the blog before--for instance, looking at depictions of Japan in The Simpsons, examining Mark Twain's continued popularity in Japan, and the use of Bollywood motifs an an episode of the American soap opera Passions.

But this is different, particularly becuase of its grassroots nature. Mark Twain is questionable as popular culture, since the higher arts would claim him as well, and the other two programs are nationally distributed. The popularity of Dir en grey, on the other hand, can only be attributed to the swelling of support for them from the ground level.

Maybe the success of this small Dir en grey tour will help increase awareness of how, in an unparalleled age of social connectedness, culture can cross geogarphic and cultural boundaries or even serve as a way for us to learn more about others in the global community--to broaden our horizons through embracing fandom and popular culture.