December 29, 2006
Pepsiman! Murray's Essay and Jenkins' Concept of Pop Cosmopolitanism

Noel M. Murray has provided an interesting review of a Japanese Pepsi advertising campaign and its implications on understanding advertising and the base of globalization, in the piece "Pepsiman! Toward a Theory of Symbolic Morphosis in Global Advertising".

Our interest in the many changes in the media industry surrounding "convergence culture" stretches far beyond new technologies but also encompassing the shifting ways in which international popular culture content takes hold. Globalization is perhaps such an overused term that it loses some of its meaning. Further, I've had a class throughout the semester at Harvard that has examined the challenging ways that globalization is examined from an anthropological perspective, as to whether popular culture can be studied and understood by academics and also whether globalization means the homogenization of international culture, presumably at the hands of Western imperialists who are practicing that new, and perhaps even more dangerous in the long run, form of imperialism--cultural imperialism, that eventually destroys indigenous cultures at the hands of the almighty dollar.

Of course, such ideas are way too simplistic, which explains why our director, Henry Jenkins, has gotten much more value out of understanding the spread of popular culture through his idea of pop cosmopolitanism. Pop cosmopolitanism examines the ways in which fans intend to understand and interpret other cultures and stay connected to home cultures through their use of popular culture, and also the ways in which local cultures shape and appropriate content in ways that make sense within their own culture, so that the same cultural product can be understood in a much different perspective when taking a readerly focus than when taking a writerly focus. See this interview from Forbes with Jenkins in 2005 for more on the concept of pop cosmopolitanism.

We have written several times in the past year about pop cosmopolitanism and ways in which understanding the international trade of popular culture and advertising is important. See, for instance, Henry Jenkins' description of walking around Yoyogi Park or my blurb about Anne Cooper-Chen's collection Global Entertainment Media.

We've also written in the past about India's growing soft power and genre-crossing on the American soap Passions, as well as the Japanese rock band Dir en grey, and the depiction of Japan in The Simpsons.

For readers not used to scholarly reading, and for those of you that may find this blog a little too dense sometimes with some of the terms used, Murray's essay may be a daunting task, as you can tell with any essay title that includes the phrase "theory of symbolic morphosis." But the Pepsiman campaign is an interesting one, and Murray helps readers understand this advertising campaign with an analysis of the history of Japanese super hero character Ultraman and how his history is intertwined with Superman's. The Pepsiman character is a clear parody of this history.

Further, Murray looks both at how the Pepsi commercial series was specifically focused for Japanese viewers while also intending to foster new consumer behaviors among those viewers. He writes, that, "Pepsiman, comingling the attributes of uperman and Ultraman, and blurring the boundaries of East and West, is clasically postmodern. Pepsiman is a product of negotiated meanings." His description of this commercial as "an open text" both looks at the intentions of advertisers while also emphasizing the autonomy of viewers to create their own meanings. It is these negotiations that creates the power of these transcultural texts.

Murray writes, "Popular culture icons such as Pepsiman, (sic) have enormous power, serving to create and rework archetypes that eventually serve to become the central mythology of our time. As such ,the Pepsiman icon serves as a constructive case study in understanding the arena of negotiation between Japanese and US popular culture."

For more on the Pepsiman campaign, see the Wikipedia page. Another description of Pepsiman is available here.

The essay appears in December's issue of The Journal of Popular Cutlure.

Murray is Associate Professor at Chapman University, and Director of the Schmid Center for International Business, as noted below. He was previously an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Delaware's Department of Business Administration.


On July 24, 2007 at 10:56 AM, Noel M Murray said:

Thanks for the nice review. Note however, that I am an Associate Professor at Chapman University, and Director of the Schmid Center for International Business.


Sorry, Noel, I didn't realized you had moved on to Chapman University. Thanks for the note!