What Happens To Pop Culture When Economies Enter Long Decline?

Per an earlier tweet (what, you don’t hang on every tweet in your feed??), Neojapanisme is offering a 5 part analysis of the decline of Japanese pop culture and what emerged afterwards. They’re up to part three as of now.

The collapse of spending on popular culture in Japan makes the country an important laboratory for understanding how a “cultural ecosystem” of consumers, producers, distributors, media, trend-spotters, and advertisers operates when market activity decreases. In this context, we must first look at the degree to which middle class consumers made up and then retreated from markets for cultural goods.

We’d agree. We’ve been tracking the decline they describe since we noticed it in the late 1990s. And certainly Japan is atypical in so many ways as to render casual analogies moot.

Jim Kramer, Occupy Wall Street, Top 1%, We Are The 99%

Yet still, we wonder.


  1. DrLeoStrauss says

    Truly thought provoking post, Charlie. An interesting perspective, looking at the phenomenon in distinct temporal breaks.

    Perhaps our trajectory might differ from the U.K. Here’s one take why.

    First, the very idea of a mass consumer popular culture is more or less an American invention, based on mass audience participation and consumption – scale.

    One should recognize Brit kids in 1960s artfully reselling American music back to us, but if black American artists back then had access to modern legal machinery that whole Swinging London thing might have come to a halt with a TRO. Still, Britain has skill doing this, through ‘Cool Britainnia, Cowell, Piers Morgan, etc. (The latter perhaps casus belli ).

    As written about in the original NeoJapanism piece, the once uniquely American notion of mass participatory culture is now so pervasively embraced as to lose any sense of origin. And whether it be the Kaiser Chiefs now or recycled, derivative ‘Japanese’ animated (with cell work done on Manila, etc.), it’s all coming back around.

    Americans in the general sense may not feel a psychological impact akin to 1947, East of Suez, Hong Kong, etc. and that sense of diminishment might not be determinative of future pop culture here.

    Other than assorted civil servants and a military industrial Nomenklatura, an individual American’s identity with (or even awareness of) Empire is slight. The naked embrace of macht, violence and emotional release en masse more or less a post-9/11 Cheney-ism.

    In that sense, Herman Cain’s unblinking and happy ignorance of anything overseas reflects not a small part of the American electorate. Would wager in focus groups Americans would identify with Cain’s ‘Ubeki-beki-beki-bekistan” – as something apart from Chamberlain’s still informed dismissal of ‘people far away about whom we know nothing.”

    You make trenchant points. And a persuasive case. The sense here, however, is that NeoJapanism’s take will have implications (with all the cultural caveats); the future of American pop culture will be where it began, the economic ability of mass participation (even in fractured, narrowcast silos).

  2. says

    Wrong question, I think. What you should be asking is, what happens to culture when an empire enters long-term decline? (Specifically an empire where the machinery of censorship is internalized ideology, rather than an external office staffed by sometimes-inattentive clerks.)

    The precedent I’d draw your attention to is that of the UK, in two phases: February 1901 – August 1945, and September 1945-July 1997. (After the withdrawal from Hong Kong and the replacement of the detritus of the Thatcher government by The Smiler, we enter a new and post-imperial phase, albeit retaining the role of Mini-Me to the United States’ Doctor Evil.)

    Judging by your media, the USA is somewhere between 1910 and 1930 when evaluated in terms of the British retreat from empire. As usual, your finger’s on the fast-forward button …

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