Racism By Polity, Racist Jazz

Japanese people have a reputation when it comes to music. This is clearly not the case as Japanese students seek to hone their arts in world-class schools all over the globe, on an individual basis, but as a culture we do stereotype that group with certain inclinations. Well, from the eyes of Americans, maybe it extends to all East Asians.

I mean, here’s another way to say it. If you want to talk about the music in Sakamichi no Apollon, you better be, at the minimum, racially aware of the things that comes out of your mouth. Because saying things like this is…unfortunate. Please just don’t.

Let’s try again. Talking about jazz in Sakamichi no Apollon is fundamentally a discussion that will involve race. And what makes me laugh is when I heard that “coon” language in episode 4, I laughed. It’s an Inception meme of a Japanese attempt at portraying American White-Black racism IRT jazz. Which is to say, Sakamichi no Apollon plays like an Asian when it comes to racism. And in case my point isn’t clear, that phrase is no praise. But just like Japanese automotive engineering, it is almost invariably the case that we’ll get a quality product that will satisfy many, but doesn’t quite get to the heart of it. The soul. There’s nothing wrong with Sakamichi no Apollon, certainly no more wrong than being Japanese can be wrong. But it reminds me more of your average shoujo manga than anything that I’ve seen or read in media that deals with racism. Much like hot rods like the 2014 NSX or the IS-F are likely no match to their European or American counterparts.

But as far as the game of race-music association goes, I think much can be said of jazz music and who played it in 1912, as well as who played in 2012. That it has got some kind of race tag to it. Except it’s kind of like how more white people listen to rap than black people in America?

Personally I could not really get myself to care about Apollon’s race themes, as I mentioned before, it feels like fanservice. Repeat it with me:  a Christian, half-American [boy] born out of wedlock. When I visited my alma mater a few years ago the undergrad jazz majors were putting on a show in the atrium of the building where I was. It is a school with a strong tradition in jazz, and the jazz majors there were predominately black (more because it is a cheap state school located in an urban area). But I saw a couple white dudes at the drums–which reminded me of my undergrad roomie who played the drum for the jazz club (at a different school), a white, upper-class New Englander. Does it matter? Do we even know what it means, as Akira pointed out?

Now when it comes to classism, I can expect anime and manga to get it right.


22 Responses to “Racism By Polity, Racist Jazz”

  • Marina

    I apologize if my musical discussion on Apollon was somehow racially ignorant in your eyes. I find it more unfortunate that a simple pleasure in music of all genres can’t just be enjoyed for music’s sake and must instead be discussed with race in mind.

  • omo

    I know you do not mean ill, but what you were saying was the same as “let them eat cake.” You should just quit while you are ahead.

    • Foxy Lady Ayame

      and I believe someone plays it pro here and thinks that he’s the authority when it comes to jazz and all that jazz… that’s not appreciated especially when you look down on fellow bloggers who try their best and might be in for just the fun. I don’t remember anyone claiming that aims to be an anime critic. Plus each one of us shares his/her point of view. Your entry is an interesting one, but your tone is arrogant and unacceptable. You are no professor of ours to ‘teach’ us lessons and tell us to give up or not.

    • omo

      If you tell a black person to learn to appreciate white people music, tell me you can get away with it?

      I know nobody is looking down at someone else or actually saying it, but it leaves a bad taste in my mouth when someone goes into a music show about how jazz music helped a young man emotionally develop–as a symbol of his social, economic and racial status much like how jazz represents an arguably important part of African American culture–to go appreciate something else that happens to symbolize the stiff and condescending nature that Kaoru’s background (ie., classical music). Never mind that classical music in pop media often symbolizes affluent/wealthy white culture.

      Indeed, I am no professor of yours to teach you anything. My opinions are just that. And I lay it here for all to see just as you do, none of us are somehow immune to criticism.

  • Marina

    “Let them eat cake.” – I do not think this phrase means what you think it means in the context of your attempt of an argument. You also completely missed the point of my music discussion, so I’ll disregard any further ignorant comments on it and my blogging.

    And to remain on topic to your post, your own critique of Apollon looks lost. You pin it for its weak inclusion of racist themes, and yet don’t give any examples of how you think it could have done better, choosing instead to segue into your own personal experience that has at best a tenuous connection to the topic at hand.

    • omo

      As to my critique about Apollon, I think Akira has written it better–the problem I have with Apollon’s racist themes has to do with how the average audience (ie., I doubt any of us were in Japan in the 1960s) and their ability to reimagine how life was like back then in Japan, in regards to how people viewed the occupation.

      It just doesn’t have much of a relationship with anything in my world. Yes, people go to church, yes, some people are racist with their music, etc., but in the show, it doesn’t really mean anything in the way how those things actually mean something in the American consciousness. And I suspect this is why people are fine with taking the various music elements in a vacuum like how you’re doing it.

    • omo

      As for understanding you, I’m pretty sure that I do. The comment you made that I wanted to point out was just kind of a side thing, and I have no problems with the rest of it.

  • dm00

    No clue what you’re on about w.r.t. Marina’s post. Seemed a pretty innocuous rememberance of her own first encounters with jazz to me. If there was something you object to, perhaps you could quote it, and educate us all.

    Something must have happened in the last couple of episodes? I’m behind. The first three episodes I wouldn’t think had much of a racial component.

    On the other hand, I also associate jazz with the way it snuck into Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union (before and) during the Cold War, another environment where the music lost a good deal of its racial context but served a subversive purpose (just like the authorities feared it would!).

    • omo

      For the record, it is:

      but what I’m really hoping to see is for Sentarou to gain an equal appreciation for Classical in much the same way that Nodame did in Nodame Cantabile.

    • Marina

      What he neglects to do is include the chosen quote within the CONTEXT of my post. That sentence is then followed by, “I’m of the belief that learning the fundamentals and history can only increase understanding and love for any given craft, be that for music, writing, or even dance.” Appreciation from knowledge doesn’t necessarily include enjoyment, and learning the drum rudiments that are enforced in Classical training is invaluable to any drummer, no matter what style they prefer to play. I speak from the perspectives of both a pianist and percussionist, being as I trained in both fields.

      Obviously there is no winning this argument as I’ve already been pegged as some sort of Classicist supremacist, so I can only hope that readers will not take the opinions here at face value without doing their own research.

      Also, non-discussion does not equal unawareness.

    • omo

      I’m fine with what you are saying just now, but what you said as I quoted was that you want to see it played out in this fiction.

      Also, what is there to win?

      Thirdly, how can you possibly say this with a straight face if you are a classically trained “percussionist”? I know banging cymbals together is harder than it seems, I’ve done it before for an orchestra too, but that’s a world of difference compared to jazz percussion.

      Non-discussion does not equal non-awareness, but clearly you have taken the non-aware approach! I mean, again, I don’t go tell some dude who is playing the blues to learn to appreciate classical music. That’s the basic idea about telling a black person to enjoy white people music. Now if some person is actually wanting to study music, maybe they ‘ll ask where they can learn more and then you can go all Nodame on them? In any event, Sakamichi no Apollon is not the fanfiction you are looking for.

  • Foxy Lady Ayame

    The circumstances of now and back then are different and Marina wished for more people to appreciate classical music, which she likes. She didn’t tell “a black person to learn to appreciate white people music”… If anything, she wished Sentarou, who’s no Afro-American, to understand Kaoru’s passion. Music unites people, it shouldn’t be spoken in such segregating terms. Shall anyone enjoy a music genre only if it isn’t ladden with values he’s opposed to?And it’s kinda difficult to imagine in our globalized age music not created or exploited by ‘whites’. Besides everyone has his/her taste; if you don’t like classical music, that’s your right- it doesn’t make you Afroamerican supporter. I don’t like R&B music- it doesn’t make me Afroamerican hater…

    Glad you’re open to criticism. I hope you have more tact to express your thoughts and feelings next time. I don’t think an offensive reply such as this one is flattering you.

    • omo

      If music is a part of what makes up people and culture then it will have the same trapping as people and culture. I think all I’m saying is there’s this very clear race/class component (even before episode 4) in CONTEXT of the show and if you are not aware of it you will offend some people.

      I don’t really want to dwell on what I found offensive, especially now that we are 4 episodes in and the race/class issue is very clearly in the show. Let it be said that I have no problems with classical music (I like it much more than jazz in general) and this is a pretty complicated issue that hammy white-knighting a certain commenter displayed is not going to do much but to dig a deeper hole.

    • Icon-son

      So, Marina offended you (or you at least say that Marina risked offending SOMEONE) by speaking of Apollon’s musical themes absent their racial component. Is enjoying music (or anime, or entertainment or themes) really such an all-or-nothing prospect, where every bit of baggage, no matter how relevant/irrelevant to the viewer/critic, must be taken in for an opinion to be considered valid?

      We forget someone else’s baggage on the carousel, and all of a sudden we’re not supposed to be traveling?

    • omo

      I think risk is probably the best word to describe the situation. The point is that she phrased it in the context of Sentarou’s perspective, without any understanding of why/how/jazz/lol drumming in classical music/socio-economic context/race aspects of the story. I think I wouldn’t have batted an eye if she replaced “Sentarou” with “everyone” or something more suitable.

      As for traveling I think you probably need to remember the time nobody went anywhere because someone’s baggage got caught in the carousel mechanism. I mean it’s happened to me twice ever already and I rarely fly.

    • Icon-san

      Maybe I’m being dense, but the racial tensions didn’t seem to be very overt in the show until just this week, and even then Sentarou’s reaction seemed more that he was pissed at the ‘murrican telling him to STOP. than at it being called ‘coon music.

      Obviously in her post Marina was more attracted to the cross-class aspect of the relationship, but why should her selective personal reading be a reason that you think she should simply quit blogging? Because she can’t do it “right”, i.e. bring in context that is irrelevant to her personal context (and by your own admission barely relevant to yours)?

      I don’t think anyone should be obligated to bring in the politics out of some weird sense of comprehensiveness. Doing so can be a distraction to the point, which in fact exactly why you made this post in the first place (your being distracted by “Sentarou” vs. “everyone”).

      It’s petty, projecting, and condescending that you think she should quit because you are apparently more racially aware than she is.

    • omo

      Quit blogging? Why quit blogging? I really don’t know where you guys get the idea that she should stop blogging.

      I think the race/representation issue is clear from the onset. It’s Japanese kids trying to play American jazz music. It’s only a couple decades away from Japanese kids trying to play American rock and roll. And there’s a whole ball of tropes when it comes to rock and roll, that has parallel with what we see in Apollon.

    • Icon-san

      “Because saying things like this is…unfortunate. Please just don’t.”

      Right there.

      And sure, these Japanese kids are playing “black people music”, but again, the show didn’t seem to make much of it until Sentarou’s trauma story (though the church scenes were likely telegraphing it as well). The classist elements were much more prevalent.

      Pre- episode 4 Apollon could have been an anime about, say, Noh v. Kabuki. instead.

    • omo

      I think you’re stretching it there. In both cases.

    • Icon-son

      Not at all. If you’re going to call people out for not thinking of wider contexts even in their personal reflections regardless of relevance, you should be prepared to be taken at your word as well, and if that statement isn’t an offhand attempt to discourage another from even trying the criticism thing, I don’t know what is.

    • omo

      I think if you take my words out of context, they still certainly do not mean what you’ve said. You will have to really change what I’m saying completely. If you take me at my word, like I said, it’d be a stretch to think the claims you’re making as reasonable.

      But I guess you don’t know what is.

      criticism thing

      What criticism thing? I mean, I don’t even know what is there to criticize besides you guys are saying I’m picking on her. I mean, I have stated my reasons. I don’t think you guys invalidated it. I don’t even think you guys actually tried to besides to say that I misunderstood or took her statement out of context. And to both points I have replied.

  • vendredi

    “But it reminds me more of your average shoujo manga…”

    I do agree; a lot of the thematic elements – the jazz music, the 1960s setting – feels like a very thin layer. Part of this is maybe due to the limitations of the source material (it seems most of the posts you link do not realize this is an adaptation of an existing work?).

    After all, you can’t hear music in manga. Still, I feel there’s a lot of missed opportunities here. For an anime about jazz it certainly feels sort of straight-laced.

    ———————–
    As for the race discussion; I think jazz today is not quite so racialized as say, hip-hop (which seems more the inheritor of the race wars). Jazz (at least the modern varieties) evokes a classy, white-collar nightlife sort of feeling.

    Plus, I can’t help but feel too that there’s something about jazz that renders it to some extent less political, simply because it’s so individualistic. Perhaps it’s something that only occurs when you start listening, though.

    Sure, you can locate it within a history of African American culture, but you don’t listen to Thelonius Monk because he represents some institution of African American culture, you listen to him because he’s Monk. Each artist leaves their own personal touch on the same piece of music. In that sense, jazz represents an attempt not so much at ignoring racial identity but rather transcending it – it’s not “African” or “coon” music, it’s Monk’s music. Or Ellignton’s music. Or Adderly’s music, etc. etc.

    ———————–
    On a personal note, my high school jazz band was comprised mostly of Asian immigrants or the children of Asian immigrants (a consequence of living on the Pacific Coast); and a lot of those kids would have fit the same sort of musical background as Kaoru; all classically trained – but we all ended up playing jazz anyway; it was just more fun than the regular band.

    And perhaps that’s the most transcendent part of jazz in the end.

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