Being Alice in Japan: performing a cute, 'girlish' revolt

Publisher:
Routledge
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Citation:
Japan Forum, 2014, 26 (2), pp. 265 - 285 (20)
Issue Date:
2014-05-12
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There is a certain curiosity inscribed to the character Alice of Lewis Carroll's famous children's books. Perhaps reflecting the 'enigmatic' sexuality of the author, Alice herself has been perceived and interpreted in a dualistic way, namely as an innocent child and as a self-assertively sexualized 'Lolita'. However, Alice can also be perceived as an emotionally flat yet autonomous character. My article explores this reading of the heroine, which is notable in the context of Japanese culture. In aspects of contemporary Japanese popular culture, for instance, the idea of `Alice' embodies the idealised image of the 'shojo' (girl), who is situated between child and adult and is largely detached from the heterosexual economy. Paying particular attention to a group of music videos in which female Japanese pop singers offer their own versions of Carroll's heroine, I examine significant meanings that lie in Japanese appropriations of the imagery of Alice. The importance of their performances as Alice is highlighted by the tendency in which the aesthetic concept of kawaii (cuteness), particularly when it is mingled with sweet, girlish, and 'infantile' qualities, is deemed as unfavourable and demeaning in Euro-American cultures. Do their performances of Alice demonstrate a compatibility between girlish aesthetics and senses of agency and autonomy? Can their emphasis on sweetness, demureness, and femininity without hinting at sexual allure or seeking the male gaze serve to repudiate the stereotyped representation of femininity as passive, compliant, and powerless and prevent the sexual objectification of women?
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