Too old to join a gal-sa

There’s this thing that happens every time I pick up a copy of Make or Craft. The projects sound really interesting, so I buy a copy. But then as I get to reading it, I start to feel turned off. So I complain to friends, and they shrug, and I mostly forget about it until the next issue comes out. I don’t think O’Reilly cares if their magazines rub me the wrong way; I keep buying them anyhow (and why? because there isn’t anything better on the market?). But I care, so I’m going to tell you what I think of the latest issue of Craft.

Also, I’m irritated that I can’t find any other signs of these sorts of complaints when I search online. There’s certainly nothing of the sort on the letters page. The letters in the latest issue of Craft consist of: 1 correction related to an article about crochet, 2 OMG you rock! letters, and 1 OMG you rock I can buy Craft in stores in Canada now!!!

It’s a big love fest. Which would be okay, but I’m not feeling it myself.

I have this obsessive research habit. If I get interested in a topic, it’s hard for me to walk away until I’ve read all the good stuff about it online (and then sometimes I still follow up at the bookstore). It’s useful because I can get oriented well enough to explain things to someone else within a couple of days, but it’s sort of bad when I need to be doing other work.

So the Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno book triggered a bit of a research frenzy into Japanese teen girl fashion and culture. Which meant that I was particularly interested to see that the latest issue of Craft has a focus on Japan. They have origami, cute little kimono-clad dolls, etc. But I’m disappointed that while they interviewed a men’s craft group in Tokyo, and there’s an excerpt from a Japanese book, and some of the contributors have even lived there, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of direct input or contribution from anyone from there. I think this matters, because my impression from reading about Japan and talking to people who’ve lived there, is that there are things about how crafts and fashion fit into Japanese culture that are easy to get wrong from the outside.

I’m not saying that appropriating elements of other cultures without understanding them is inherently wrong (and I know Japan does plenty of this on its own), but context is interesting, and helps us avoid objectifying other people and places. Plus, sometimes the random shallow appropriation of objects can have embarrassing results.

The best example of this in Craft is Diana Eng’s Harajuku t-shirt project. It’s a cute shirt. But if you take even a minute to read the Wikipedia article for “Harajuku girl” that they link in the sidebar, you find:

The term is not used by those who gather in the district themselves, but has become a relatively popular expression in the United States. Popular use originated from the American singer Gwen Stefani’s 2004 Love. Angel. Music. Baby. album, which brought attention to Stefani’s entourage of four supposed “Harajuku Girls” who were hired to portray the look, three of whom are Japanese and one of whom is Japanese American. These “Harajuku Girls” are not in fact the fashion aficionados or the home sewing hobbyists from whence they derive their name.

According to the Jan/Feb 2006 edition of Blender magazine, American comedian Margaret Cho has labeled Stefani’s Harajuku Girls a “minstrel show” that reinforces ethnic stereotypes of Asian women.

The Wikipedia article is a bit of a mess on the whole, but I’ve seen similar comments elsewhere. There’s also the problem that the supposed “Harajuku style” actually encompasses several different subcultures, all morphing and going in and out of style like only teen fads can. So the relationship between the project in the magazine, and anything that actually occurs in Japan is flimsy. Again, I like the shirt. But shouldn’t a modern craft magazine have a higher level of cultural intelligence than the “Indian bead projects” we did in school?

More pictures of my own craft projects coming next. I think the stuffed star pins and Hello Kitty pockets would be at home in a decora outfit.

One response to “Too old to join a gal-sa

  1. This is only kind of tangentially related, but if your readings of Japan haven’t yet led you to PingMag you might be interested. Their articles are commonly interviews with artists and designers, always well illustrated, and generally represent some of the better writing I’ve found on the web.