Write a 2000-word essay on ONE of the following two topics. ÒYour essay should conform to normal requirements for academic essays in its style, structure and referencing of sources. This unit requires
2. Discuss the ways cultural actors (activists) and creators in China, Indonesia and/or Japan express social criticisms through their work. You must include examples from at least two of the three countries (China, Indonesia
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Social Criticism by Cultural Activists
Social criticism is a method of criticism that identifies the flaws in the social structure and address the matter accordingly. It might also mean to individuals following the social critic’s purpose at practical solutions using a particular means either for consensual reform or significant revolution. Social criticism is often motivated by repression of the minority groups, where it is formulated to fight for the rights of the affected individuals. It can also be driven by the political climate of a particular country or region. Cultural activists can use social criticisms in forms of cinemas or literature to address social matters which they feel might have been neglected. They do so by pointing to the social illnesses, either by use of real-life occurrences or fictional works. The works can be used to address human nature matters, by tackling gender and social equality, and justice, among other social issues. This essay explores the social criticisms presented by the cultural activists and actors in Japan and Indonesia, with a particular focus on cinema and literature. The elements of social criticism are evident in most work by various authors and filmmakers in these countries, and they have helped the countries to achieve social and political stability.
Social Criticism in Literature
Fictional literature can be used as a form of advancing for social justice and equality. The users use fictional works as revolutionary materials to make a social impact in society. In various parts of the world, literature has proved to be very strong in addressing administrative matters and has even forced changing of laws relating to public housing and community health and development. For instance, in 1896, Arthur Morrison wrote a novel, A Child of the Jago, which caused England to change the housing regulations (Morisson, 2013). Other globally recognized works that depict social criticism include Charles Dickens and George Orwell’s Animal Farm where the authors tell a story of animals who revolt against their human masters. This is a masterpiece work that depicts how social injustice can lead to mass action and revolt (Snyder, 2004).
Japanese literature has been in existence for over two millennia, and it is one of the significant writings of the world, thus describing its influential position in social action. The literature comprises of several genres, including novels (made up of few episodes), poetry, performed literature (oral narratives and drama), and miscellaneous literary works such as personal reflections and essays (Konishi, Gatten, Harbison, & Miner, 2014). Japanese literature is relative to its history as a nation, which spans through the period of national seclusion (the 1630s to 1860s) to the Meiji era (1868 to 1912). The Meiji era is the remarkably the period of modernization and westernization- which opened Japan to new ideas. After the Meiji restoration, the literary forms primarily incorporated social criticism and political activism. The period was also marked by the influx of translations of western literature which significantly influenced other types of Japanese literature and writing methods. There was a greater emphasis on psychological realism instead of didacticism. For instance, the I Novel during the 1880s described experiences and the reflections of the author and how he felt about the contemporary society (Konishi, Gatten, Harbison, & Miner, 2014).
Between the 1920s and 1930s, the Japanese literature was shaped by the proletarian movement. The proletarian movement gave rise to a politically radical literature that conveyed the lives of the oppressed and their struggle for social and political justice (Bowen-Struyk, 2017). The social activist aimed to induce reformation and revolution in response to the flaws in social structures. It is also during this time when there was increased government censorship, especially during the world wars which led to the literary slump. The publishers were expected only to publish the work that promoted war efforts. The modern literature is also characterized by acceptance or rejection of modernization and westernization, Japanese identity, gender issues, nationalism, and handling defeat and occupation. Some of the modern Japanese literature authors who can be considered cultural activists include Miyake Kaho, Natsume Soseki, and Jun’ichiro Tanizaki. Miyake Kaho, whose work existed between 1868 and 1944, is the first female author of modern Japanese literature. Her work, notably Warbler in the Grove, published in 1988 show progressive ideologies such as education, gender norms, sexuality, and westernization (Bowen-Struyk, 2017).
Natsume Soseki (1867-1916), is also an author in the modern Japanese literature who is considered the first author of modern realistic novels (Konishi, Gatten, Harbison, & Miner, 2014). His works showed the plight of the alienated modern Japanese intellectual. His influence is in describing the personality of the people transitioning from traditional to contemporary. His key themes include obligations and desire, group mentality and individuality, and personal isolation. Jun’ichiro Tanizaki (1886-1965) is also a cultural activist who contrasted the traditional Japanese elements and the Western-inspired issues such as family relations in the 20th century and sexuality and erotic obsessions.
The period between 1945 and 1970 (post-war era), also gave rise to a literature that primarily dealt with the themes of disaffection, loss of direction, and coping with defeat and occupation. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki inspired much poetry and literary work, for instance, Black Rain by Ibuse Masuji in 1966. In the mid-1960s, there arose a generation of authors, commonly known as “protest generation”, including Oe Kenzaburo and Mishima Yukio. In 1968, the Japanese literature reached the global stage when Kawabata Yasunari won the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize for literature (Konishi, Gatten, Harbison, & Miner, 2014). Kenzaburo notably epitomizes the rebellion of the post-WW2 generation by often criticizing the modern Japanese society and politics. He addresses matters such as nuclear weapons, existentialism, and social non-conformism. Mishima Yukio, who is both an author and film director combines both modern and traditional aesthetics, primarily handling sexuality, personal and cultural identity, death, and political activity. However, from 1970, the literature has been characterized by postmodernism, where the authors can use the hypertext novels and graphic novels. The authors address the contemporary Japanese matters such as love, and the young Japanese generation in modern Japan. For instance, Murakami Ryu, who is a novelist writes about sexual promiscuity, American pop culture, and violence- and bringing them into the Japanese context (Konishi, Gatten, Harbison, & Miner, 2014).
Social criticism in Indonesian literature took its foot following the Suharto resignation and thus democratic reform is known as reformasi. The political reformation was marked by relaxing of the dictatorial regime and decentralization of the authority, with the role of military reduced. The censorship of media and literary arts were also abolished, and thus the cultural practitioners and activists had new freedom to address political and social matters. Political reformation also allowed the cultural activists access and exposure to ideas and cultural products outside Indonesia (Abdullah, 2015).
Literature played a critical during the nationalist movement in Indonesia, though it was still under the censorship of the Dutch authorities. By the end of the 19th century, the Malay newspapers emerged, which included literature. As the press developed, they started employing indigenous writers- who became integral in colonial activism and 1920s; they took part in publishing political poetry and novels (Teeuw, 2013). Due to the strict Dutch literature censorship, the development of the Indonesian literature was slow, which was characterized by low literacy levels. In 1933, The New Writer newspaper appeared, with the first editors being Armijn Pane and Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana, two of the most renowned Indonesian authors. Their influence is known in advocacy for the Indonesian to be the national language and closely identified with the Indonesian unity.
In 1945, there arose a generation of the writer known as Angkatan 45, where the writers were concerned with addressing the dynamism in cultural expression alongside national revolution and the early years of independence (Teeuw, 2013). Most Angkatan 45 writers began writing during the Japanese occupation (1942-1945)- who forbade using Dutch as the national language is promoting the Indonesian language. Revolution against the Dutch was formative during this period, and most writers were actively involved in the uprising. Writers of Angkatan 45 addressed the possibility and reality of independence from colonialism and a place in global matters. These writers explored the universal themes such as humanitarianism, the nature of existence and the role of literature. Further, they helped develop the Indonesian language into a national, expressive language.
At the end of the 20th century, following the decline of the Suharto regime, restrictions on freedom of expression were relaxed. Authors could now write openly on matters which were previously considered taboo or subversive. However, the most prominent and controversial trend was the emergence of female writers whose work was characterized by blatantly addressing sexuality and gender issues. The female-woven literature was branded sastra wangi (fragrant literature) (Eagling, 2007).
Social Criticisms in Cinema
Cinemas are also a critical group of cultural actors and activists who can be used to promote social action. By using the films or scripts, they can influence the country’s decisions or the mentality of people concerning others from different backgrounds or values. Cinema has been known to address sociological prejudices such as stereotyping, generalization, discrimination, and prejudices. Stereotyping involves an ending point where no effort is made to ascertain whether to apply it to the individual in question (Yoshimoto, 2000). Stereotyping creates cultural tensions and conflicts regarding other cultures. Cinemas are also helpful in reducing generalizations- which involves general statement concerning a particular group of people. Discrimination has also been prevalent in the films, where the activists aim at lowering negative treatment on some group of people or people from certain backgrounds.
Social criticism has been a characteristic in Japanese cinema, where filmmakers work together, for instance, to address a certain thing affecting the society. For example, during the late 1950s through 1970s, there arose a group of Japanese New Wave, which comprised a group of loosely networked local filmmakers (Cook, 2016). Although the group of the directors in the Japanese New Wave shared nothing in common and thus couldn’t have a coherent movement, they shared the sentiments of rejecting the traditional standards of traditional Japanese cinema, advocating for more challenging matters- in thematic and formal perspectives. This new wave came up in a time of social action and movement and national unrest. The films directed by the Japanese New Wave directors addressed the themes which were considered taboo, including sexual violence, radicalization, pop culture, the sidelining of the Korean natives, and the aftermath of the World War II. The directors also followed the unorthodox and experimental way of composition, editing, and cinematography. The popular directors associated with social action during the Japanese New Wave include Susumu Hani, Koreyoshi Kurahara, Yasuzo Masumura, Nagisa Oshima, and Terayama Shuji, among others. These directors and their counterparts played a crucial role in ensuring that the social issues and flaws are addressed, even through engaging controversial films such as promiscuity (Nagisa Oshima) (Desser, 1988).
Indonesian cinema also has social criticism elements that have been integral in addressing social flaws and unrests. The birth of Indonesian cinema dates back in 1926, where the first film was directed by Dutch directors (Heide, 2002). Most of the early producers were Chinese Indonesians, and the movie was taken as commercial other than artistic works. After independence, two traditions of Indonesian cinema were established, where the producers focused more on quantity rather than quality and were dictated by the taste of foreign models and actors. Usmar Ismail (1949-1970), who is considered the father of Indonesian cinema introduced an alternative approach, where his stories were based on the real-life issues that affected the Indonesian population. His stories, influenced by Italian neo-realists, showed the lives of the locals and their struggle for independence, for example, Fighters for Freedom, 1961 (Heide, 2002).
After independence and during the Suharto era, the country experienced a boom in cinema growth, with the films produced been cheap and imitating Hollywood films-emphasis on sex and violence. From 1998 (New Order era), there has been a cinema revival, where the producers have been free from censorships and thus producing more innovative and films that address social injustices. Though censorship has ended in Indonesia, it often occurs, with Balibo (2009), being the latest film to be censored, with fears that it might cause political tension. Nia Dinata, a cultural activist, has also been recognized in her effort to challenge the homogenous stereotypical perceptions of Indonesian women and gender. Dinata uses the films to address the feminist issues employing gender subversion and women, stories to confront the underlying patriarchal ideologies and structures (Tatyzo, 2011).
Overall, cultural activists and actors have played a critical role in addressing social issues such as gender inequality and feminism. This typology has presented some of the cultural products such as literature and cinema and how the activists have used them in social activism. With a central focus on the historical development of the two elements in Japan and Indonesia, the paper shows that cultural products can be helpful in addressing social issues and advocating for social justice and equality.