ABSTRACT

The inseparable linkage between a communal public imagination that is shaped by the popular culture it produces is well known. For instance, when Fritz Lang’s expressionistic film Metropolis was released in 1927, its futuristic machines and robotic figures were connected with the angst of the proletariat in the popular imagination.1 As a result, many works of proletarian literature ranging from Dickensian city tales to Hayama Yoshiki’s Umi ni ikiru hitobito (Men Who Live on the Sea, 1926), about the appalling labour conditions on factory ships, began to depict machines as threatening forces that jeopardise the well-being of humanity. This perception of crisis travelled the globe and was appropriated by Shinseinen detective fiction writers such as Edogawa Ranpo and Unno Jûza in the development of Japan’s home-grown science fiction genre from 1920 to 1931. Many more examples exist in popular culture but the nomenclature ‘precarity’ used to describe the resulting psychological tidal waves that circulate the globe is a relatively recent neologism. Most recently Guy Standing has defined this new group consciousness referred to as ‘precariat’ in Japan as defying traditional models of class distinction based on income inequality,2 rather than in purely monetary and economic terms. Status hierarchy and social mobility, which also may provide a high level of socio-economic security, often far outweighs simple monetary rewards and is one of the crucial factors that remains unobtainable to the precariat social spectrum. It is no coincidence that the precariat is often depicted through supposedly aberrant social phenomena such as ‘acute social withdrawal syndrome’ (hikikomori), otaku3 and freeter. Besides the socio-economic dimension of a term that has garnered worldwide attention, partly due to surprisingly similar phenomena in many advanced consumer societies the world over, precarity also expresses a pop-cultural dimension that has not yet been sufficiently unearthed. Similar socio-economic conditions mean that pop-cultural representations of disenfranchised consumers can easily transgress national borders in a globalised economy where transcultural media link communities almost instantaneously. In a sense, it is those media

representations that provide a new solidarity far greater than imagined entities such as nations. This process of supplanting one imagined community (nation) with an imaginary global village leads not only to the atrophy of the nation-state but also to the establishment of new identities for consumption via multinational media conglomerates and the internet. Needless to say, TV dramas, movie productions, manga and anime all interact to create a virtual tapestry of precariat imagery in the global economy. I focus my attention on the rich historiographic potential of graphic art and manga to portray the social phenomenon of precariat in contemporary Japanese society. Karin Amamiya – one of the non-conformist spokespeople of the new precariat discourse – also stands as an avatar of the popcultural dimension of precarity. She is by no means a politician of the traditional kind and in both appearance as well as education represents a new generation that was educated, for better or worse, by Japan’s pop-cultural industry. Following are her comments about the educational influence of manga:

My favourite book at that time was Kobayashi Yoshinori’s Gômanizumu sengen. That was before his Sensôron (Theory of war) had come out. At that time Gômanizumu sengen (Gôsen) was packed with all the ‘society’ issues that I wanted to know about, like AIDS caused by tainted blood transfusions and the Aum problem. There was no other way for me to get to know about the world. Even if I had known of other options, they probably would have been out of my reach at the time. Books sold at the bookshops that dealt with issues like politics and society were really thick, and cost easily close to 2000 yen. But Gôsen was serialised in the weekly magazine SPA!, which I could buy for 370 yen.4