ahorbinski: a bridge in the fog (bridge to anywhere)
Bibliographic Data: Shibusawa, Naoko. America's Geisha Ally: Reimagining the Japanese Enemy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006.

Main Argument: Shibusawa explores how "ideologies in the United States supported American foreign policy" in the initial postwar period, arguing that "how Americans reframed Japan after the war was influenced both by the way Americans came to grips with their new role as global leaders and by the way they viewed the meaning of democracy in a changing world where old hierarchies were being challenged" (11, 6). American rhetoric, particularly that produced by the group Shibusawa characterizes as "postwar liberals," transformed the racialized Japanese other into a feminized and childish figure, thereby too frequently reframing racism in other terms and undermining their own professed anti-racism.

America's Geisha Ally )
Critical assessment: Shibusawa is an international historian with a background in the United States, and above all it shows in her analysis: this is a book whose subject is very much the United States, with Japan as the object of discourse. There are a lot of niggling infelicities of phrasing that could have been corrected by any competent historian of Japan, and it's a real shame that Shibusawa didn't or couldn't find one to read her manuscript. As a historian whose primary field is Japan, I missed the Japanese perspective on and reaction to the topics discussed here very much.

On the continued theme of "put your biases under a microscope, scholars," it's hard to escape the feeling that Shibusawa's analysis is structured by a sort of latent animosity towards Christianity. Certainly at times she seems to conflate modern/Western/Christian in a way that blunts the power of her analysis and reinscribes some tired dichotomies. Also, I really don't think we should take anything Henry Luce wrote as the belief of America at large, not without actual evidence at any rate.

Another idiosyncracy that blunts Shibusawa's analysis is her persistent tendency to talk about "Euroamericans" as if they were all one monolithic group (!), similar to her tendency to talk about "Cold War liberals" in the United States as though they thought and acted with one mind with respect to Japan. Indeed, one suspects that Shibusawa's real target of analysis is this group, and (in her judgment) their own betrayal of their liberal post-racial vision in their discourses. Additionally, Shibusawa never bothers to prove her contention that the discourses she analyzes were not dictated by the American government but sprang up on their own in tandem but not in sync with government policy.

Finally, while it's not entirely questionable in a book that focuses so heavily on gendered discourse within society, Shibusawa at times seem to push the homoerotic implications of the discourse farther than makes one as a reader or as a historian entirely comfortable vis-a-vis her subjects. I don't think these things are outside the bounds of scholarship by any means (and I'm not surprised Shibusawa's next book project is apparently about gay panic in Cold War politics), but this is definitely the sort of thing that needs to be discussed, if I can be forgiven an uninentional terrible pun, explicitly.

Further reading: Alan Brinkley, The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century

Meta notes: Is it possible to assess media in history if your only sources are media? Note as well the persistent problem of assessing what actual impact media have on their audience.

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ahorbinski: shelves stuffed with books (Default)
Andrea J. Horbinski

May 2016

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