Thursday, May 11, 2006
Well, not precisely, but close enough. I consider myself an Apple fan, but I'm not a huge fan of the commercial ("Network") in question.
If you haven't seen it yet, here it is.
The important part to note is the Japanese dialogue spoken by the digital camera woman. After some basic pleasantries, her last line can be translated to "he looks kinda otaku-ish".
Now, regular readers of this blog or people familar with my writings and research in general have heard me talk about otaku over and over. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, I'll point you to my most commonly-cited otaku essay: "The Politics of Otaku" (which has links to more information). To make a long story short, it's not wholly inaccurate to translate 'otaku' as 'geek'. There are some important distinctions between 'otaku' and 'geek', but they are very closely related ('anorak' might be even better, but only British readers will get that).
So why am I bringing this up? I have to say that I was somewhat surprised to see 'otaku' used in the Apple ad that way. Of course, most Americans watching the ad won't know what she said, and the main point of the ad is simply that the PC guy doesn't know how to communicate with the Japanese digital camera woman, leading to an awkward moment for him. It also appears that the Mac guy and the digital camera woman are sharing an inside joke, chuckling while the PC guy is forced to look on, feeling excluded.
Of course, with the internet, it's very easy for television viewers to find out what she said, and as it turns out, she was mentioning how the PC guy looked kind of like an otaku (or a geek, or nerd if you prefer), and then laughed about it with the Mac guy.
Why did they have her say that? Yes, it's true that otaku are not always looked upon very highly by certain segments of Japanese society, but did Apple really want the protagonist of their commercial to engage in or sympathize with outright mocking of otaku/geeks? It seems a little distasteful. After all, don't we affectionately consider Jobs and Wozniak to be geeks? Furthermore, in the last year, otaku have enjoyed a wave of positive media attention in Japan [see my article The Evolution of Otaku Concept for more discussion of that].
Another weird thing about the statement she made is that the PC guy doesn't look anything like an otaku. Now, I'm not a fan of physical stereotyping, and I know that otaku come in all shapes and sizes, and are not restricted to any particular "look", but given the PC guy's conservative and business formal attire, I can't figure out why she would say he looks like an otaku. She might be referring to his general build, haircut, and/or glasses, and if that's the case, it's even more shocking that Apple would have a commercial making fun of those things. Maybe the guy doesn't have the look and presence of an action movie star, but so what? What ever happened to the philosophy behind the Apple Switch ads featuring regular looking people as the stars?
Just like in the US, there are people in Japan (many of whom might be considered otaku) who are really into Apple Computer products. Why would the company risk alienating its otaku userbase in Japan, not to mention all the PC-using otaku? Apple is all about passionate, free-spirited, and iconoclastic users, so such an ad is an odd contradiction and possibly a foolish move.
There are the plenty of Americans (anime and manga fans, mostly) who call themselves 'otaku', as well. This ad doesn't speak very well to them, either.
To me, the most ironic thing is that this commercial might very well be the most widely broadcasted use of the word 'otaku' in American television history. Let's hope Apple (or whoever else) does it better next time.
[Thanks to Lillian for providing the translation]
Posted by Lawrence Eng at 10:30 PM