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This is a photograph of a subway banner last month designed by an eighth grader in a Fukuoka Junior High School, taking first place in a Fukuoka City Subway contest for “Riding Manners”. The caption: “Don’t overdo the freedom.”
December 25, 2014, Reader TJL remarks: Hmmm…Fukuoka is now jumping on the “ugly American” bandwagon by portraying a rude Lady Liberty taking up too much space and playing her music too loud…the poor old lady in kimono can’t sit down and the salary man is disturbed by the noise. My graduate student from Chile found this on the subway. So much for the kinder, gentler Japan welcoming visitors by 2020 for the Olympics.
COMMENT: First, praise. It’s a clever, well-rendered poster by a Junior High School student who at a surprisingly young age has a great grasp of space, color, perspective, and poster layout (I’ve done a lot of posters in my day, and I wasn’t anywhere near this quality until high school). I especially love the jutting out bare foot, the extra-spiky headdress, the update to include noisy iPod headphones, and the open flame of Liberty’s torch on the seat. The artist also displays careful attention to detail — he even remembered Liberty also carries a book (it’s on the seat by the torch).
Now, critique. It’s sad to see such a young artist with an image of seeing freedom as an American symbol that can be so abused in a Japanese context. Remember, just about anything humanoid could have been posed here taking up too much space, and comically too. However, as rendered, it comes off more as a cheap shot at something foreign.
It’s made even cheaper by making Liberty barefoot. I mentioned the artist’s attention to detail, but Liberty wears sandals. The artist’s omission of that and purposefully sticking a bare foot in the face of the audience increases the rudeness, in a way that is hypocritical for since the slogan is “not overdoing it”. Also, the extra-long spikes on the headdress, although artistically good for the poster’s rhythm, only exaggerates the inapproachability of Liberty, and thus is similarly overdone.
In sum, this poster is being featured for discussion on Debito.org because the subconscious attitude in a prizewinning (and thus officially-sanctioned) contest is to see freedom as a foreign, abusable concept. Thus freedom is unsuitable to a Japanese context because it victimizes innocent Japanese. Meaning the subliminal message being normalized is a strand of xenophobia, shudderingly inappropriate for Japan’s developing youth and future. Dr. ARUDOU, Debito