Pop Cosmopolitanism

Dr Nathaniel Isaacson of North Carolina State University is the author of “Celestial Empire: the Emergence of Chinese Science Fiction” which describes previous phases of such fiction: the concern about Chinese backwardness under the Qing dynasty and the impact of colonialism; a Republican phase; a phase under Mao; and a “golden age” now, when China has arrived in the developed world. Regina Kanyu Wang finds an even older SF story. A skilled artisan makes an automaton that can sing or dance. The emperor is suspicious that there is a person inside so the artisan has to dismantle it to leather and wood to prove there was no deception. This might also be an early illustration of “the uncanny valley”.  We find robots and anthropomorphic activity of animals cute, but when they are barely distinguishable from humans we are unsettled.  Isaacson was one of the speakers at a zoom seminar hosted by  the University of Edinburgh Asian Studies Department On 21st October , in which SACU members participated. Up to three quarters of the attendees were Chinese, many eager to promote the English language version of their books in a world market.  Xuelei Huang, a senior lecturer in Chinese studies at Edinburgh masterfully managed over 100 people in the zoom session.

The idea of “pop cosmopolitanism” was proposed by Jenkins, who illustrated it by a clerk in a Georgia grocery store using a Japanese name page as part her anime “cosplay”.  Pokemon was a very Japanese invention, although its name comes from “pocket monster”, turned into kana syllables.  Humans, known as Pokémon Trainers, catch and train pocket monsters to battle each other for sport. It is not too violent: in a decisive victory, the opponent faints. Breaking out of its original Nintendo hardware into smartphone software it sold 368 million copies.

The cosmopolitan aspect is that Pokemon crosses national borders without arousing old enmities.  Pokémon created only a few moral ripples. Saudi Arabia banned it, claiming to find a Star of David, and crosses and triangles they associated with Freemasonry. Yet a satellite TV station based in the Vatican found it “full of imagination”.

Getting run over while distracted is more of a problem.