Critique is not dismissal

It happened to me (and I’m guessing something like this has happened to you, too): I was pointing out something wrong with a post on Facebutt that the poster had obviously supported. In this case, John Oliver’s debt relief stunt where he bought up and eliminated $15 million of medical debt. You can watch the 20-minute clip here:

Thing is, I wasn’t and am not ‘against’ John Oliver. I didn’t say anything about him being irrelevant, irredeemable, or speak about his work or person in generalities. I just shared information that complicates (and maybe implicates) his behavior in this instance. Yes, it’s a good thing he drew attention to the horrors of debt from his position of relative influence as a well-known comedian – good on him! – but maybe it’s not a good thing that in doing so he directly took from the work of radical activists, didn’t give them direct credit for it, left behind their structural critique, and profited from it personally (for further explanation see footnote [1]). Others may think differently, but I do think there is something worth questioning here.

For posting this article in response to the original FB post and an accompanying comment, I was attacked (luckily, not by the poster, who is a friend but one of their friends) in what I’m finding is becoming a usual fashion: I was accused of being “rude” with the implication that I was a purist for not accepting things that are good as good. Basically I was treated like an asshole for bringing in this critique.

In dealing with people who I’m close to, I feel justified in being able to critique behaviors without critiquing them as a person. “Hey, could you wash the dishes more promptly?” does not mean: “I think you’re a lazy inconsiderate asshole” (although maybe sometimes it does!). People and actions aren’t the same, and critiquing someone’s particular behavior is not the same as dismissing that person or their overall value.

Perhaps I feel defensive of the act of criticism because I’m now indoctrinated into the ways of the ‘academic’. Academics critique all the time. It doesn’t mean they are against or dismissive of the thing they are critiquing. In fact, almost all of the people I know who study social justice-oriented social movements academically are supportive of those movements (and often do movement work themselves) while they spend intellectually energy poking at these movements and asking tough questions about their functionality and issues.

In this sense, critical means questioning for purposes of improvement, it does not mean dismissing. But to so many social media commentators claiming “Left” concern, to critique is automatically to tear down.

Part of the response to my posting was to accuse me of ‘armchair politics’ – i.e. “what are YOU doing about this issue?” I totally relate to this critique of critics, because too often in critique there is the smacking of self-righteousness, of people seeming to claim a moral high ground compared with others. The fact that so much activism now is simply “virtue signaling” makes for fertile ground to get angry at critics of left(ish) action.

This is probably why they thought I was rude: my comment implied (to them) that I thought my friend the poster was an imbecile for thinking well of John Oliver. But I meant no such thing. As my comments indicated, my only concern was for how the propaganda effect of the piece was not as awesome as it might have been, if Oliver had truly gone out on a limb and pointed out the need to dismantle the entire edifice of debt, rather only than presenting a charity-focused solution that he could enact due to his well-resourced social position.

Someone might likely argue that my desire is unrealistic, that Oliver did what he could within his constraints and this was ‘better than nothing’. But if Oliver can buy this much debt and relieve it, why is it hard to let the Debt Collective – whose idea and work Oliver straight-up copied – have a say in the political message of the segment? (This is similar to an emerging ethic for engaged scholarship, where scientists doing studies with communities don’t simply ‘extract’ knowledge from informants, they partner with them to co-produce knowledge and keep promises of accountability from start to finish.)

My point is not to dwell on the specifics of this John Oliver case, but to point out how there seems to be a lack of imagination on the Left when it comes to contradictory beliefs. Can someone believe something (a movement, a book, a film, a comedy routine) is worthwhile, even if they question certain parts? Can someone contribute great art to society that has major positive social impacts, but be a flawed imperfect human being who has hurt others? Can electoral politics be seen as an inadequate or sham form of democracy, but still be worth participating in (that is, by voting)?

To me the answer to all of these questions is yes. I can think you are a good person but that you have room for improvement. I can critique culture without implying it is irredeemable. I can criticize without it being for purposes of virtue signaling. I can see the contradictory nature of certain people, things, actions, and philosophies, but still find value in them.

And so can you!

[1] Oliver starts off the segment stating “if you have debts you should pay them if you can”, which implies that the mass of debt is legitimate and stems from personal failings. Oliver only counterpoises this seconds later to the idea that some people are in debt for “no fault of their own” (in particular, medical debt), and this is the debt he’s tackling in the segment. This is quite a liberal/half-way critique of debt relations in modern society. At the end, he calls for “oversight” into the most inhumane forms of debt collection, and that’s it for proposed solutions. He never even mentions debt jubilee or debt resistance, though these are clearly deeper and more longterm solutions.

Top 5 Weird (Popular) Japanese Band Names

I’ve shopped around for listicles of weird Japanese band names, and there certainly are some. But this listicle isn’t just about “weird names”: anyone can start an obscure band and name it some strange obscure thing.

Trust me, I’ve done this plenty of times, having named my bands things like Ppavaartaana and Hello? Noisy! (the latter was actually our name translated from the original which was for some reason in Japanese: もしもしうるさい!/ Moshi Moshi? Urusai!).

No, the bands on this list are popular bands, often with HUGE followings. That is why it is all the more ridiculous that these bands actually exist with these names.

Thing is, three of these five bands were named by John Hiromu Kitagawa, aka Mr. Johnny. He is the founder and director of “Johnny and Associates”, a company that promotes male pop idol type bands. Johnny is the leading figure in Japanese boy bands, since forever. He basically invented the Japanese boy band thing, and at 87 years old, he is the longtime king of kingmakers in that scene.

Under Johnny’s direction, many young men have been made famous by exploiting their good looks and the Japanese public’s discerning taste. You know, like the well-known love of square watermelons, expensive toilets that spray your ass in ten different ways, and porn that isn’t allowed to show penetration (along with insane comic porn of monsters raping fairies—so civilized).

Some of Johnny’s famous bands happened to be given ridiculous names. Perhaps it adds to their mystique? I would think maybe English as a second language helps to make these names “more cool”, but apparently Mr. Johnny was born in Los Angeles, CA, and does speak English.

There are other “non-Johnny” bands that have ended up popular, even with (or because of?) their weird names. But the names of these bands aren’t as weird as those of Johnny’s. Which is why they are the first up, since this list is in reverse order (countdown style).


In reverse order:

5) Mr. Children

Heavy rock! Mister Children isn’t creepy on its face; more just a contradiction in terms. However, it could certainly be interpreted as having pedophiliac connotations. From what I hear, Mr. Children is maybe the most actually band-like band on this list. They both write their own songs and play their own instruments. Their music isn’t particularly innovative, but it’s, um, understandable. It’s rock-ish. It’s pop-like. There is showmanship. If this list were based on musicality rather than band name weirdness, they might be #1 not #5.


4) Bump of Chicken

Ok, so did the chicken bump you? Are you taking “a bump” of chicken, like some sort of drug? No. According to one completely random fanpage (the “go-to” source for J-Pop info), the name emerged from “a derpy attempt at translating “cowards strike back” or “attack of the cowards” that just stuck”.

Hmmm. I think I prefer to make up my own explanation for “the Bump”.

As for their sound, I get the sense that it’s really more about image:


3) Kis-My-Ft2

Also known as “Kiss My Feet 2”. I think of this band as being the second formation of the original, more obscure “Kis-My-Ft” (which they are). Let that sink in: the name worked so well the first time around it was worth rehashing as a sequel.

…but really, the name was based on the members’ combined names. The first letters of each member’s last names put together (Misters Kitayama, Senga, Miyata, Yokoo, Fujigaya, Tamamori); The “ni” from Mr. Nikaidō means “2” in Japanese. Boring.

Still, kissing feet is something everyone can relate to. And if a sexy boy band is telling you to “kiss their feet”, why wouldn’t you buy their album? And poster? Or overpriced ticket to a concert? There might not be live instrumentation, but at least there’ll likely be a live human being singing to you, which is an advance on the phenomena of Hatsune Miku, a virtual “singer” whose concerts attract millions.


2) Sexy Zone

I hear that Mr. Johnny named this band after Michael Jackson, who, after all, was very often in the sexy zone. At least, Mr. Johnny definitely thought so. Mr. Johnny and Mr. Jackson have/had some things in common, like being accused of child sexual abuse (I know this isn’t really a funny thing, but it’s a noteworthy aspect that both pop star and pop star kingmaker share). But clearly, what really unites them is a dedication to the best pop music.

The “best” is of course subjective. To me, Sexy Zone sounds like crap. But hey, I’m not Japanese, and my musical tastes have been pretty unconventional to begin with.



Besides being the weirdest of the bunch, this name is also fun to say. Smmmmmmm-AP! Shmap! What’s more is it’s an acronym for Sports Music Assemble People. Because that’s what Japanese people like I guess. Have a look-listen.

Really, though, SMAP is number one on this list because the name is amazing, but also this band has been at the top of the game for 20+ years. And they still look like they are 20 years old! One member had a drunk-and-naked-in-the-park scandal, while another left to take up motorbike racing. All the remaining members star in a cooking show—the most popular show on Japanese TV EVER.

These guys are clearly multi-talented (though everybody knows that member Masahiro Nakai can’t sing), and Johnny christened them with the most appropriate, all-encompassing name possible, which never ages. SMAP forever! Once SMAP, always SMAP.