This article employs palimpsestuous reading practices to query the transpacific reach and imperial pedigree of the comic strip “Charisma Man.” Turning to Max Weber’s theory of “charismatic authority” to understand the comic’s humorous portrayals of white male heterosexual privilege in Asia, the article proposes that the comic strip illuminates the patterns of raced and gendered “hereditary charisma” that continue to haunt transpacific relations. “Charisma Man,” penned by a team of North American men living in Japan, links contemporary white migrants across Asia – especially native English teachers – with a longue durée of Euro-American imperial actors abroad and builds meaning through intertextual engagement with the iconic cultural texts Superman and Madame Butterfly. The article concludes that “Charisma Man” makes light of white male hereditary charisma in Asia through a layering of temporally-disjointed transpacific discourses and, in turn, adds one more layer to a palimpsestuous sedimentation of sexist and racist hierarchies, normalizing their continuation within contemporary globalization.
Funding source: The Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology
Funding source: The Jane Rosenthal Heimerdinger Research Award at Vassar College
Readers can view three of the other strips analyzed in this article by navigating to www.charismaman.com.
In addition to the postcolonial studies work detailed throughout the article, see the scholarship of Manderson and Jolly (1997, 10–11) and Dower (1999, 123–39) for histories of official sexual policies of Euro-American empires in Asia. See also Sharpe (1993, 21), Shimizu (2007; 185), and Tadiar (2004, 38–44) for how literary and filmic texts have used sexuality as a discursive frame for legitimating Euro-centric hierarchies in the Asia-Pacific.
In addition to the ethnographic works explored below, see Constable (2003, 97) analysis of online marriage brokerage between Filipina and Chinese women and Western men; Chou’s study of Asian Americans, which emphasizes the lived implications and global reach of “images of Asian women as sexually available” (2012, 11); and Rhacel Parreñas (2011, 70–72) ethnography of Filipina hostesses in Japan and the intra-regional construction of racialized hypersexuality, which has been built on Japan’s own imperial influence across the Asia-Pacific.
I would like to thank my FSU undergraduate research assistant, Ian Banker, for invaluable help with completing the references and clarifying argumentation for the article.
In addition to conducting immersive observation within Nagoya’s English-speaking foreigner communities during my 2009–11 fieldwork (focusing on expat bars, foreign businessman networks, and an English teacher’s labor union), I also conducted 65 semi-structured interviews with U.S. citizens, which varied in length from one to 3 h each. Of my 65 interviewees, 15 were white-passing women (23%), eight were men of color (16%), and 42 were white men.
Because westerners of color do take part in and benefit from contemporary forms of Euro-American hegemony in Asia while still being racially marked and differentiated from whiteness (Chou 2012, 227; Cornyetz 1994, 126–27; Wang 2017), I find it helpful to distinguish between terms – naming “whiteness” when highlighting racial privileges and using “western/westerner” more inclusively. When discussing imperialism and colonialism, I use “Euro-American” to differentiate between western and Japanese imperial histories in Asia and to point to how these histories are connected to a contemporary “global racial hegemony” that continues to privilege whiteness (Winant 2004, x).
The comic was published with the input of numerous North American writers and illustrators over the years and not all of these men have remained on good terms. Neil Garscadden (from the US) has coordinated the book publications, which have not included images of Charisma Man that appeared in Japanzine between 2002 and 2005. For details on the creators see Garscadden (2011) and Lah (2010).
After one informant told me about Luke’s purported connection to the comic, I spoke with multiple other long-term foreign residents in Nagoya who corroborated the account. Given the ease with which people see many “Charisma Men” in their social circles (Japanzine 2001, 22), whether Luke was the main inspiration for the comic is ultimately less interesting than the parallels that I lay out between the comic and Luke’s performances of business masculinity.
Research funding: My 2009–11 fieldwork was generously funded by a Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology Scholarship. The Jane Rosenthal Heimerdinger Research Award at Vassar College funded follow-up fieldwork in 2017.
Ahmed, S. 2010. “Feminist Killjoys (And Other Willful Subjects).” Scholar and Feminist Online 8.3: sfonline.edu/polyphonic/print_ahmed.htm.Search in Google Scholar
Aleem, Z. 2010. “Is 30 Rock Racist?” In The Huffington Post, Vol. 8, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/is-em30-rockem-the-most-r_b_637300.Search in Google Scholar
Bailey, K. 2007. “Akogare, Ideology, and ‘Charisma Man’ Mythology: Reflections on Ethnographic Research in English Language Schools in Japan.” Gender, Place and Culture 14(5): 585–608, https://doi.org/10.1080/09663690701562438.Search in Google Scholar
Barnes, B., I. Palmary, and D. Kevin. 2001. “The Denial of Racism the Role of Humor, Personal Experience, and Self-Censorship.” Journal of Language and Social Psychology 20(3): 321–38, https://doi.org/10.1177/0261927x01020003003.Search in Google Scholar
Charisma, Man Press 2020. Charisma Man: The Man… The Legend. charismaman.com.Search in Google Scholar
Cho, J. S. P. 2012. “Global Fatigue: Transnational Markets, Linguistic Capital, and Korean-American Male English Teachers in South Korea.” Journal of Sociolinguistics 16(2): 218–37, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9841.2011.00526.x.Search in Google Scholar
Chou, R. 2012. Asian American Sexual Politics: The Construction of Race, Gender, and Sexuality. Lanham MD: Rowman and Littlefield.Search in Google Scholar
Danger, J. 2006. The Charisma Man Syndrome – Why Westerners Are Treated like Alpha Males in China: Ezine Articles. https://ezinearticles.com/?The-Charisma-Man-Syndrome-Why-Westerners-are-Treated-Like-Alpha-Males-in-China&id=332541.Search in Google Scholar
Dillon, S. 2005. “Reinscribing De Quincey’s Palimpsest: the Significance of the Palimpsest in Contemporary Literary and Cultural Studies.” Textual Practice 19(3): 243–63, https://doi.org/10.1080/09502360500196227.Search in Google Scholar
Dillon, S. 2007. The Palimpsest: Literature, Criticism, Theory. London: Continuum.Search in Google Scholar
Dirlik, A. 1992. “The Asia-Pacific Idea: Reality and Representation in the Invention of a Regional Structure.” Journal of World History 3(1): 55–79.Search in Google Scholar
Dower, J. 1999. Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.Search in Google Scholar
Enloe, C. 1989. Bananas, Beaches & Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Search in Google Scholar
Farrer, J. 2010. “A Foreign Adventurer’s Paradise? Interracial Sexuality and Alien Sexual Capital in Reform Era Shanghai.” Sexualities 13: 69–95, https://doi.org/10.1177/1363460709352726.Search in Google Scholar
Farrer, J. 2011. “Global Nightscapes in Shanghai as Ethnosexual Contact Zones.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 37(5): 747–64, https://doi.org/10.1080/1369183x.2011.559716.Search in Google Scholar
Farrer, J., and S. Dale. 2013. “Sexless in Shanghai: Gendered Mobility Strategies in a Transnational Sexual Field.” In Sexual Fields: Toward a Sociology of Collective Sexual Life, edited by A. Isaiah Green, 143–70. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Search in Google Scholar
Fechter, A.-M., and K. Walsh. 2010. “Examining ‘Expatriate’ Continuities: Postcolonial Approaches to Mobile Professionals.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 36(8): 1197–210, https://doi.org/10.1080/13691831003687667.10.4324/9780203718414-7Search in Google Scholar
Fisher, M. 2013. “Korea’s Web Community Roiled by Shocking Video of Western Men Tormenting a Local Woman.” Washington, D.C.: Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2013/07/25/controversial-video-of-western-men-harassing-a-korean-woman-appears-to-have-been-staged/.Search in Google Scholar
Garscadden, N. 2011. Living and Loving the Alien from Nagoya. Tokyo: Japan Times www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2011/07/26/issues/living-and-loving-the-alien-from-nagoya/#.W0_jpdPwbOQ.Search in Google Scholar
Glionna, J. M. 2009. “Charisma Man: An American Geek Is Reborn in Japan.” Los Angeles: Los Angeles Times. www.latimes.com/2009/sep/01/fg-japan-charisma-man1.Search in Google Scholar
Hoang, K. K. 2015. Dealing in Desire: Asian Ascendancy, Western Decline, and the Hidden Currencies of Global Sex Work. Berkeley: University of California Press.10.1525/9780520960688Search in Google Scholar
Huang, Y. 2002. Transpacific Displacement: Ethnography, Translation, and Intertextual Travel in Twentieth-Century American Literature. Berkeley: University of California Press.10.1525/9780520928145Search in Google Scholar
Hwang, H. D. 1989. M. Butterfly. New York: Penguin Press.Search in Google Scholar
Japanzine. 2001. “Who Is the Real Charisma Man?” Japanzine.Search in Google Scholar
Jenkins, H. 2009. “Just Men in Tights’: Rewriting Silver Age Comics in an Era of Multiplicity.” In The Contemporary Comic Book Superhero, edited by A. Ndalianis, 16–43. New York: Routledge.Search in Google Scholar
Jones, A. M., and R. N. Mitchell. 2017. Drawing on the Victorians: The Palimpsest of Victorian and Neo-Victorian Graphic Texts. Columbus: Ohio University Press.Search in Google Scholar
Kubota, R. 2011. “Learning a Foreign Language as Leisure and Consumption: Enjoyment, Desire, and the Business of Eikaiwa.” International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 14(4): 473–88, https://doi.org/10.1080/13670050.2011.573069.Search in Google Scholar
Lan, P.-C. 2011. “White Privilege, Language Capital and Cultural Ghettoisation: Western High-Skilled Migrants in Taiwan.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 37(10): 1669–93, https://doi.org/10.1080/1369183x.2011.613337.Search in Google Scholar
Lah, K. 2010. “Comic Spoofs Western Nerds’ Dating Success in Japan.” CNN March 4, 2010. edition cnn.com/2010/03/02/japan.charisma.comic/.Search in Google Scholar
Long, J. L. 1917. Madame Butterfly. New York: The Century Company.Search in Google Scholar
Manderson, L., and M. Jolly. 1997. “Sites of Desire, Economies of Pleasure: Sexualities in Asia and the Pacific.” In Sites of Desire, Economies of Pleasure: Sexualities in Asia and the Pacific, edited by L. Manderson, and M. Jolly, 1–26. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Search in Google Scholar
Mankekar, P., and L. Schein. 2004. “Introduction: Mediated Transnationalism and Social Erotics.” The Journal of Asian Studies 63(2): 357–65, https://doi.org/10.1017/s0021911804001007.Search in Google Scholar
Marchetti, G. 1993. Romance and the ‘Yellow Peril’: Race, Sex, and Discursive Strategies in Hollywood Fiction. Berkeley: University of California Press.Search in Google Scholar
Nakamura, R. 2003. “‘This Little Flap of Flesh’: Colonialism, Masculinism, and Colonized Men – M. Butterfly and the Problems of Anti-essentialism.” Seijo University Keizai Kenkyū 154: 79–103.Search in Google Scholar
O’Brien, M. 2019. “Transpacific Resonances and Affiliations in Leanne Dunic’s to Love the Coming End and Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being.” New Global Studies 13(1): 35–59, https://doi.org/10.1515/ngs-2019-0006.Search in Google Scholar
Owens, C. 2014. “Transnational Structures of Privilege: U.S. Migrants Navigating Whiteness, Masculinity, and Empire in Contemporary Japan.” PhD diss., Davis, University of California.Search in Google Scholar
Owens, C. 2017. “Traveling Yellow Peril: Race, Gender, and Empire in Japan’s English Teaching Industry.” American Studies 55/56 (4): 29–49, https://doi.org/10.1353/ams.2017.0001.Search in Google Scholar
Phillipson, R. 1992. Linguistic Imperialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Search in Google Scholar
Rafael, V. 2000. White Love and Other Events in Filipino History. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.Search in Google Scholar
Rodney, L., and N. Garscadden. 2002. Charisma Man: 1998–2002: The Complete Collection. Tokyo: AKNG Press.Search in Google Scholar
Rodney, L., and N. Garscadden. 2010. Charisma Man: The Even More Complete Collection. Sydney: Treasure Productions.Search in Google Scholar
Rosen, J. L. 2018. The “Eurasian Question”: The Colonial Position and Postcolonial Options of Colonial Mixed-Ancestry Groups from British India, Dutch East Indies and French Indochina Compared. Hilversum, NL: Verloren.Search in Google Scholar
Said, E. 1978. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books.Search in Google Scholar
Sakai, N., and H. J. Yoo. 2012. “Introduction: The Trans-Pacific Imagination – Rethinking Boundary, Culture and Society.” In The Trans-Pacific Imagination: Rethinking Boundary, Culture and Society, edited by N. Sakai, and H. J. Yoo, 1–44. Singapore: World Scientific Publication.10.1142/9789814324144_0001Search in Google Scholar
Sharpe, J. 1993. Allegories of Empire: The Figure of Woman in the Colonial Text. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Search in Google Scholar
Sklair, L. 2001. The Transnational Capitalist Class. Oxford: Blackwell.Search in Google Scholar
Stanley, P. 2012. “Superheroes in Shanghai: Constructing Transnational Western Men’s Identities.” Gender, Place and Culture 19(2): 213–31, https://doi.org/10.1080/0966369x.2011.573141.Search in Google Scholar
Stoler, A. L. 1989. “Making Empire Respectable: The Politics of Race and Sexual Morality in 20th Century Colonial Cultures.” American Ethnologist 16(4): 634–60, https://doi.org/10.1525/ae.1989.16.4.02a00030.Search in Google Scholar
Stoler, A. L. 1997. “Sexual Affronts and Racial Frontiers: European Identities and the Cultural Politics of Exclusion in Colonial Southeast Asia.” In Tensions of Empire: Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois World, edited by A. L. Stoler, and F. Cooper, 198–237. Berkeley: University of California Press.10.1017/S001041750001793XSearch in Google Scholar
Stoler, A. L. 2006. “Tense and Tender Ties: The Politics of Comparison in North American History and (Post) Colonial Studies.” In Haunted by Empire: Geographies of Intimacy in North American History, edited by A. L. Stoler, 23–67. Durham: Duke University Press.10.1215/9780822387992-002Search in Google Scholar
Tadiar, N. 2004. Fantasy Production: Sexual Economies and Other Philippine Consequences for the New World Order. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.Search in Google Scholar
Volpp, L. 2005. “Divesting Citizenship: On Asian American History and the Loss of Citizenship through Marriage.” UCLA Law Review 53(2): 405–83.Search in Google Scholar
Wang, L. 2017. ““‘Leftover Women’ and ‘Losers Back Home’: The Gendered Experience of Chinese American Return Migration to China.” Paper Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Asian American Studies.” Portland April 15.Search in Google Scholar
Weber, M. 1978. Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology, edited by G. Roth, and C. Wittich. New York: Bedminster Press.Search in Google Scholar
Winant, H. 2004. The New Politics of Race. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Search in Google Scholar
Yuval-Davis, N. 1997. Gender and Nation. London: Sage.Search in Google Scholar
© 2020 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston