You can argue in favor of that point or feel outraged (depending where you’re standing), but the fact that for most Japanese, foreigners equal body odor stays.
There have been studies and scientists suggesting that people from East Asia tend to sweat less and have little or no body odor, compared to European people, but that’s not my point here.
I decided to write a post after watching a deodorant CM, released by the cosmetics company Shiseido. What bugged me there was their choice of models: two Caucasians.
So, what’s the matter? Choosing Caucasians to sell products to an other ethnic population is hardly revolutionary but in this particular case, it HAD to be them. You don’t usually see「外人」- Gaijin (Outsider / Non-Japanese) in the Japanese little screen, save for specific purposes:
1. Celebrities (see: Bruce Willis, Cameron Diaz, Jean Reno…)
2. Gaijin Talento (see: Dave Spector, Leah Dizon…)
You also have Dante Carver, the unclassifiable type, who appears in a very famous series of commercials as part of a (weird) Japanese family, without playing the hackneyed role of the stupid Gaijin.
Going back to the Shiseido CM, the models aren’t celebrities. Here, they are rather used to embody (har har) the idea that “foreigners” (from a Japanese standpoint) know better when it comes to body odors.To reinforce this point, the commercial resorts to an American scientist, Betsy Lyons, who lends her name to give a stamp of approval. She’s supposedly an odorologist (never knew there’s such a job), and presents the result of a research she conducted within the Hill Top Research: “People are insensitive to their own odors.”
I don’t know who Ms Lyons is, but I’ll borrow some lines from The Japan Times that perfectly sum up her presence in this commercial:
Lyons has been the “CM character” for Shiseido’s deodorants for years, conveying a mixture of technical expertise and Yankee practicality, the implication being that non-Japanese know more about body odor since, as everyone knows, foreigners give off more of a reek.
And is it just me or even the way they illustrated the protection offered by the deodorant emphasizes the Gaijin cliché (hello, big nose). *sigh*
What’s even more disturbing is that the target of this CM is Japanese. Read: overly conscious of their appearance and scent. So, they’re supposed to smell less, yet they’d buy products strong enough to hide Gaijins’ heavy odor? I kind of suck in math, but wouldn’t that make in fine these customers smell a lot more? Cue gasps.
More recently, the drama adaptation of the manga「スイッチガール！！」- Switch Girl!! also played the “Gaijins stink” card. It’s a comedy, and the story is indeed hilarious with its heroine being the school’s perfect Charisma Queen when she’s on mode ON, only to turn Himono-style as soon as she activates her mode OFF. You get the point. It’s a light and fun read, and the manga often tests its readers, asking questions to let them know if they’re also a “Switch Girl”.
But in the first minutes of the drama adaptation, surprise surprise, it’s a French woman who appears and does little things Switch Girls are supposed to do. Thing is, in the original manga, the very same actions were carried out by a young Japanese high school girl.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that French (or Westerners) can’t be Switch Girls too (far from that actually), but WHY did they need a foreign, grown-up woman? Obviously, the manga targets a teenage audience and pictures them in these kind of situations so as to create a bond with them. Seeing someone your age is more likely to make you identify with the character. So, even if you put aside the ethnicity of the actress, the simple fact that she’s an adult feels off.
Now, I’m all for laughing my head off and enjoying a comedy, but preferably when I understand the humor. And here I just get that: “Gaijins stink. And they seem to love it.” Which is too bad when the story has more to offer: it’s certainly not a philosophical essay but it does raise the question of the obsession of appearance for young Japanese girls.I ended up ranting when I just wanted to point out things I’ve noticed, but one needs to be careful when watching commercials, TV series and the like. Misused, humor can cause a lot of harm as it can also cover more disturbing and… stinky ideas.
Thanks to Laurent for the CM video!