Tag Archives: popular culture

Jember – the first Ethiopian Superhero Comic Book: Tradition Meets Popular Culture – by Eleni Birhane. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

Jember – the first Ethiopian Superhero Comic Book: Tradition Meets Popular Culture – by Eleni Birhane. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

Editor’s Note: our profound gratitude to the artist and author Beserat Debebe for the interview, and for the permission to share the beautiful images from this important project. Etan Comics retains all rights.

Continue reading

29 Comments

Filed under Eleni Birhane, North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

From Anime to Actuality: The Evolution of My Conceptualization of Japan – by Marin Ekstrom. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

From Anime to Actuality: The Evolution of My Conceptualization of Japan – by Marin Ekstrom. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

marin-e-img_1340

[A traditional shrine with Tokyo Tower in the background]

marin-e-img_1385
[Tokyo Tower at night]

Like many children who came of age in the late 1990s/ early 2000s, I grew up on a steady diet of cartoons and video games. This time period coincided with the rise of Japanese media in mainstream American pop culture. As a result, Japanese TV shows and video games like Sailor Moon, Dragonball, and Pokemon became childhood staples. I cannot say exactly why I was personally drawn to such programs. On one hand, they were a bit strange with their giant-eyed characters, exaggerated artistic effects (i.e. over-the-top facial expressions) and fantastical plots. On the other hand, they seemed more whimsical, imaginative, and emotionally heartfelt than their American counterparts, and thus I became a devotee of Japanese media from an early age.

marin-e-img_1457

[New friends at a seafood restaurant in Ohara-Isumi City]

marin-e-img_1392
[Convenience store rice balls and other goodies]

marin-e-img_3600
[Japanese dolls at the Tokyo-Narita Airport]

As I entered middle school, I descended deeper and deeper into otaku-hood (Note: an otaku is someone who is a just bit too interested in Japanese media, somewhat like Star Trek and Trekkies in the USA…). By default, I also became interested in Japan, the birthplace of such media masterpieces, and began to learn more about Japanese culture in the process: popular foods, common social norms and traditions, funky technology, etc. While these efforts did teach me quite a bit about Japan, my stronger interest in cartoons and video games distorted my conceptualization of Japan. Instead of seeing as a real place with real people, I chiefly envisioned it as a “magical cartoon utopia.” After reaching an apex of awkwardness in sixth grade (with my otaku-hood being a major, though certainly not singular, contributor to that affliction), I realized that I would need to tame my inner fan girl in order to survive junior high and high school. Part of that mentality switch was also the process of growing up: the TV shows and video games served their respective purposes and it was time to let go and move on to more sophisticated interests. For better or for worse, I lumped Japan as a whole into that mindset. Save a few fits of nostalgia where I tried (badly) to study the Japanese language, I viewed Japan as an impossibly cool place, but one that was more of a relic of childhood interests as opposed to a serious area of study and scholarship.

marin-e-img_3602

[A wild Pikachu appeared!]

Fast-forward to my first year out of college: I was working in China and had the opportunity to travel during the winter break. While there was an embarrassment of riches in terms of travel options, my inner otaku influenced me to book a ticket to the “magical cartoon utopia” of Japan.
I ended up spending six days in Japan and it turned out to be an incredible experience. Unsurprisingly, part of the reason why I enjoyed the experience so much was that I was able to geek out over my childhood obsessions in their natural habitat (I’m looking at you, Pokemon key chains and Sailor Moon facemasks). What struck me the most from my journey there, however, was that I finally learned how to see Japan as a “real” place…and still appreciate it from that angle. First of all, I had the incredible opportunity to stay with my former roommate Risako and her family while I was there. I was showered with unbelievable friendliness and hospitality, which included tons of delicious food, movie nights watching Princess Mononoke and Whisper of the Heart, and lessons in day-to-day Japanese etiquette (i.e. phrases to say when coming/leaving the house, placing your shoes a certain way for good luck, etc). I relished the opportunity to spend time with them and other Japanese people and experience their customs and lifestyles. I also heard fragments of memories and histories that offered their own personal stories while reflecting aspects of national collective memory. Additionally, I had the chance to walk through the cities of Tokyo, Chiba, and Ohara-Isumi City, and saw the blend of contemporary, cutting-edge buildings next to ancient shrines and temples—thus reflecting Japan’s symbiotic respect for past, present, and future. For all of these reasons, I was fascinated by the “real” Japan and embraced it for the duration of my time there.

marin-e-img_1298

[Risako and I with some kimono girls]

Having had time to mull over my time in Japan, the most important impact of that trip was how it gave me a more well-rounded, mature view of Japan. Granted, six days is a brief window of time to visit such a complex nation and I have no delusions of grandeur that I am now an expert on the place. However, the experience has helped me to better embrace my childhood love of Japanese cartoons and video games as my gateway drug to the Land of the Rising Sun. Sure, to love a country for its cartoon offerings could be seen as a bit shallow and silly. But much of Japanese media reflects the fascinating cultural undertones of its home base: for example, it may feature characters celebrating a tea ceremony or include characters from Japanese mythology. In other words, they serve as pop cultural ambassadors to familiarize and attract people from all over the world to Japanese culture. At the same time, I am glad that I better recognize and respect Japan as a real place and not just a glorified cartoon land. The country has an incredible history of both isolation and global integration, and has done both commendable and catastrophic actions that still have ramifications in Japan and the world at large today. It is still arguably the key power in the Asia-Pacific region (though it’s in tight competition with China) and remains one of the most important global powers to this day. And simply from a personal perspective, the sites are cool and the people are super nice, which makes me happy that it’s an actual place to visit. If you ever have the chance, I definitely recommend a visit to Japan, and please revere it both for its impact on the worlds of imagination and reality.

Marin Ekstrom serves as an editor for The North Star Reports

Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at) css.edu

See also, our Facebook page with curated news articles at http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports

The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy (http://NorthStarReports.org) is a student edited and student authored open access publication centered around the themes of global and historical connections. Our abiding philosophy is that those of us who are fortunate enough to receive an education and to travel our planet are ethically bound to share our knowledge with those who cannot afford to do so. Therefore, creating virtual and actual communities of learning between college and K-12 classes are integral to our mission. In three years we have published over 250 articles covering all habitable continents and a variety of topics ranging from history and politics, food and popular culture, to global inequities to complex identities. These articles are read by K-12 and college students. Our student editors and writers come from all parts of the campus, from Nursing to Biology, Physical Therapy to Business, and remarkably, many of our student editors and writers have long graduated from college. We also have writers and editors from other colleges and universities. In addition to our main site, we also curate a Facebook page dedicated to annotated news articles selected by our student editors (http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports). This is done by an all volunteer staff. We have a frugal cash budget, and we donate much of our time and talent to this project. The North Star Reports is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers, The Department of History and Politics of The College of St. Scholastica, and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at: http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm

Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica. Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports.

(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy http://NorthStarReports.org ISSN: 2377-908X The NSR is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers, with generous support from The Department of History and Politics of The College of St. Scholastica, and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact editor-in-chief Professor Liang at HLIANG (at) css.edu

27 Comments

Filed under Marin Ekstrom, North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

Trolls: The Dangerous, the Terrifying, and the Commercialized? — The North Star Project Reports, sponsored by The Middle Ground Journal. By Tayler Boelk

Trolls: The Dangerous, the Terrifying, and the Commercialized? — The North Star Project Reports, sponsored by The Middle Ground Journal. By Tayler Boelk

trolls1

In most Norwegian folklore, trolls are depicted as dangerous, terrifying, and incredibly stupid. Troll tales are used to teach lessons to children. The book I have, Trolls and Their Relatives, was given to me by my great grandmother. Trolls have become increasingly commercialized. The book I received, as well as some miniature troll sculptures, were purchased in Norway in a store entirely dedicated to trolls. My grandmother said you could buy troll statues larger than her!

Trolls describes the most “common” trolls in Norway and how to outwit them. While most trolls are considered dangerous, not all want to cause harm. If a human chose to house a Nissen, and give it food on Christmas Eve, the troll would bring good luck for the livestock and crops the next year. This story was used to teach the lesson of kindness. Some other lessons from the trolls include the Nokken, who represents disobedience, the Tussel, who signifies gossip, and the Hulder, who represents temptation.

According to one of the funniest stories, trolls would sometimes steal human children and replace them with troll children, and this explains why children are not very well behaved for a few years. Eventually the trolls get sick of the human child’s good manners and take back their ill-mannered troll child. If we apply this traditional tale to Disney’s Frozen, it would appear that Christoph and Sven weren’t adopted, but rather, kidnapped!

trolls2

Frozen included a depiction of the Norwegian troll. These trolls had some traditional traits, such as becoming a part of their environment (you may recall a cute little troll exclaiming “I grew a mushroom!”), but for the most part were the nicest possible version of a troll found in Norwegian folklore. Our antagonists did not have to worry about being eaten or crushed, nor did the trolls have to worry about any Vikings coming to destroy them or turn them to stone. (In Frozen they already were stone!) Despite the inaccuracy of the trolls’ loving characteristics, as someone with Norwegian heritage I am happy that Disney made an attempt at including some of Norway’s most interesting history.

Yet another example of the commercialized troll comes from an excerpt from an Oslo magazine introducing an app for smartphones called “Trolls vs. Vikings.” The game depicts the trolls setting up defenses and battling the angry (and stupid) Viking characters who are trying to steal their gold. While some things are accurate (they share the names of traditional trolls) I would not consider this app a good historical representation of the relationship between Norwegians and trolls.

So what is the relationship between Norwegians and trolls? As I mentioned earlier, the trolls were used to symbolize a lesson or quality such as kindness or temptation. Each troll has a specific characteristic, usually but not always undesirable. If Norwegians treated certain trolls with respect and kindness, good fortune came to them, but most trolls are depicted as dangerous. Trolls representing undesirable characteristics were seen as something that needed to be defeated. Thankfully, my book teaches me how to defeat trolls, something I feel I should share with you in case you should ever come upon one!

trolls 3
Trolls are defeated many different ways, depending on the creature. For example, the Nokken can be defeated rather easily. The Nokken lives in swamps, rivers, and lakes, luring people into the water. To defeat the Nokken, one needs only to throw a needle or a cross into the water while speaking the Nokken’s name. The larger trolls that you would typically find stealing cattle or princesses take a little more effort. To defeat one of these trolls you must chop off all of its heads (this can be as many as twelve!). But for your typical troll, all you must do is keep them chasing you until the sun rises at which time they will either burst or turn into stone. Those that turn into stone become just another part of the Norwegian countryside.

trolls 4trolls 5

Photo Credits:
Eriksen, Jan Bergh. Trolls and Their Relatives. Stavanger, Norway: Dreyer Bok, 1983.
“What Are Trolls?”. Trollwatch International. http://www.trollwatch.com.au/What%are%20Trolls/pid1whataretrolls.html
wikia.com. “Trolls-FrozenWiki.” Frozen Wiki. http://frozen.wikia.com/wiki/Trolls


Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to contribute to The North Star Project Reports — HLIANG@CSS.EDU

For all of the North Star Project Reports, see https://mgjnorthstarproject.wordpress.com/

The North Star Project Reports: The Middle Ground Journal’s collaborative outreach program with K-12 classes around the world. We acknowledge North Star Academy of Duluth, Minnesota as our inaugural partner school, and the flagship of our K-12 outreach program. We also welcome Duluth East High School, Duluth Denfeld High School, Dodge Middle School and other schools around the world to the North Star Project. The North Star Project has flourished since 2012. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm

https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/january-2014/embracing-oa-universities-adopt-open-access-policies-for-faculty-journal-publications

The Middle Ground Journal will share brief dispatches from our North Star Project student interns, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. Student interns have reported from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing presentations on theatrical representations of historical trauma, historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and different perceptions of current events from around the world. We will post their dispatches here, and report on their interactions with the North Star Project students and teachers.

Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA

(c) 2013-present The Middle Ground Journal. See Submission Guidelines page for the journal’s not-for-profit educational open-access policy.

41 Comments

Filed under North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang, Tayler Boelk