At Public Media Camp this past weekend, a woman walked up to me after my video games presentation and said she wanted to talk. She handed me a sleek black business card with a QR Code on it, leading to the website 5th-element.jp. This was my first introduction to Keiko Tanaka.
Over twitter, we decided to get together for lunch on Tuesday. Stranded on K Street, downtown DC’s business heart and surrounded by exhausted business people carrying power suits and attache cases, we settled down and started to talk.
As it turns out, Keiko is a fellow hip-hop fan, deeply interested in feminism, and passionate about the need for youth media in Japan. She came out to PubCamp to figure out a huge problem – how does one create an infrastructure for youth media and independent media in an environment that is dominated by commercial messages, and even the news is filtered only through the lens of politics?
Keiko and two friends started 5th element with the intention of fusing music, culture, and politics. She didn’t originally intend for it to become a hip-hop focused site, even though the site name came from the phrase “the fifth element [in hip hop culture] is knowledge.” However, after learning a bit about the history of hip hop in US, she decided that hip hop culture was an important medium, and a model to follow for social change. After asking a few questions, I realized our entire concept of media was very different – I am familiar with the United States system, which has mechanisms like Public Service Announcements and old-school “Very Special Episodes.” MTV, which is a youth culture juggernaut both in the States and abroad, is generally derided for its content. However, Keiko pointed out that MTV Japan didn’t have campaign partnerships like Rock the Vote and Above the Influence. With most outlets geared at youth promoting commercialism, there are no youth forums on major issues. (She dismisses the state run network, NHK, because she believes it only represents a very narrow segment of teens in Japan – either at-risk, or child prodigies.)
Our conversation really made me re-examine the relationship we have with Public Media in the states. While many people over the age of 10 ignore the locally run radio and television stations, we do benefit from not having to create an infrastructure from scratch. So the question remains – how do we leverage our existing systems to shape a more accurate reflection of our nation?