Unclear if latest YouTube craze has deep sociological meaning

A Japanese teenager who might not really be either Japanese or a teenager wins millions of viewers with cutesy, subtly sexual, surreal, mainly pointless videos. Discuss.


Salon Staff
January 19, 2008 4:38AM (UTC)

I can't tell if I'm early or late to the MRirian craze. By the time I discovered the YouTube starlet -- yesterday afternoon, when she was flagged by Choire Sicha, who's heading up Kottke.org for a spell -- the video below, one of a few dozen she's posted during the last couple years, had already been seen about half a million times.

Anything else I say about her is pretty much useless until you watch it, so won't you do so now? Thanks.

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Right. So this striking, sloe-eyed girl stares at the camera, barely blinking, with a smile that suggests what I can only call giggly heartbreak, and then, after about 30 seconds, glances quickly to the right, flashes a sideways peace sign, and then fades out.

What is this? Who is this? More important, why are so many people watching this girl, and not just watching but responding with imitations -- some better than others -- of their own?

There's an easy answer for this -- you can account for her popularity in the same way one explains any Internet phenomenon, which is that when you put a billion people or more together in a liberating digital landscape, kickass things happen -- but, of course, it's possible to gin up more penetrating arguments.

MRirian, as she calls herself, is a Japanese girl who lives in the United States, or an American girl who longs to live in Japan, or both, or neither. She looks like a teenager, but her profile pegs her as 21. She writes a blog in Japanese, and in the videos in which she speaks, she speaks Japanese, though Japanese speakers say she's not very fluent.

Two themes interleave the online discussions -- some not at all nice -- that seek to grapple with her popularity: One, that she's playing "pedobait," to use a lovely phrase, aiming to gain an audience of boys and men for ad-revenue purposes (i.e., she's a camgirl).

And/or two, that she's making some kind of artsy, deep comment by playing a stereotype, that stereotype being either -- now hang with me here -- of pop culture-addled Japanese teenage girls, or of white American girls who play pop culture-added Japanese teenagers (which girls are known as "wapanese," a word roughly comparable to "wigger.")

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Probably a little bit of all of these things is true. None of MRirian's videos is overtly sexual, but you can tell from the YouTube comments that that's where some in her audience have their minds. Look at the way she writes -- all those smileys! She's trying, to be sure, to be cute in the cute-overload way that some Humbertish men find arousing.

At the same time, much of the interest in her seems to be driven by sheer puzzlement. People are watching just because other people are watching, all of us as interested in why everyone else is interested. That she seems to be trying to make some kind of point animates the attention, but her point, whatever it is, is not really the point.

So here are some MRirian's other videos. If you've got a clue, please, do dish.


Salon Staff

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