Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Seeing Stars

In his first book Seeing Stars: Sports Celebrity, Identity, and Body Culture in Modern Japan, Dennis J. Frost examines the creation of Japanese sports stars, how their malleable images suit diverse agendas, the societal values behind their creation, and how sports celebrity is related to public self-perception.

“History of sports celebrity is also history of media,” said Dennis Frost, the Wen Chao Chen Assistant Professor of East Asian Studies at “K” College in an interview. Fan or not, socially constructed sports celebrity images permeate social ideals, body culture and self-understanding.

As a graduate student, Frost encountered numerous sports references while studying Okinawan youth politicization during the post-World War II American occupation. He reshaped his doctoral research to the formation of Japanese sports celebrities, a topic no scholar had probed outside the Euro-American framework.

Frost outlines the Japanese sports star paradigm through analyzing sumo wrestler Hitachiyama, female track star Hitomi Kinue, baseball player Sawamura Eiji, and boxer Gushiken Yoko. The Japanese sports celebrity narrative stresses filial piety, hard work and sacrifice above all else.

The book argues that Japanese sports star social construction is an original and co-constitutional process, not a Western imitation. The award for the top pitcher in Japanese professional baseball is named after Eiji, which was created before the American equivalent Cy Young award.

Although the text is a historical monograph, its cohesive structure, clear arguments, and sufficient background information make the book accessible. The book’s straightforward yet layered structure is effective.

While researching, Frost created charts with concentric circles to determine how these athletes overlapped and differed. The common sports celebrity elements fostered narrative flow between chapters, while offering Frost flexibility to demonstrate different elements of a shifting Japanese society.

The structure allowed him to investigate related topics such as gender, national strengthening, and regional identity as they pertain to particular stars. By chronologically organizing his book, Frost tracked the technical progressions of media platforms. Twentieth-century mainstream media expansion allowed the Japanese public to understand athletes’ heights, weights, and achievements in newfound ways, which defined national body culture.

Frost assigns the book for his History 283 course titled “Faster, Higher, Stronger: Sports in East Asia.” He uses the chapter on Eiji in History 285 “Modern Japan” because it explains the nation’s World War II total mobilization effort.

Sports celebrity can’t be divorced from modern life—more scholars will expand on Frost’s research to understand sports stars in a non-Western context. Frost’s book opens an invaluable window into Japan’s modernization, remaining accessible for those with little knowledge of Japanese history or sports.

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