Wednesday, February 27, 2013


When I was in graduate school I spent years collecting Guam mentions. I would hunt for them everywhere. In every database I could find. In every archive. In every index for every book. I would search through websites, through blogs, on Youtube videos. As I was writing my dissertation these Guam mentions represented a significant part of my "data." These were the things I wanted to analyze. These were the things I wanted to find some underlying structure for.

It was difficult not in terms of articulating my thoughts, but articulating them in such a way that other people might care. When you are writing about "small" cultures or "small" islands, there is always the burden that your smallness puts on you. There is always a need to force you next to something larger so you can feel more relevant or more familiar. There is a need to put Chamorros next to another group, Native Hawaiians, Puerto Ricans, Filipinos, Okinawans, any other group that might be more fully imagined and known, in order to ground yourself for your audience. Or there might be a requirement of providing enough background information so that people feel that they can understand this new world, new people or new history. Some research is bogged down by providing an entire history of the island and the people, that all work about small places ultimately comes down retelling the entire history just in order to make a single point. But the worst restriction is when your work is seen as being too limited or narrow, simply because the community you are writing of or writing for isn't very large and so may natural assumption you couldn't really say much about the world.

For my research I was fortunate enough to have several committee members who were able to suspend these sorts of demands or assumptions and allow me to complete my project. I could still feel it sometimes, but their challenges or questions became segments of my dissertation and actually ended up strengthening it in some ways. The invisibility that Guam has in an academic context, is connected to the invisibility it has in a political context and that is also connected to its invisibility in a military context. These were the discursive structures I wanted to write about in my dissertation. These connections between invisibility, banality and sovereignty.

I didn't get to use alot of Guam mentions I found because I couldn't really illuminate the structure in a compelling or even coherent way. For example using Guam mentions in military discourse on in media surrounding Federal-territorial relations all pointed in similar directions and were easily collected into chapters. But alot of the media examples were much more difficult to make sense of. Sometimes Guam was just thrown in randomly. Sometimes Guam was thrown in because of its associations to certain things, such as the military or snakes. For some mentions there was a strange imperial longing involved, as if mentioning Guam in a random humorous way allowed people to talk about something (US colonialism) without actually talking about it. There were also mentions where Guam was invoked as something people were familiar with in some way, but as an empty, valueless vessel. The joke would be simply the response whereby someone would freak out at hearing the signifier "Guam" but could share a laugh since it had some familiarity to them. If for example someone in a film said "I'm going to Ghahsdmdmpasokfjhfnithtj." The place involved is random and weird sounding, but it isn't funny cause this nonsensical word doesn't evoke anything (other than sounds having a weird orgy) that you can use as the basis to even feel that something is funny.

All of this was in an American context, because I can ready English and I'm already familiar with American media. One potential avenue of inquiry that I could never really pursue due to language barriers, was to do a similar study in a Japanese context. To collect and analyze the random Guam mentions that we find in Japanese popular culture, political, economic, cultural and military discourse. Japanese relationship to Guam is different, both in a historical but also contemporary context. Guam is a former site of Japanese imperialism. A site where its soldiers hid, in the case of Yokoi for 27 years. It is today a tourist destination and a place where the Japanese go to experience American in tropical doses and think as little as possible about the historical relationship to their country and former empire.

If I ever do this project, one place that I would definitely start is with the Japanese sports teams, models, movie stars and musical groups that randomly find their way to Guam. A few years ago, UOG's campus was taken over by a squadron of young Japanese girls in school uniforms. I remember walking by them while they were being filmed in the Student Center. Months later I found out who they actually were, the J-Pop group AKB48. They were filming a video for their song "Everyday."

For now however I just enjoy watching this video and seeing parts of Guam fly by. 

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