Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
queerqueenLinguistic Excess in Japanese Media$

Claire Maree

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780190869618

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190869618.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 17 September 2021



Writing Queens on the Small Screen

(p.58) (p.59) 3 Queen-Personality-Talk

Claire Maree

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Chapter 3 explores shifting processes of enregisterment through analysis of onē-kyara-kotoba (queen-personality-talk) as written into impact-captions in lifestyle television during the queen-personality boom (middle of the first decade of the 2000s). In makeover media of this period, queen-personalities were proof that readers and viewers alike could remake themselves into a newer and better “me” by applying hard work and dedication to fashion, cosmetics, culinary skills, and interpersonal relationships. Manipulation of language resources and metapragmatic stereotypes of femininity and masculinity are fundamental to processes through which the desire to transform is created. Taking the lifestyle variety television show onēMANS (NTV) as the main focus, the chapter analyzes how the look and the sound of the queerqueen is recontextualized into a heteronormative framework through manipulation of font, animation, color, and orthographic stylization in impact-captions. Editorial interventions inscribe the sonic qualities of queen-personality talk in ways that simultaneously celebrate their transformational power and threaten to expose their (in)authenticity.

Keywords:   enregisterment, queen-personality talk, onē-kyara no kotoba, makeover media, transformation, metapragmatic stereotype, impact-captions, orthographic stylization, multimodal, authenticity

On television, radio, in print media and advertising, contemporary Japanese mainstream media are aglow with the presence of the onē-kyara (queen-personalities). This boom peaked first in the middle of the first decade of the twenty-first century. The term onē-kyara and accompanying definition appeared in the three major media and popular almanacs of 2005 (Imidasu-Henshūbu 2005; Asahi Shimbunsha 2005; Jiyūkokuminsha 2005). In 2007, “dondakē” (lit. to what degree; “how so”), an expression originating from Tokyo’s gay bar culture and popularized by makeup artist, cosmetic expert, and onē-kyara (queen personality) Ikko, was listed in the Top 10 for the annual U-Can awards for neologisms and trend-setting words and phrases.

The term onē-kyara combines onē (literally “older sister” or “older female”), a slang expression used within queer communities for effeminate gay men, with the media notion of -kyara, an abbreviation of “character.” Kyara refers to a diversity of real and imagined characterizations from anthropomorphic to the human (Miller 2010; Occhi 2010, 2012). “Characters” are situated performances of recognizable, almost cartoon-like personas enacted both in the media and everyday life (Aihara 2007). We can understand the kyara as corresponding to the notion of “characterological figures” (Agha 2003, 2005, 2007) whose linguistic performances, or “speech repertoires (and associated signs)” (Agha 2005, 45), are linked to specific social types. Metadiscursive practices tie specific speech repertoires to ideologies and hence to personas through what Agha calls “speech chains” (Agha 2003) such that, for example, accent comes to index social status (Agha 2003, 2007; Johnstone 2016a, 2016b). When filtered into popular culture such as television and other mass media forms, “the same model of exemplary speaker” reaches a large number of people, “thus homogenizing the conditions of subsequent response behaviors and role alignments” (Agha 2003, 266) in processes of (p.60) enregisterment, whereby linguistic variation becomes linked to specific meanings (Johnstone 2016b) such as “correct” and “incorrect” speech, “lady-like” and “un-lady-like speech,” and so on. Linkages between speech repertoires are dependent on the social meanings afforded them by communities and/or groups of individuals at a specific cultural and temporal moment.

In Chapter 2 we examined how Osugi and Peeco’s style of talk was (re)traced by collaborative writing practices to be positioned as a “faithful” reproduction of the authors’ biographical voices. In this chapter I will examine how queen-personality-talk emerges as a recognizable register through the manipulation of captions that appear simultaneously with queen-personality-talk in television media.

The onē-kyara (queen-personality) saturates lifestyle media as the exemplary speaker of a unique style of talk: queen-personality-talk. In this style, linguistic features such as stereotypically feminine interactional particles (wa, wa yo, na no), interjections (ara!), and use of stereotypically feminine pronouns (atashi), coupled with paralinguistic features such as exaggerated intonation curves and acrid tone, are bundled together with the image of the fashionable, stylish, and transformative queen personality. In advice columns and beauty books of the middle of the first decade of the 2000s, the lifestyles of queen personalities, accessorized with well-placed designer fashion and homewares, were showcased in magazine-like layouts. The creative use of typography and typesetting complemented writing in which brutal honesty was juxtaposed with a hyper-feminine style. A combination of image, typeface, layout, and text recreated both the visual and the sonic qualities of the queen personality’s supposedly unique style that emanated from a unique blend of femininity and masculinity—authentic at every level. As with all commercially produced texts, books and advice columns penned by queen-personalities are the products of intensive collaborative work, often based on a spoken interview. This interview would be transcribed from audiotapes, or reconstructed from notes, edited, and then manipulated into a publishable format.

In popular media, as we saw in Chapter 2, the multi-partied collaboration between the queen-personality and commercial media production professionals creates both the visual image and also the signature queen-personality media-talk style. Professionals in editing, design, and layout rework the language of the queen-personality into a commercially viable commodity. This very social practice (Sebba 1998, 2007, 2009) of collaborative writing is as much about how to reproduce queerqueen speech as it is about how to visually represent the style such that readers and viewers would desire their own personal journey of self-transformation through consumption.

Most good editing and design are hidden to consumers. Likewise, the ideologies that permeate all levels of writing, from interview questioning to (p.61) orthography (Sebba 2007), and the “language work” required to produce this queerqueen style remain unnoticed. The importance of the “invisible” labor of language professionals to the creation of the iconic queen-personality style becomes even more apparent when considering that queen-talk (onē-kotoba), the stylized speech common to LGBT communities from which queen-personality media-talk supposedly emerged, has long been posited as a verbal art that is not easily rendered into written Japanese. It is argued that, when written in standard Japanese and in the absence of an audible exaggerated intonation and lowered pitch, queen-talk (onē-kotoba) would appear identical to the style it parodies. It is remarkable, then, that in the midst of the queen boom of the first decade of the twenty-first century, queen-personality media-talk that was positioned as originating in queen-talk (onē-kotoba) was mainstreamed into both audiovisual and printed media texts and objectified (Shankar and Cavanaugh 2012) as a marketable commodity.

Or is it? To consider this fully, we must pause to reflect that since the 1950s, the visual and sonic image of the queer figure has been overwhelmingly represented in mainstream media by a “man” who dresses, acts, and speaks “like a woman” (see Chapters 1 and 2). The queen-personality (onē-kyara) boom can, therefore, be viewed as one recent articulation of the mainstream media trope of the (sometimes) cross-dressing (sometimes) cross-speaking queerqueen. In this recent articulation, the queerqueen style is collaboratively rewritten into contemporary media, where it is situated as an authentic replication of a mode of being and speaking emanating from within queer subcultures.

Lifestyle Queen

The queen-personality (onē-kyara) boom of the early 2000s is propelled, I argue, by the expansion of lifestyle media and the logic of the makeover. Makeover media positions the self as an ongoing project in need to continuous work (Lewis and Martin 2010, 319). It emphasizes continual self-improvement and transformation as the key to achieving greater personal happiness and social acceptance. The visual figure of the queen-personality complements this transformative narrative, by illustrating that sustained work on caring for the self has material results.

The call for continuous self-development is situated in neoliberal late-modernity, a time in which the subject becomes “the entrepreneur” of the self (du Gay 1995, 72, 182). Within English-language media in the United States and the United Kingdom, makeover culture emerges as institutions of welfare and care are dismantled (Ouellette and Hay 2008, 472–475). Although makeovers have long been a part of Japanese television culture, the genre witnessed a new popularity within Japan in the early 2000s. The fiscal, regulatory, tax, and (p.62) social-service reforms initiated by the Koizumi administration (2001–2006),1 continued economic downturn, public concern over a rise in the average age of marriage, falling birthrates, and an aging population form the sociocultural background to the renewed interest in restyling the self. Occurring a decade after the 1990s gay boom, the queen-personality-boom occurs around the passing of the special law to enable change of gender on family registrations (Gender Identity Disorder Special Cases Act, 2004), which saw increased media attention to the rights and struggles of trans people. This period also saw conservative backlash against so-called gender-free initiatives that sought to mitigate gender bias in areas such as education. Part of the rhetorical force of this backlash was aimed at the so-called neuterization (Kazama 2008) and queering of Japanese masculinity. Against these contradictory public discourses, queen-personalities are marketed as a figure capable of crossing gender boundaries, and paradoxically therefore as perfect spokespeople for heteronormative gender expectations.

Makeover Queens

Lifestyle media and the makeover genre have a long history in popular culture. Conduct literature and “how-to” books can be traced to the early modern period (Bardsley and Miller 2011; Ikegami 2005). On television, too, visual advice columns have been a stable of the midday wide-show format. Fashion commentator Peeco (see Chapter 2) is well-known for his scathing “fashion check” segments,2 which focused mainly on critiquing the fashion of everyday women on the street. Other segments such as “Makeover Dad” aimed to transform fathers from frumpy to fabulously cool. In the early 2000s the makeover format (re)entered evening television with, for example, B. C. Beauty Colosseum, a program promoting cosmetic surgery coupled with weight loss (Fuji TV 2001–2004; 2004–2011 and Dramatic Makeover Before-After (Asahi 2002–2006 (weekly); 2009–2015 (season 2); 2016–(irregular special episodes)), which promised to change the lives of families whose homes were in desperate need of repair and/or renovation. With the arrival of the uniquely titled onēMANS (Nippon Television, 2006–20093) lifestyle media temporarily witnessed a queer turn. Specialists in fashion, culinary skills, flower arrangement, cycling, choreography, and traditional Japanese dance were bundled together as onē-men—a media category that subsumes a diversity of individuals with differing gender identities and sexual orientations.

A transitory neologism that did not outlive the show, the title onēMANS combines the honorific prefix o, written in the hiragana script and (most probably from “older sister”) written in katakana, with MAN (from the English) and (p.63) S, presumably pluralizing MAN, both written in capitals. It refers to “leaders of the arts and professions (kakukai), men who are not men (otoko na no ni otoko janai), talented ‘queen personalities’ = those called ‘onēMAN’s (‘onēMANtachi)” (webpage). The combination of kanji and then katakana for the term otoko emphatically underlines the supposed gender nonconformity of the queen-personality. The onēman possesses both “a manly spirit” (otokogokoro) and a “woman’s heart” (onnagokoro). These “futuristic humans” (miraigata  jinrui) have “ultra-first-class aesthetics and sense” (chō-ichiryū no biishiki to kansei).

OnēMANS is framed in consumerist discourses of “celebrity” lifestyle and has a distinctive heteronormative force that is anchored in the rhetoric of the nation-state. The MC (host) of the show, boy-band idol Yamaguchi Tatsuya, and his charming assistant, Seyama Mariko, are central to its logic. On an area of the website titled “Skills and courage of Hercules . . . but with the heart of a princess” (ude to dokyō wa herakuresu. . . dakedo kokoro wa purinsesu) that is punctuated with a heart mark, Yamaguchi Tatsuya is positioned as “Japan’s representative ‘pure person’ ” (‘pyua na hito Nihon daihyō). Seyama Mariko is described as seeking “both intelligence and beauty” (saishokukenbi). The alien-like queen-personality “group with extraordinary sense” (chōkankakushūdan) require intervention from a nationally recognized figure of wholesomeness to “bring them together” (matomeru), and a professional announcer to ensure that the experts’ specialist skills are communicated effectively to “all Japanese before the television” (terebi no mae no Nihonjin subete ni). This is in part because the onēmen speak a language that is unique to themselves—that of the onē. The renewed onēMANS homepage4 describes the show as a “gathering of charismatic personalities from various fields who speak onē-kotoba (queen-talk) fluently” (onē-kotoba o ayatsuru kakukai no karisumatachi ga daishūgō!). The use of ayatsuru (lit. “to work” [a puppet]); to handle, manage, manipulate) indicates a high degree of linguistic prowess in this register that crosses into the mainstream.

Queen-Talk in the Media

A search of online newspaper databases from the Asahi, Yomiuri, and Nikkei groups5 reveals that the expression onē-kotoba (queen-talk) appears in mainstream newspapers as early as 1969. Nestled under the top story of a meeting between the United States and China, in the Yomiuri newspaper (1969) a short article appears that laments a “sexless era” (sekkusuresu-jidai) in which distinctions between the sexes are being erased. First situating differences in men’s and women’s speech as a unique feature of the Japanese language, the article asserts that, unlike fictional representations of dialogue in other “foreign languages,” there is no need for overt metalinguistic pointers such as “she said” or “he said” in Japanese novels. In a deft show of verbal hygiene (Cameron 1995), the short column moves to (p.64) critique crudely speaking women from the student activist movement. The citation of three excerpts from the “collected sayings of radical students” at an anonymous women’s university is embellished by a description of their helmets, jackets, and jeans. These are surely not the words of “girls of such beauty they put cherry blossoms to shame,” the (anonymous) writer claims.

The policing of women’s language and fictional ventriloquism (Inoue 2006) of young women’s “deviant” speech is a recurring feature of metalinguistic representations. In this instance, however, the writer’s despair extends to the “inverse” through direct mention of “onē-kotoba” found in speech uttered by men that invokes a palpable “feeling of resistance” (teikōkan) when sighted in print. With men now wearing frilly shirts and pantaloons, the writer is sure that we are moving toward an era where women will become “skirt less” and dress identically to men. The article repeats the commonsense notion which is still found across a diversity of contemporary public discourses that men’s and women’s languages are separate and so they should remain.

Jumping forward to the “gay boom” years, we find reference to onē-kotoba in an article titled “From university students to bankers, Japan’s gays have started walking the high streets” in the weekly magazine Aera (Ōiwa, 1991). The article includes snippets of interviews with self-identified gay men, including a short overview with a “student (22) from Yokohama who was brought up surrounded by two elder and a younger sister.” He is quoted as speaking “so-called ‘onē-kotoba’ ” only when with gay friends or his younger sister.

“Whaat, that hammy performance”

“Hey, you’re like a spook” and phrases like that. Not all gays speak in this way, but it is often used in the gay community of ni-chōme and so on.

(Oiwa, 1991)

In this article, queen-talk (onē-kotoba) is situated as a style emerging from gay men’s culture as symbolized by the urban location of Shinjuku ni-chōme, a small enclave of the metropolis populated with bars and clubs owned, run, and frequented overwhelmingly by gay men, but also lesbian women, bisexual men and women, and transfolk.

In the young man’s speech cited in the article, orthographic stylization (na-ni “whaat”) combines with the informal second-person pronoun anta (written in hiragana) and hyperbole (kusai shibai “hammy performance”; “bakemono “spook”) to reproduce the voice of the onē (queen). This closely echoes writing techniques employed in Osugi and Peeco’s conversational dialogue books (see Chapter 2). The young man recounts that the most difficult part of his teaching practice was to speak men’s language (otoko kotoba) from seven in the morning to seven at (p.65) night. He slipped up once in a class two weeks into the practice when “students were noisy so (he) inadvertently yelled at them.” The phrase inadvertently used is cited as “odamari” a camp alternative to the direct imperative “shut up” (damare) that combines honorific prefix o with “silence” (damari). “Odamari! (laugh)” appears as the final utterance by Osugi to Peeco in their conversational dialogue book Go for Love (1980, 219) (see also Excerpt 2.4, Chapter 2). Here it functions as a stereotypical example of queen-talk (onē-kotoba) that evokes laughter.

Circa the gay-boom of the 1990s, queen-talk (onē-kotoba) is considered a cornerstone of gay culture emanating from the wit and linguistic prowess of onē, self-identified effeminate gay men who manipulate stereotypical notions of gender in dress, deportment, and speech style with a scathing wit. In gay-men’s community magazines, short articles on onē-kotoba show that the style is both loved and deplored. Fukushima Mitsuo (2000), bar owner and previous organizer of the Tokyo Lesbian and Gay Parade,6 positions it as an important part of gay culture that flourished in “spaces where one could turn one’s feminine side around on itself in a space where no one ridiculed it” (jibun no joseteiteki na bubun o sakate ni tori, sono onna ppoi bubun o dare mo yayu shitari shinai basho de kaika shita). Fukushima appeals to members of the gay community to not “look down with prejudice on this conversational culture” (henken o motazu ni mitsume) but to “accept it” (uke irete hoshii).

In interviews I conducted on the cusp of what was to become the queen-personality boom, a well-known drag queen and gay activist, Kō-san, referred to queen-talk (onē-kotoba) as “a work of art” that transfers gay men from the drudgery of the heteronormative everyday to the delights of the queer bar culture. An essential part of this gender performance is the use of hyperfeminine linguistic resources common to “women’s language” (onna-kotoba or josei-go in Japanese) combined with a vitriolic wit. Without an audience, Kō-san says, it would be ridiculous to engage in onē-kotoba banter.

As gay artist and bar owner Ōtsuka Takashi explains, queen-talk (onē-kotoba) contests heteronormative ridiculing of gender nonconformity (Ōtsuka 1996, 50). The style skillfully juxtaposes metapragmatic stereotypes of femininity, such as “gentleness,” “beauty,” and “elegance,” which are indexed in “women’s language,” with the crass, the sexual, and the taboo in ways that resonate with Harvey’s (2000, 2002) explication of “camp” English repertoires. In onē (queen) styles, hyperfeminine linguistic resources are enunciated in an exaggerated speaking style that is imbued with vitriolic wit, sexual innuendo, and comedic force. This is why, as my friend and collaborator Kō-san explained, the newly emerging media category of queen-personality might be considered to be “polite” (teinei) or to “speak gently” (yasashii kotobadukai), but lacked the “spitefulness” (akui), “aggressiveness” (kōgekisei), or “venom/malice” (doku) for their style to be (p.66) considered truly queen-like. Indeed, before the term onē took hold in mainstream media, some personalities were labeled as and embraced the term otome, literally “young maiden.”

Mainstream media positioned the very attribute that was judged as lacking by queer community collaborators, “vitriolic wit,” as key to queen-personalities’ media performances. In the definitions set out in almanacs that list queen-personality (onē-kyara) as an entry for the first time in 2005, queen-personalities are defined as “not mincing their words” (zugezuge tsukkomeru) (Jiyūkokuminsha 2005). It is claimed that their status as “abnormal” (kiwamono) allows them to speak with a “sharp tongue” (dokuzetsu) (Asahi Shimbunsha 2005, 506). Mainstream media construct queen-personalities as capable of delivering a unique style of biting commentary that is acceptable because of their liminal position.

The combination of sweetness and opprobrium situated in mediated (re)productions of queen-personality-talk complements the ideology, logic, and composition of the makeover. As Weber argues, the makeover teaches “a care of the self (as manifested through the body or dog or house or cat) that can be visually discerned and popularly celebrated” (Weber 2009, 29) and operates within the logic of “affective domination” (Weber 2009, 96–97) which serves as a disciplinary tool. The target of the makeover, who has been shown to be a worthy candidate (Dixon 2008), must be coerced into acknowledging the flaws that clearly demonstrate the necessity for the transformation. Only after this process of humiliation and coercion can the targets undergo expert tutelage in the correct methods and consumption practices by which they will achieve renovation, rejuvenation, or transformation. In other words, the expert, or team of experts, must first “shame” the makeover target before a loving and supportive pedagogical process can begin.

The pedagogical force of the makeover is oriented to both the makeover target and the viewer/consumer of makeover media. The final stage of the “reveal” is a crucial part of the makeover genre, where programming follows a format of “informative address (the instructional part of the program) within the spectacle of ‘the reveal’ (the makeover part of the program)” Hill (2005, 30). In the onēMANS format, most of the makeover targets are already celebrities or media personalities, and the people to whom they are “revealed” are more often celebrities themselves, too. The hyper-feminine displays of affection and delight offered by the expert queen-personalities add another level of spectacle to this highly staged event.

Makeover Queens on the Small Screen

The makeover segments in onēMANS overwhelmingly demonstrate the logic of affective domination (Weber 2009). Take, for example, the January 13, 2009, (p.67) episode that contains four makeover segments in which four “great actresses” (daijoyū) are stripped bare of all makeup on camera before their “great transformation” (daihenshin). The third of the great actresses is ambushed by the makeover team with the assistance of her daughter, an emerging young actor who provides photographic evidence to support why this “still beautiful 53-year old” (mada mada okirei na 53-sai) requires a makeover. When asked to comment on the striped top and plain pants, fashion producer Uematsu Kōji evaluates it as “ultra-obusu” (ultra-ugly) (Excerpt 3.1). Obusu (lit. honorable ugliness) is a term Uematsu has popularized in his advice columns and books (Uematsu 2004, 2009b). The politely couched pejorative form combines honorific prefix o with misogynistic busu (ugly). It is used to cajole readers, viewers, and makeover targets into acknowledging the need for their personal transformation. In episodes of onēMANS where the regular cast searches for makeover targets within the television network buildings, the cry of “obusu hantā” (ugliness hunters) is given as a net is launched to capture comedians, announcers, and other unsuspecting personalities. It is also used among the onēMANS regulars in banter with each other.

Excerpt 3.1 “Ultra-ugly” (onēMANS, NTV, January 13, 2009)

Queen-Personality-TalkWriting Queens on the Small Screen

Text-on-screen is ubiquitous in Japanese television. Captions have been used since the beginning of television broadcasting to display program titles and credits, yet the volume of text that populates the screen on NHK (the public broadcaster’s) variety shows increased threefold from twenty instances per minute in the 1960s to just under 120 per minute in the middle of the first decade of the 2000s (Shitara 2006). With the introduction of Twitter feeds, and use of digital monitors, the volume of text continues to increase. In a mediascape where audiences are constantly zapping through a range of viewing options, such text operates to deliver the viewers’ gaze to the advertising (Gerow 2010) interjected into the narrative of the show.

The text on the upper left corner of the screen “Wada Akiko mo daihenshin SP” (Excerpt 3.1) creates a sense of anticipation by flagging a well-known personality and singer who will be transformed through use of the particle mo (also). On the upper right corner, in a slightly bigger typeface, is a white octagonal banner with a slim gold border. The first line of text in red (Sakaguchi Ryouko 53-sai) is an example of an informational caption that gives the name and age of the actress who is about to be made over. The second line in blue gives a descriptor of the segment and functions as the segment subtitle (suppin kara namida no daihenshin!). Suppin, a contemporary term for a face that is devoid of makeup, is visually highlighted in katakana script. “Great actresses” rarely appear without makeup on national television, so this “reveal” of the unmade-up-face is an anticipated part of the makeovers. The exclamation mark emphasizes not only the degree of change that is facilitated by the experts, but also the emotional effect that it (p.68) promises to have on both the target and her family. True to the conventions of the makeover genre, the transformation will affect more than just the target’s outer appearance.

In variety and light entertainment formats, the most prolific use of text is in telop, in Japanese, or “impact captions,” as the phenomenon is referred to in English-language research (O’Hagan 2010; Park 2009; Sasamoto 2014; Sasamoto, O’Hagan, and Doherty 2016), that visualize selected sections of the audio track. Impact captions can be understood as intralingual translations (Caimi 2006; Jakobson 1959/2000; Zethsen 2009) that translate spoken Japanese into written Japanese. They differ from interlingual translations and captions for Deaf and (p.69) hard-of-hearing viewers because they do not provide all audible information as text. In this excerpt of just under ten seconds, three impact captions are inscribed onto the screen to appear simultaneously with utterances by two speakers (Excerpt 3.1). Although the text appears in sync with Uematsu’s (UK) utterance, only the last phrase of Haruna Ai’s (HA) utterance is reproduced in text, and there is no text to accompany the other talk and laughter.

The jovial yet pejorative force of the expression “ultra-ugly” (ultra-obusu) is visually highlighted through the use of text-on-screen. A gong-like sound punctuates the end of “ultra-ugly,” at which point the camera shifts from Uematsu to Sakaguchi (SR) who covers her face while laughing. The text lingers on the screen as she raises her head to the camera. The composite visual image now clearly marks the actress herself as ultra-ugly. Critical injunctions such as this are part of the pedagogy of the makeover through which the individual is convinced of the need to transform by taking the advice of the expert. Transformation is possible and/or achievable, however, only through the schooling in the techniques of the expert and consumption of expert-endorsed goods.

Semiotic Landscape of Impact Captioning

Impact captions form part of the visual design of a program. Color, typeface, animation, and placement on screen (whether horizontal or vertical) are predetermined to align with the overall design package, including the official logo and promotional materials used on multiple media platforms. Annual design trends are integrated into the overall design, and emerging technological developments enhance the range of possible digital manipulation.

In the semiotic landscape of onēMANS, white typeface with a colored outline is the basic color combination used for impact captions. Utterances by queen-personalities who identify as women or are represented as hyper-feminine are more likely to be outlined in pink, lilac, or lavender. See, for example, the pink used in the captions for Haruna Ai, a popular transgender comedian who is a regular on the show, but who is not one of the onē-kyara (queen-personality) experts. Light blue is more likely to be used for those who identify as men or who are not represented as hyper-feminine. Impact captions that appear in sync with talk by Yamaguchi Tatsuya, who occupies the position of representative Japanese (straight) cisgender man, are outlined in blue. Against the backdrop of this basic grammar of typeface color coding, color reversal is commonly used as a visual emphasis. For added effect, alternative hues, such as browns and blacks, are also used. In the caption that appears in sync with Uematsu’s comment in Excerpt 3.1, ultra-obusu is rendered in brown with a lighter outline, and the copula desu is rendered in white with a blue outline, which is the standard color combination for his (p.70) utterances. The use of a darker color, in this instance brown, visually highlights the negative evaluation which evokes laughter from all present.

Animation is also manipulated for effect. In Excerpt 3.1, the impact caption for ultra-ugly is displayed in sync with the utterance such that the full phrase only emerges after Uematsu’s short mid-turn pause: “ultra (.) ultra-ugly.” The gong-like sound effect that appears once the full phrase appears on screen reinforces the utterance as comedic. The slur delivered in queer-personality style is a staged performance of queen-ness worthy of laughter. Impact captions often function to enhance the comedic force of utterances within the variety genre (O’Hagan 2010), and sound effects further enhance the humorous force.

Excerpt 3.2 offers another example of how an exemplary queen-personality phrase is represented on the screen. In this instance, white and lilac are reversed when Ikko directs the group of comedians who are her fellow regulars to politely “shut up” (odamari).

Excerpt 3.2 “Silence!” (onēMANS, NTV, January 13, 2009)

Queen-Personality-TalkWriting Queens on the Small Screen

Queen-Personality-TalkWriting Queens on the Small Screen

Layers of meaning are inscribed onto the audiovisual product in the editing process, and hues may be manipulated to complement semantic content, as we can see in Excerpt 3.2. A cool light blue outlines the caption “cool and good looking” (kuuru de kakkoii), and a light pink outline used for “cute and lovable” (kawairashikute airashii). Sound effects also accompany both captions as they appear: a high bell sound for the first, and a sparkle for the latter. In onēMANS most impact captions appear at once on the bottom of the screen, but in Excerpt 3.2 “a color to bring out her hidden charm” (kakusareta miryoku wo hikidasu iro) rolls onto the screen from left to right with an accompanying sparkle sound. The text is visually highlighted in bold lilac. A sound effect also accompanies the impact caption “pink” in which a sparkle of white appears to rotate through the text itself. A brush-like calligraphic typeface is used for odamari (silence) and the bold pink is outlined in white with a black border. The text shakes from right to left, indicating annoyance, or possible anger.

Both Uematsu’s labeling of a “great actress’s” everyday wear as “ultra-ugly” (Excerpt 3.1) and Ikko’s remonstration for all to “be silent” (odamari) (Excerpt 3.2) are greeted by laughter. This laughter indexes the utterances as “humorous,” but also acts in a disciplinary manner as ridicule (Billig 2005), epitomizing the general stance toward queen-personalities’ speech, and by extension queen-personalities themselves, as outrageously, ridiculously funny and/or strange. Representational onē (queen) phrases delivered by exemplary queen-personality speakers are thus situated to be consumed as comedy in part because of hyperbole that mimics hyper-feminine speech through excessive use of hyper-feminine linguistic resources, and also due to their flagrant disregard for normative expectations of politeness. Packaged with a cultivated glamour or stylish dandiness, this makes for entertaining television. (p.71) (p.72)

(p.73) Exploiting Liminality

Manipulation of both the visual and sonic dimensions of queen-personality style by editors and producers is central to the early 2000s queen-personality boom. Osugi and Peeco’s talk was entextualized as “fag/poofter” (okama)-talk through orthographic stylization and visual mimesis in conversational dialogues that appeared in print media during 1979–1980 (see Chapter 2). The queen-personality style is written into makeover manuals and self-help books penned by queen-personalities, and in text-on-screen on television variety shows through collaborative, mediated writing practices.

In an interview with an editor of a major publishing company on her work with queen-personality authors, I probed the popularity of these columns and magazines, asking how it was that advice written in a “biting” (karakuchi) and “ascerbic” (dokuzetsu) style was “impossible to dislike” (nikumenai). The editor, Ms. Fujita (pseudonym), explained that this popularity pivoted on the positioning of the author as an onē who has the “viewpoint of a man” (otoko mesen) but also understands a “woman’s affections” (onnagokoro). Furthermore, she explained, the editorial team specifically requests usually sensitive and caring individual authors such as Uematsu Kōji, well-known for his discourse on ugly women (obusu), “to speak as harshly as possible” (narubeki karakuchi de hanashi o) and they further highlighted the “biting segments” (karakuchi no bubun) in the final publication. Clear editorial intervention, then, is key to manufacturing and maintaining this performance of “affective domination” (Weber 2009). Turning to the linguistic style itself, which she describes as “lovingly biting” (ai no aru karakuchi) and a “spice” (supaisu), Ms. Fujita explains that since the appearance of queen-personalities on television, “ordinary people” (ippan no hito) were now more accepting overall. Comments from readers illustrated that they were appreciative of the queen-personalities who told them “things that people don’t usually say” (fudan nakanaka itte moraenai yoo na koto o itte moraimashita). It was Ms. Fujita’s view that as queen-personalities do not do “being a woman” on a daily basis, they are critical (kibishii) when it is not done correctly. Conveying a message of the importance of femininity to women was a key editorial stance in the work she did. Advice delivered in “biting” (karakuchi) manner was more likely to be taken on board if it came, not from a woman or a man, but from the queen-personality’s point of view.

Although honest critique is imperative, within lifestyle media it is paramount that the queerqueen does not overstep her allotted liminality. As seen in Excerpt 3.1, comedian and onēMANS regular Nishioka Sumiko (NS) admonishes Uematsu (UK) to “please be careful of how you word things.” This utterance playfully deconstructs the idiom ha ni kinu o kisenu (lit. “without covering one’s teeth”) (p.74) that is used to refer positively to those who speak their thoughts openly. Asking Uematsu to “put covering on your teeth” intimates that he has exceeded the usually positive state of “outspokenness” that is emphasized through text and sound effects.

The liminal positioning of the queen-personality is constantly exploited in onēMANS and visually and sonically highlighted. For example, following her request for all assembled in the makeover studio to “be quiet” (odamari) in Excerpt 3.2, Ikko (I) returns to the task at hand; to transform the guest actress by bringing out her “hidden” “cute and lovable” charm. At first the guest (AY) is skeptical of the suggestion to use pink, but quickly warms to Ikko’s expert advice to try this new color. She acknowledges that despite her age, she is after all “a girl.”

Excerpt 3.3 “Look here, you’re a man (onēMANS, NTV, January 13, 2009)

Queen-Personality-TalkWriting Queens on the Small Screen

Ikko aligns with the guest (AY) and claims girl-ness, saying that “women are all like that aren’t we” (onna tte minna soo desu yo ne) (Excerpt 3.3). An impact caption in white with a pink outline remains on screen as Ikko and Asano nod their heads to each other in agreement. This stance of a shared womanhood is quickly negated by the Yamaguchi (YT), who is currently not seen onscreen. A bold blue impact caption slides in diagonally from the lower right to sit diagonally over the previous caption. This visually emphasizes Ikko’s projection into the category of “man.” Ikko appeals to onēMANS regular, IT specialist, and transwoman Kisaragi Neru (KN), who is referred to by her first name Neru in the program. Neru’s affirmative statement that Ikko “is not a man” is accompanied by a caption that appears to emerge from her mouth. The caption gradually enlarges in size as it moves to the standard impact-caption position at the bottom of the screen. The positioning and movement of the caption visually emphasize the statement as belonging to Neru herself.

Combinations of text and graphics are used to highlight non-normative gender and/or sexuality as humorous. Queen-personality-talk is juxtaposed with conventional Japanese to situate non-normative gender performances as a laughable act. In his discussion of Korean television, Park argues that impact captions shape the “official reading” of the broadcast package (Park 2009, 557). Although viewers are able to read past the impact captions, these captions delineate “the boundary between what falls under the legitimate responsibility of the institution of television and what falls outside of it” through entextualization (557). That is, they inscribe editorial intent onto the screen and manifest an axis of authority. In the case of onēMANS the “official reading” constitutes a stance that privileges normative gender and sexuality.

Support for the Real Me

Once the pedagogical work of the makeover has been completed and the target is subdued and transformed, one of the most spectacular moments follows—that of the “reveal.” The “big reveal” (Weber 2009, 30) in makeover media is the moment in which the target, their loved ones, and the audience finally witness the (p.75) completed transformation of the individual, the home or garden, and so on (Hill 2005, 29; Moseley 2000, 306–307; Thomas 2008, 684). Although the reactions of the targets themselves are important, they are upstaged by the reactions of the onlookers to this highly staged event. Typically, loved ones and experts gather (p.76) to witness the “big reveal,” and their squeals of delight and approval express appreciation and support for the newly transformed individual. As Weber (2009, 30) notes, most makeover reveals “suggest that the transformed subject has gained new access to a better self and a nicer life, thereby invoking images of the rarified celebrity.” This newly transformed “me” is also contradictorily posited as the “real” me. The affirmation of a new self, embedded in the spectacle of the big reveal, is an essential part of the makeover narrative. It illustrates how self-improvement is rewarded by greater love, care, and success, thereby reinforcing the necessity of care-of-the-self through relentless and ongoing transformation.

The March 3, 2009, episode of onēMANS is a special edition containing a review of makeovers that have been successfully completed over the course of the program. Particularly moving examples are broadcast in digest form. One of these is the transformation of Olympic wrestling champions and sisters, Ichō Chiharu (IC; 1981–) and Ichō Kaori (IK; 1984–) into “OL on their day off.” OL, pronounced ō eru, is an abbreviated term for “office lady,” or Japan-made English (wasei-eigo) term for salaried female office workers (for a discussion of wasei-eigo in English, see, for example, Miller 1998). Due to the historical configurations of Japanese employment structures, OL are mostly clerical positions that do not lead to promotion above certain levels within a company. The category of OL is imbued with a sense of carefree consumerism partaken by younger women who are yet to enter into marriage and who, with a relatively high consumable salary, can indulge in weekends in which they enjoy leisure pursuits (see Ogasawara 1998 for a discussion of “office ladies” and “salaried men” in Japan). To dress Olympic wrestling champions as “OL” is, therefore, to dramatically feminize national sporting heroes.

After both women have been styled and refashioned, the reveal is performed at an outside location utilizing a long staircase. It is already dark, and a spotlight floods the top of the stairs. Photos of Ichō K wrestling are overlaid with numbers: 3, 2, 1. The countdown to the reveal begins. Music swells in the background and Ichō K descends the staircase to the coos and calls from the expert team and regulars waiting below. When asked her thoughts about her transformed look, Ichō K comments that it is the first time she has been “thankful for being born a woman” (josei de umaretekite yokatta) (Excerpt 3.4).

Excerpt 3.4 “Glad to be born a woman” (onēMANS, NTV March 3, 2009)

Queen-Personality-TalkWriting Queens on the Small Screen

Ichō K is then whisked off camera and we witness the second stunning transformation of Ichō C, whose entrance is similarly staged. Wearing a skirt for the first time is, she comments, “drafts of air come up from below” (kaze ga shita kara suu suu suru).

Once the individual reveals have been staged, the sisters are positioned back to back before being asked to turn toward each other. Seeing their transformed sister for the first time, both are stunned and appear lost for words. Ichō C comments that her younger is sister is “kirei desu ne” (beautiful, isn’t she). When (p.77) prompted, Ichō K notes that it is the first time she has thought of her sibling as her “big sister.” She uses onēchan, an intimate kinship term used by younger siblings to an older sister (Excerpt 3.5).

Excerpt 3.5 “Big sister” (onēMANS, NTV, March 3, 2009)

Queen-Personality-TalkWriting Queens on the Small Screen

The use of reversed colors of bold text visually highlights the term “big sister.” The ellipsis used creates a feeling that there is something that is not being said. In this instance, it visually constitutes a stance in which Ichō C’s everyday gender presentation is gently critiqued. The reactions of guests in the studio watching the audiovisual content are inserted on the upper left of the screen. These voyeuristic inserts (discussed further in Chapter 4) offer a glimpse of reactions to the prerecorded materials, and also operate to guide viewers in the interpretation of the on-screen content. Yamaguchi’s (YT) smiling face appears as Ichō C utters, “beautiful isn’t she.” The image adds another layer of approval to the evaluation and marks the transformation as highly successful. The image changes to Uematsu (UK), who is shown to laugh loudly with the other studio guests and regulars as Ichō K comments on her sister’s new look. This marks the evaluation as a lighthearted and loving one. For the duration, the banner on the upper left displays a photo of Ichō K and Ichō C in the makeup chair on each side of the two lines of text. As viewers, we can visually compare these images with the new looks being displayed on screen. We are shepherded toward an interpretation of how to evaluate the transformations through the use of text and overlays of reactions from OM regulars.

(p.78) Following their “moving” (kandōteki) reveal, the pair are asked if there are any special requests they may have, to which Ichō C replies that she would like to be “held like a princess” (hime-sama dakko saretai) (Excerpt 3.6). The accompanying impact caption unravels one character at a time from left to right in bold red to the squeals of delight to all on location, and those assembled in the studio for the special episode of “moving,” or emotional transformations. The footage inserted on top of the screen changes to show Haruna Ai’s reaction. Haruna clasps her hands together, claps, and giggles with joy as first Ichō C and then Ichō K are swept off their feet and into a “princess hold” by boy-band idol and MC of the show, Yamaguchi Tatsuya.

Excerpt 3.6 “Princess-hold” (onēMANS, NTV, March 3, 2009)

Queen-Personality-TalkWriting Queens on the Small Screen

Queen-Personality-TalkWriting Queens on the Small Screen

In an act of masculine chivalry, the figure of the international sports star is transformed to embody feminine vulnerability. This manifestation of the heterosexual force of the makeover is facilitated by the queer energy and techniques of the queen-personality. It is enacted by the representative straight, cisgender, boy-band idol under the voyeuristic gaze of a trans woman. As Lewis reminds us, “the reflexive individualism promised by makeover culture often involves a reinscription of ‘traditional’ forms of identity” (Lewis 2007, 287). Here the figure of the strong athlete is transformed to that of an everyday worker who longs to be held in the arms of a strong man. Furthermore, as the other “great” “moving” transformations in this penultimate episode of the program illustrate, transformation by the queen-personality experts brings “real” happiness in the form of actual marriage proposals. The queen-personality, therefore, acts as the conduit of heteronormative gender ideologies that are molded in the editorial process. (p.79)

(p.80) Comic Failure

The cultural, social, and political force of the makeover genre within lifestyle media during the queen-personality (onē-kyara) boom is fundamentally supported by the figure of the (sometimes) cross-dressing (sometimes) cross-speaking queer. Within articulations of the genre in audiovisual media such as variety television, however, the queen personality also fulfills another important role, that of comic failing. For, as much the spectacle of femininity is celebrated on makeover television, limits are also imposed. The variety format dictates that each show offers comical entertainment. As Morikawa notes in 2001, “[t]he variety-field is wild and wide-open territory monopolized by comedy duos who generally are given free license to fill the screen with exercises in silliness and bad taste” (28). Positioned as “inauthentic” and laughable in her attempts to “try to act like women,” traces of the “masculine” are always fair game for producing a laugh. The queen-personality is as much the object of ridicule (Billig 2005) (see, for example, Excerpt 3.3) as she is a source of admiration and respect.

In onēMANS the panel of comedians, all of whom identify as women, perform this role. We have already discussed examples, such as when Nishioka Sumiko (NS) admonishes Uematsu to be mindful of his speech (Excerpt 3.2), and where expert makeup artist Ikko attempts to quash the questions posed by the comedians around her (Excerpt 3.3), but the (p.81) program is littered with many more. Even though the queen-personalities are the valued experts in the show, they are also the exemplary figures of comic failure. At points where the role of expert seems to be highlighted more that that of the genderqueer onē, the machinations of variety comedy tropes quickly come into play. Let us look at one example where a studio-guest comments on Ikko’s reputation as an extremely accomplished hair and makeup artist, only to be interpellated into the category of hentai (perverse; queer) (Excerpt 3.7).

Excerpt 3.7 “Right before our eyes” (onēMANS, NTV, February 3, 2009)

Queen-Personality-TalkWriting Queens on the Small Screen

In their positive evaluation of Ikko’s work as ojōzu (very good), the guest (NY) uses polite terms such as kata (person), and gohon’nin, a term in which “the said individual (hon’nin)” is prefixed by the honorific go. This indicates a level of deference and social distance, that a guest would be expected to be exhibited to Ikko as expert. This polite stance is not fully reproduced in the impact captions, where the final honorific construction ode ni natteiru (appearing) is not rendered into text. Indeed, none of the honorific turns of phrase appears as text-on-screen. Instead, the term “charisma,” which is not heard in the audio, is projected in sync with this polite talk. Pouncing on the expression “areyo areyo to iu ma ni” (right before my eyes), comedian Nishioka moves to negate praise for Ikko, asserting that she is hentai (queer/perverse), a derogatory phrase originating from the abbreviation of hentai seiyoku, the translation of “sexual perversion.” The act of labeling expert Ikko as queer/perverse evokes general laughter, to which Ikko responds that Nishioka had best be careful of what she says. In doing so, Ikko subtly resists this classification, and here we can identify a resistance to the overarching heteronormative gender binaries that are projected by regimentation of the “official reading” (Park 2009) by the text-on-screen. Although this may not be overt dissent, a small pocket of queer possibility emerges.

It is naïve to claim an overwhelming subversive element to queen-personality-talk as projected on primetime Japanese variety television, for, as Halberstam (2005, 156) reminds us, mainstream television’s interests in queer subcultures “is cause for both celebration and concern.” However, it would also be unwise to ignore the tenacity of the queerqueen in deflecting his/her reinscription into preexisting binaries of gender and sexuality through the continued projection of metapragmatic stereotypes. Ikko’s subtle protests, therefore, offer one small indication of how stereotypes can be potentially negotiated within the limitations of mainstream evening television.

Co-opted into neoliberal discourses of the never-ending necessity to transform the self through subtle turns of phrase delivered in a stereotypically queen-personality-style that manipulates intonation and hyper-feminine linguistic resources, queen-personalities also demonstrate the potential to trouble the makeover landscape. (p.82)

(p.83) Inscribing Ideologies of the queerqueen onto the Screen

The editorial work of inscribing text-on-screen onto audiovisual media is similar to the work done by editorial teams in producing conversational dialogues, as analyzed in Chapter 2. Both involve collaborative processes of writing in which recorded interactions are rendered into text and edited into a commercially viable product. In audiovisual media, however, the impact captions layered onto the broadcast package in the post-production stage appear simultaneously with the audiovisual content at the point of broadcast. This simultaneousness effectively elides the multi-partied, time-intensive editing processes that produce the textual material and facilitate its layering onto the screen. In the same manner in which the material presence of the stenographer and editorial staff are evident in practices of orthographic stylization, the very processes that enable talk-as-heard to seemingly appear to be in sync with the broadcast package contain the “absent” voice of the editorial and production team.

Anthropologist and communication studies scholar Kimura Daichi (2011) discusses telop in his work on citational practices in the media. He argues there is an overabundance of parenthesis in media texts and that these do not demarcate quotes from a known and/or identifiable source, but act as projections of language from an unknown and/or unidentifiable position. He hints that this signifies that it is “not the speaker here” (2011, 153) who is speaking. The notion that an “absent” speaker is somehow present in rewordings of the audio track that are simultaneously made visible at the point of consumption reverberates with the positioning of the note-taker and stenographer in the production of conversational dialogues discussed in Chapter 2.

The visual representation of speech in the form of an impact caption layered onto a screen creates a naturalizing effect. The text itself appears “in sync” with the audio track, and therefore is perceived to be a “true recreation” of words that are simultaneously heard (or accessible to hearing viewers). Through this, an illusion of sameness and immediate or tangible contemporaneousness is sustained. At the point of broadcast/consumption, the temporal gap necessary to produce the text and the labor that constitutes the production of the text are elided or erased, suspended. This is common to all translation and transcription. Through a post-production and pre-broadcasting process of selective textualization, specific elements (Sasamoto 2014) of the audio track are highlighted. Within this illusion of contemporaneity, the producer’s interpretive account is inscribed onto the broadcast product, therein regimenting the official stance of the broadcast (Park 2009).

The visual figure of the queen-personality complements the transformative narrative of lifestyle media by illustrating how sustained work on caring for the (p.84) self delivers material results, such as economic success and emotional payback in the form of love and affection. The queen-personality is skilled with the expertise to facilitate the necessary stages of the makeover narrative. Her/his masterful use of a complex linguistic style that enables “home-truths” to be delivered in a vitriolic yet entertaining way facilitates the domination, care, and support needed to nurture a successful transformation. Language is integral here, and linguistic prowess is key.

Makeover programs are known for their heteronormative force. Within this configuration, queen-personalities are marketed as glamorous trendsetters who offer advice to straight women on matters of romance and the psychology of men, and also counsel men on grooming and other lifestyle choices to make them more attractive to the women they desire. The “feminine” is constructed as being forever oriented toward desire for the cisgender heteronormative man. Queen-personalities are, therefore, in competition with “real” women for the love and affections of “real” men. The queen-personality is in a precarious position—forever intimating desire for masculine sexuality but restricted by homophobic discourse. This contrasts sharply with the overtly sexual banter reproduced in Osugi and Peeco’s conversational dialogue books.

The commoditization of the queen-personality style through the writings of queen-personalities in glossy magazine advice columns, beauty manuals, and in impact captioning used in television programming is a defining feature of the queen-personality (onē-kyara) boom. Language commodification is a “process of transformation,” imbued with the potential for mobility (Shankar and Cavanagh, 2012, 362). It should come as no surprise, then, that when coopted into the neoliberal discourses of makeover culture, the queen-talk (onē-kotoba) style is transformed and (re)styled to fit neatly with heteronormative imaginings of the queerqueen. (Re)traced by collaborative writing practices that exploit the plasticity of the Japanese writing system, metapragmatic stereotypes of the queerqueen have been exploited in carefully styled media formats that appear as truthful reproductions of authentic and/or original speech. Within the public imagination of the 1970s and 1980s, Osugi and Peeco’s staged media performances were exemplary of cross-speaking, but not necessarily cross-dressing, okama (fag/poofter) language. In the early 2000s, with the absorption of the onē-kyara (queen-personality) in makeover media, the (sometimes) cross-dressing, (sometimes) cross-speaking queen became the embodiment of a new queen-personality-media-style. Orthographic stylization and multimodal manipulation of text, orchestrated by complex editorial practices, (re)creates (p.85) staged performances of queen-personality-media-talk as visually and sonically authentic, thus formulating emergence of recognizable media styles, or registers (Agha 2005, 2007; Agha and Frog 2015; Johnstone, Andrus, and Danielson 2006; Johnstone 2011, 2016, 2017), attributable to a specific imagined social persona.


(1) The Koizumi reforms resulted in changes to the national pension and (eventual) privatization of Japan Post and its associated savings bank. The Japanese Self-defense Force mandate was also expanded to enable operations overseas.

(2) Peeco writes a little about these segments in his book on conquering cancer of the eye (Peeco 2002).

(3) OnēMANS achieved 18% ratings on March 18, 2008, and was pulled off air in a final two-hour special in March 2009.

(4) The program moves from a Saturday evening slot to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays in October 2007.

(5) This search was conducted using the following online databases: Kikuzo II Visual, which includes the Asahi Newspaper National and Prefectural editions (from 1985–) as well as the weekly magazine Aera; Nikkei Telecom 21, which houses the Nikkei stable of daily newspapers; and Yomidasu Reshikan, which houses the Yomiuri collections from the Meiji era onward.

(6) Now known as the Tokyo Rainbow Pride Parade.