Academic journal article ARIEL

The Neoliberal Production of Cultural Citizenship in Ruth L. Ozeki's My Year of Meats

Academic journal article ARIEL

The Neoliberal Production of Cultural Citizenship in Ruth L. Ozeki's My Year of Meats

Article excerpt

Ruth L. Ozeki's novel My Year of Meats (1998) ends in a confounding manner. Akiko Ueno, a Japanese housewife, seemingly achieves the "happy life" (214) she has always desired by immigrating to the United States with help from Jane Takagi-Little, an Asian-American filmmaker. When Akiko learns that she is pregnant after her abusive husband John sexually assaults her, she flees to the US, settles peacefully, and starts what she believes is the ideal happy life. The novel has a happy ending in that Akiko asserts her own will to freedom, but it also falls in line with the tired trope of the immigrant story--a problematic narrative that supports the American myth of immigrant freedom. The novel's complex resolution owes to the way Akiko forms her expectations of the US from watching the television documentary My American Wife! that is filmed by Jane. Funded by BEEF-EX, a fictional national lobby for the US privatized meat industry, each episode showcases an idealized, normative US housewife--white, attractive, heterosexual--who makes a beef recipe for her family. Jane loathes the homogenous vision that is cast for the show by its corporate backers, so when her supervisor becomes sick and the directing duties fall to her, she decides to film episodes that construct a more diverse vision of American life. The families featured in these episodes grapple with different hardships and violent experiences. Jane's productions reveal that life in the US is not perfect, but this more nuanced image of the US is not what Akiko sees in her viewing of the show. Instead, in watching the documentary, Akiko assumes that the US is simply a place where happy lives are lived.

At first glance, My Year of Meats seems to be a story about transnational forms of disconnection between perception and reality, but there is an added dimension to that disconnect worth investigating. (1) Ozeki shows, primarily through Akiko's story, that the myriad subject and object positions involved in global interactions cannot be separated from one another. That is to say, moments of individual agency and instances of the individual being acted upon occur simultaneously, to the point that they are nearly impossible to distinguish. For Akiko, she elects to extricate herself from a harmful situation in Japan by migrating to the US, a decision that is shaped by an attachment to a mythical understanding of American freedom. In this way, My Year of Meats contributes to complicated positionalities within theories of neoliberalism and immigration, both of which seek to understand the interplay of subjecthood and objectification. Ozeki's complex narrative spotlights different artistic, economic, and political conflicts (such as authenticity and constructedness, subjectivity and objectivity, and freedom and subsumption) that cannot be separated into simple binaries. (2) Instead, her novel foregrounds the simultaneity of these conflicts to suggest that opportunities for freedom and agency are, paradoxically, both possible and impossible. I argue that through the character of Akiko, My Year of Meats envisions forms of individual and communal resistance to neoliberal binaristic forms of thinking while also illustrating how socially produced cultural citizenship still places immigrants within the purview of the neoliberal nation-state.

Though written twenty years ago and set during the Gulf War, My Year of Meats remains a timely read in an era where neoliberal values, isolationist rhetoric, and anxiety over immigration form the basis of the American political landscape under the Trump administration. Ozeki's novel reminds us that the kind of immaterial, socio-cultural production associated with neoliberalism can often continue to flourish despite one's best efforts to resist or work against it. As I will argue, the episodes of My American Wife! that Jane directs are co-opted by an American narrative of exceptionalism, despite her careful attempts to complicate that national narrative. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.