I am a virtual girl from Tokyo : virtual influencers, digital-Orientalism and the (im)materiality of race and gender

Miyake, Esperanza (2023) I am a virtual girl from Tokyo : virtual influencers, digital-Orientalism and the (im)materiality of race and gender. Journal of Consumer Culture, 23 (1). pp. 209-228. ISSN 1469-5405 (https://doi.org/10.1177/14695405221117195)

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By focussing on Imma – a virtual influencer from Japan – this article provides a critical examination of Japanese raciality and gender within the context of virtuality, (im)materiality and digital consumption. This piece has two key concerns. Firstly, the article proposes the idea of semiotic immaterialism as a way to theorise the 'virtual influencer', a relatively new phenomenon in 'the West' to emerge from the consumer-driven world of social media and online influencers. Here, the discussion will focus predominantly on the various racialised and gendered (im)materialities involved in the digital consumption of virtuality, and its relationship to prosumerist practices online. Secondly, this study also problematises the ways in which 'Western' popular media texts present Japanese virtuality to consumers. It is argued that these constitute digital-Orientalist discourses of racialised and gendered Japanese Otherness. How does virtuality complicate the idea of (im)material consumption? How do virtual influencers challenge and/or reinforce normative ideologies of race and gender? Taking an interdisciplinary approach, the study addresses these questions through textual analyses conducted on Imma's Instagram images and captions, alongside 'Western' popular media texts about Imma. Ultimately, it is argued that Imma, as a virtual influencer, represents how the (im)materiality of Japanese race and gender is materialised through the digital- and self-Orientalist commodification of Japanese virtuality.