This paper identifies a critical reflection on a corruption vs. transparency discourse, and its attendant structures of feeling, in contemporary East Asian cultural texts. These texts illustrate how such a discourse can be deployed to assert exemplary status for accomplished individuals or members of privileged groups—a status, however, particularly vulnerable to scandal. Feeling exemplary in this sense is a paradox of progressive ethics. I analyze a video made in support of the Sunflower Movement that effectively uses kawaii, meaning cute or lovable, as a political term to strategically posit (and perhaps subtly question) an open, exuberant happiness as a designator of a democratic people, and Satoshi Kon’s anime film Paprika, based on the science fiction novel of the same name. The latter explores the nightmarish dream of interpersonal transparency made literal in institutional contexts, while refusing a neat opposition between transparency and corruption. Because of their detailed illustration of and commentary on exemplary affect, I argue that contemporary East Asian cultural texts are an important resource for developing a critical understanding of neoliberal and postdevelopmental discourses of transparency and corruption.
KEYWORDS: corruption, transparency, cultural politics, science fiction, anime, popular culture