You’ll recognize this photo, I’m sure. If not, if this whole sorry episode has somehow passed you by, then I can only offer my sincere apologies for causing it to intrude upon your previously prelapsarian state of guileless innocence. Still, too late now. May as well join the rest of us proles down here in the gutter.
1. Cherry Picking
On occasion, as part of my role as spokesperson for the rest of the world, Japanese people of my acquaintance will ask me what people abroad think about Japan. The answer varies depending on how well I know the specific person asking, and whether I’m have a bad day or not, but generally I’ll take the easy option and stick to the Four S’s: Sushi and Sumo, Samurai and Sakura. They’re safe enough and have the added bonus of being at least partially correct. As ever though, the whole truth is both more complicated and less complimentary.
It generally breaks down according to age. My grandparents’ generation’s views on Japan are, understandably, coloured very heavily by WWII so revolve principally around kamikaze pilots, comfort women, and appalling mistreatment of POWs such as the Death Railway. These are obviously things with very negative connotations.
These views bleed into those of my parent’s peers. They’ll generally see Japan in a more modern light, focusing less on military than economic power: the 80’s, the bubble, and the concurrent Japanese supremacy in the consumer technology market. For many of them, Japan is very much The Future (still), though this is all tempered somewhat by thinly disguised Yellow Peril fears predicated on corporate power and aggression. Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker.
My (our?) generation marks the beginning of the end for Japan’s economic influence on the Western popular imagination, and the start of the rise of ‘soft power,’ specifically the pop-cultural cachet attached to manga and anime. The bootleg VHS copy of Akira got passed around our school almost as much as the copy of Basic Instinct, and benefited from not having crappy picture quality from excessive pause/rewind combinations around certain key scenes. Nintendo and Sega, Mario and Sonic; Japan was where the fun came from, even if was fun of a brutal, humiliating kind as depicted through excerpts of Endurance shown on various ‘Let’s Laugh at the Funny Foreigners’ TV clip shows. And of course we were also increasingly environmentally aware, in the self-righteously blinkered way only teenagers can be, so the continual slaughter of easily anthropomorphized sea creatures tainted the picture somewhat.
Finally we come to today’s yoot, and their hyper-connected world of chat-rooms, message-boards, and other social media. Anime is now a respectable artistic medium that you can study at post-graduate level, and why not? But as that becomes less exotic something else has to move in to fill the gap, so for many people in the English speaking world Japan has become the ultimate source of the crazy, the weird, and the fucked up. “Japan is weird” gets you over 100 million hits on Google, which is almost twice as many as “Japan is cool” but on a par with “Japan is evil.” Your average internet denizen’s concept of Japan seemingly revolves around childishly proportioned cartoon characters, cosplay, and tentacle porn, or various combinations of the three.
So it comes as no surprise that Miss Minegishi’s weeping penance has received widespread attention overseas. “She shaved her head in apology! Those kuraaaeeezy Japanese!” I’m now going to abuse Google again, and I’ll tell you how long it takes me to find an article making a spurious connection from that to the Japanese Sense of Honour or some such nonsense. Ready? Go.
It fits almost too perfectly into that Japan=Fucked Up trope which is so popular right now. I mean it is fucked up, but this really is the least of it. And this incident in particular is something we’re on very shaky ground with if we choose to laugh at it for reasons of supposed cultural superiority, because in actuality it represents something of a return to the Glory Days. Now, as once before, Japan is giving us a glimpse of where we are all heading. Now, as before, Japan is The Future.
2. Fruit Loops
- Why did she shave her head?
- She’s apologizing for going on a date with her boyfriend.
- That seems a little extreme. Was he someone else’s boyfriend too?
- No. But you’re not far off.
- Huh? What was it then? Kinky sex? Nazi-dwarf orgies? He’s her brother? She snorted coke off his turgid cock while laughing at a fat hermaphrodite taking a shit on a picture of the emperor?
- No, just a date. It’s a betrayal though. A betrayal of her fans.
- Her fans? They would feel betrayed by a date? And they take that seriously, do they?
- Oh, yeah…
The genius of AKB48 is that it achieves an almost medicinally pure distillation of all that is wrong within its specific field of human endeavour. It’s a malevolent, carcinogenic type of genius though, to be sure. The Westboro Baptist Church of bubblegum pop; it masturbates disdainfully over the cowed, supine form of Poe’s Law before blowing its load in its face and wiping its dick on the curtains. You’ll let it reductio your ad absurdum and you’ll damn well enjoy it like the cheap whore you know you are.
This is where we’re heading, people. The brave new world of social media and celebrity-fan interaction. This is what we have to look forward to. We’re constantly being told how Twitter and the like are breaking down barriers between the famous and their admirers; making them more approachable, making them more accountable. AKB have roughly 400,000 members and perform hourly in their Akihabara formicarium so that they can at all times maintain the illusion that they are accessible; a perpetual clone-army cock-tease of substandard choreography and feigned availability.
Balls to that. I want the politicians I elect to be accountable. I want my doctor to be easily accessible. You know what quality I value most in my favourite singer? SINGING. I want my favourite actors to act, my favourite writers to write, and my favourite sportsmen to sports-do (go with it). As long as they’re not murdering children, or anyone else, I really don’t care what they get up to the rest of the time. I do not need to feel a sense of ownership or investment in their success or otherwise because I have more than enough on my plate trying to achieve my own.
And yet this is apparently what is expected: we must engage, we must ‘form a relationship.’ Vote for your favourite to come back next week and avoid the dance-off. Tweet your views on their most recent performance to them #liketheycouldgiveafuck. 462 of your friends Like the same brand of intimate sanitary product they endorse, you can too! I can friend McDonald’s on Facebook now.
No. I will not be expected to make an emotional investment in order to eat my fucking lunch. Make me a burger then kindly fuck off.