Everything Bad is Good For You (In Selected Media Markets)

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Last week I found myself watching a rental videotape of Amazing Stories — Steven Spielberg’s mid-’80s “cinematic” television show. I remember it being “highly acclaimed” during its short life, but perhaps my memories are malformed from a limited seven year-old comprehension; because like with any show from the ’80s, watching it today is ultimately disappointing. No matter how innovative they were at the time, the scripts now read as long tracks of cliché plot points and over-traveled emotional modes.

In his book Everything Bad is Good for You, writer Steven Johnson has an explanation for why ’80s shows have aged so poorly: Pop culture’s moral and content standards may have deteriorated but the structural complexity and cognitive requirements have greatly increased. So, viewers today are trained to expect less narrative hand-holding and more sophisticated, multi-tiered storytelling. We therefore get easily bored with the slow pace and obviousness of past television. Johnson’s book may be the most optimistic thing I’ve read in years, and empirical evidence certainly matches with his ideas. After watching the entire first season of Arrested Development, episodes from the “high-paced” sixth season of The Simpsons feel rather slow.

Why has television become more complex? Johnson fingers the rise of repeat viewing: Thanks to the VCR, DVD player, and syndication, we end up watching specific episodes more than once. This media environment creates a need for programming that can hold up to multiple viewings — a condition most easily satisfied through greater narrative complexity and the intentional withholding of vital information. To use one of Johnson’s example, characters from The West Wing refer cryptically to events in early episodes that fully break into the storyline months later. Few could argue that all American television is super-intelligent, and the book’s main examples mostly started as “boutique” shows targeted at highly-educated audiences. But difficulty does not automatically mean “elitist entertainment” as ER and Seinfeld‘s mainstream successes have shown.

Things are not so rosy, however, when thinking about Japanese television in Johnson’s framework. Japanese TV is mainly variety shows, featuring panels of celebrities commenting on topics or pre-recorded segments. Drama series are short-term productions, and all television shows are filmed with video. (Think the visual quality of Latin American soap operas.) Despite the fact that the Japanese audience endures more commercials every year than TV viewers in other nations, production value is very low. (Important to remember here that American shows don’t really make money until sold into syndication or international markets). The high dependence upon “idols” for the dramas’ starring roles creates a palpable lack of acting talent. Reality shows tend to eschew the social psychology and game theory of Survivor or The Apprentice and concentrate on watching people (and kangaroos) eat things. Most science fiction anime certainly include complex plots, but I do not think I would be off-base to say that the networks’ strategy is to create what Johnson calls “Least Objectionable Programming.” TV is still family-oriented, blunt targeted towards a mass market.

Has Japanese TV gotten more complex over the last two decades? I would imagine that general show pacing has increased and there have been some individual programs with engaging structural innovations, but almost nothing on Japanese television requires the cognitive work of a show like 24, which isn’t even that smart. Why has “difficult” television not hit Japan? First of all, traditional employment patterns restrict the nation’s most highly educated citizens from being home during “Golden Time,” and therefore, Japanese TV does not make shows that cater to the most sophisticated market’s more complicated entertainment needs. Television is a media mostly targeted to children, the retired, homemakers, and female clerical workers, and networks err on the side of under-stimulation for these audiences. Also, the lack of cable in Japan limits the amount of syndication, and subsequently, the culture of repeat viewing. Like in America years ago, shows need to make total sense upon the initial airing.

So, are the Japanese losing out on the intelligence-boosting pop culture described by Johnson? I would doubt it. The Japanese are absorbed by the two other media mentioned by Johnson — games and the Internet — which both require much more cognitive ability than earlier entertainment forms. Television is not the whole world, but it will be interesting to see if cultural complexity increases are a global or just a local phenomenon.

W. David MARX (Marxy)
October 28, 2005

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

120 Responses

  1. Chris_B Says:

    I personally like Mexican soap operas much better than local shows and I find the Mexican game shows to be far more interesting as well.

    I personally still dont understand the appeal of wacthing people eat on TV. Cooking, yes, eating, no.

    As far as syndication goes, I dont think cable is the key, I think the relatively lower numbers of non major network stations is the issue. With fewer “independant” broadcasters needing something to fill timeslots, there is less demand for syndication. Also I think we both agree that most of the local content creators still dont see alot of value in the concept of back catalog.

  2. marxy Says:

    But doesn’t the value of back catalog come from a having a market in which to sell back catalog?

  3. Momus Says:

    pop culture’s moral and content standards may have deteriorated but the structural complexity and cognitive requirements have greatly increased…. Johnson’s book may be the most optimistic thing I’ve read in years

    Come on, you know why this is, don’t you? People in Western TV and movie industries just take more cocaine than they used to. So everything has that cocaine clever-dead feel to it: complex structures, but the space they define emotionally and spiritually hollow. This is optimistic?

  4. Momus Says:

    Also, it’s a little dangerous to dismiss “watching people eat things” as spiritual emptiness in a culture based on a religion which is organised around the proposition that the agricultural calendar contains spiritual values.

  5. marxy Says:

    everything has that cocaine clever-dead feel to it

    Are you being serious? I am not doing Johnson’s book much justice. I find the idea that pop culture is getting “smarter” to be very uplifting.

    Also, it’s a little dangerous to dismiss “watching people eat things” as spiritual emptiness in a culture based on a religion which is organised around the proposition that the agricultural calendar contains spiritual values.

    I’ll let the Shinto reductionism slide, but I want to raise the point that watching people eat food is not necessarily “bad television” but I would find it hard to label it “complex.”

  6. Chris_B Says:

    Momus: I like seasonal foods as much as the next guy, but how many times can you watch some schmoe tarento eat ramen while a studio full of schmoes gasp “oishiiiiii”. Eating shows are lower than anything FOX has broadcast ever

  7. marxy Says:

    Eating shows have much lower costs than anything FOX has ever broadcast.

  8. porandojin Says:

    on food shows teir faces are so ecstatic that i always become hungry …

    and i agree with Momus that it`s all about `young people doing drugs and being ironic and thinking they do good stuff` .

  9. Momus Says:

    I don’t think the formula complexity = value applies in any field, really. Elegant simplicity is often vaunted, but no-one ever says “I love your new software / play / recipe / religion / whatever because it’s so… complex!”

  10. Chris_B Says:

    I do…

  11. Momus Says:

    Chris, I’m afraid that answer is too simple.

  12. marxy Says:

    No, complex does not automatically mean good, but dull/slow does not automatically mean good either. Is the low complexity in Japanese TV a good low complexity? I would argue no.

  13. Chris_B Says:

    well the low complexity of TV here is good if you are watching a show at the teshokuya when the volume is turned down…

  14. Momus Says:

    That’s funny, I was just about to say the same thing! I watch all my Japanese TV (tapes at the Japanese deli near our house here) with the sound turned down, and I said to Hisae the last time we were there “What’s so great about this kind of TV is that you don’t need to hear the sound, so much is clear from the picture, the expressions, the cut-away reaction shots, the food-tasting shots, etc.” When so much TV is basically just radio with a picture added, this is, I think, a virtue.

  15. marxy Says:

    Of course you think it’s a virtue. You thought it was a virtue before you even thought about it.

  16. a Says:

    virtue

    it is radio for the eye. many people i know watch tv without sound and it’s perfectly followable.

  17. Momus Says:

    You thought it was a virtue before you even thought about it.

    The thing is, I’m saying these things after thinking a lot about media. Because you’re a marketing grad student and not a media or literature or art student, I think you know a lot about media marketing, but not a lot, academically, about media. You reveal that when you say “Television is a media mostly targeted to children…” and use the plural noun with a singular verb form, or when you tell us that complexity is a virtue in television.

    Now, I’m sure you’ll poo poo this and tell me Marshall McLuhan was a charlatan or something, but I think your problem in this entry is that you’re applying directly to television something that’s a virtue only in other forms, like books or maps. In McLuhan’s terms, you’re talking about a “cool” medium as if it were a “hot” medium.

    For McLuhan, “hot” means high definition, something like a map. “Cool” means lo-fi and lo-res, something indistinct which allows, forces or invites the consumer to fill in the gaps, the sketched or suggested areas. Using the linguistic concept of “redundancy”, McLuhan says that TV is “cool”, offering little information but allowing the user to participate with most of his senses. Books and maps, by contrast, provide a lot of specific information (complexity), but fail to encourage emotional or sensory participation.

  18. marxy Says:

    I’ve read McLuhan, but thanks for explicitly tellng me how much more you know about something than I do. Next time you’re talking about malted milkshakes on Click Opera, I’ll remind your readers:

    “The thing is, I’m saying these things after thinking a lot about ice cream beverages. Becuase you’re a retired musician and not a malted milkshake expert, I think you know a lot of about milkshake readings, but not a lot, academically, about malted milkshakes.”

    (And we’ve talked here before about how McLuhan’s statement that TV was “cool” is based in his observations of early 60s TV, not post-LcLuhan TV.)

    This is an interesting idea: Japanese TV is a radio with pictures – but can you say that it’s a medium used to its full potential. You tell me, since I’m just this American grad student and you’ve thought about media.

  19. Chris_B Says:

    gentlemen, pardon me for interrupting the dick waving contest, but I think we can all agree that TV seems to serve a different function in Japan than in the US of A. Every American and almost every European I know who lives here finds local TV to be unsatisfying for a variety of reasons.

    My converations with my local friends about TV tend to be skewed since I dont share the women’s taste for “wide shows” or local dramas and my male friends only watch sports, if anything.

  20. nate Says:

    marxy’s point about golden time is just one small part of a bigger phenomenon. No one I’ve met deliberately watches any specific program, excluding the korean dramas and キスいや. Everything else is a matter of what happens to be on. So rather than these serial dramas and comedies that flood the american landscape, these “talento” shows dominate.

    Most every one of these shows tries really hard to be visually appealing to the extreme. Closeups of food, facial expressions, expensive houses and cars abound. Knowing that a good number of their viewers are going to hop in after the :00, the shows just pile up mini shows… whether it’s wallet checking on downtown, or the high dive on q-sama.

  21. marxy Says:

    I don’t want to bring up marketing again – because god knows television programming isn’t created with business intentions and certain demographic conditions in mind – but I think there is a relation between the lack of “serious viewing” of television in Japan (“radio with pictures” or “hopping around”) and who exactly is participating. My question is whether American TV wasn’t a lot like this back in the early 60s and has changed radically. Rigged quiz shows, bad variety hours, music hours on network TV. payola – Japan sounds a lot like America circa ’59.

    Every American and almost every European I know who lives here finds local TV to be unsatisfying for a variety of reasons.

    Yes, but every Japanese person I know over 22 with creative interests doesn’t watch TV either. Watch any prime time drama: in a nation of 125 million, these are the best actors? I would think I’m being culturally biased, but my Japanese actor friends are the ones who pointed out low-quality film and TV acting is. (They blame the jimusho system.)

  22. alin Says:

    cmon guys there is also quite a bit of stuff like しゃべりば where real content is discussed. in a somewhat different way to the us or europe; like usually picking a quite small point and really zooming in and going round and round but alltogether quite poignant stuff. often more so because of the intense close focus.

    there’s tv radio in the background as i write this: kyoto style sushi , fcking fascinating, the layouts on the plate are so different like they tend to go for a grid-like pattern that i suspect might reflect the chinese influence from the heian era. manhattanesque like the kyoto city layout.

  23. marxy Says:

    So there, everyone. Japanese TV is exactly the same as everywhere else.

  24. Carl Says:

    All my students watch ‘Full House’ and ’24.’

    Man, that’s a weird combination to think about. Is it ethical to torture someone if terrorists kidnap li’l Michelle?

  25. marxy Says:

    24 is huge in Japan, but why can’t they make a domestic version with the same amount of narrative complexity? Budget limitations?

  26. Momus Says:

    Well, thanks for the satire about milk shakes, but I’m afraid you completely failed to address the point I was making about complexity in television, which is central to your argument, or rather your endorsement of Steven Johnson’s argument (Slate’s TV critic, by the way, thinks that “Johnson’s claims for television as a tool for brain enhancement seem deeply, hilariously bogus”).

    I don’t know what it is about these feelgood US pop-sociology bestsellers that appeals to you so much more than academic approaches — you loved “Freakonomics” too. But I suspect it’s the same reason they appeal to Americans themselves: the way they tend to tell Americans that their current behaviours are actually fine. What you then tend to do on Neomarxisme is say “Well, this stuff is fine in America according to X, but if we apply it to Japan, Japan isn’t doing so well.”

    Now, to your credit you did stop short of saying in this entry that the land of the multi-tasking samurai, the otaku and the Thumb Tribe was unable to deal with complexity. It was only on TV that you thought that complexity was lacking in Japan. But again, I’d like to bring up McLuhan (who I understand Johnson cites in his book, although only to disagree with him). If McLuhan is right to think not about the inherent complexity of the medium itself, but of the relationship between the medium and the viewer, then simple, lo-res media might elicit the most complex responses, precisely because it’s left to the viewer to fill in the gaps and join up the dots.

    This is why our reactions to Terry Riley’s “In C” can be just as complex as our reactions to Bach, and why you can’t say the inherent complexity of a show (the fact that it has 14 simultaneous plotlines, for instance) has anything to do with the quality of a show.

  27. Momus Says:

    It was only on TV that you thought that complexity was lacking in Japan.

    And, by the way, you said that this was because TV was aimed at “children, the retired, homemakers, and female clerical workers”, which was super-sexist of you, though of course you covered your tracks by telling us that this was because networks “understimulate” these audiences.

  28. marxy Says:

    If McLuhan is right to think not about the inherent complexity of the medium itself, but of the relationship between the medium and the viewer, then simple, lo-res media might elicit the most complex responses, precisely because it’s left to the viewer to fill in the gaps and join up the dots.

    But I wouldn’t go as far to say that Japanese TV is so low-res and abstract that it requires its viewers to fill in the gap. It overprovides information – if you can watch it with the sound off, then the clues in the soundtrack are redundant. The narrative is always ultra-obvious. The variety shows print the spoken word on the screen so that nothing goes unmissed. On what are you basing the claim that Japanese TV makes your head work harder than more high-paced, complex Western shows? Johnson’s point was that current American TV shows now assume a reader can bring together lo-info textual clues themselves without heavy guidance. Japanese TV rarely, if ever, makes this assumption of its audience.

    you said that this was because TV was aimed at “children, the retired, homemakers, and female clerical workers”, which was super-sexist of you

    Right, the sexism stems from me and not from a society that structurally denies the intellectual maturation and career opportunities of its female members.

  29. marxy Says:

    Also, Momus aren’t you the person who’s convinced that “girls hate math.” Shouldn’t boys like complicated TV more than girls on your watch?

    (And also check out Veblen – who explains very clearly why consumerism is associated with females now. It is a product of socialized gender and not inherent sexual biology. Before modern society, women were forbid from engaging in conspicious consumption themselves, but they soon became the medium in which men showed their pecuniary prowess. All this – “consumerism makes us feminine” – is backwards. We made consumerism feminine first and now it’s feminizing men.)

  30. Momus Says:

    On what are you basing the claim that Japanese TV makes your head work harder than more high-paced, complex Western shows?

    I’m not saying it makes your head work harder, I’m saying:

    1. Complexity does not correlate to quality.
    2. Complexity does not reside in shows, records, etc themselves, but in the relationship between these products and their consumers.

    As for the gender issue, the relationship between socialized gender and biological gender is a red herring. Females, whether biological or merely cultural ones, demonstrate qualities which peaceful post-industrial consumer societies privilege. They’re highly empathetic, exemplary networkers and consumers, and thrive in industries which are oriented towards dealing with people rather than raw materials. Your objection to Japanese television seems to be that it has too female a character, but to the extent that we all need to succeed in post-industrial consumer societies, we all need to become more “female”. Assuming world war doesn’t break out or the bird flu doesn’t make the global financial system collapse, Japanese TV is the kind of TV we’ll see in all advanced consumer societies soon. British TV looks more like it every day.

    (Cue reaction shot in tiny inset screen, lower right corner.)

  31. Carl Says:

    Complexity does not correlate to quality.

    I don’t think that’s in dispute. The question is, why does Japanese TV suck? One reason suggested is its low complexity. Now things *can* be low complexity and high quality, but for the most part, Japanese TV ain’t.

    Of course, one could argue that Japanese TV is a success, in that it serves the needs of its core audience– bored women– but I think Marxy would ask the question, why doesn’t J.TV try to expand its demographic by exploiting complexity, as is done in the States?

  32. alin Says:

    this is realy spooky. why should japan become like the united states, which is the point that’s obsessively being brought up here.

    it’s ok to criticize say japanese tv but you’ve got to have some basic understanding (under-standing), sympathy, love, genuine caring about the stuff you criticize as a starting point otherwise you’re just like fucking nuke-ing from the outside and that is really disgusting behaviour. Marxy, why don’t you ask your japanese actor mates to add something here coz i’m sure however pissed-off and critical their stuff may be it wouldn’t be as disgusting as this here so far.

    sexism

    as with everything else you’re doing this bizarre subtracting thing. you set the us of america as a standard then find the points where japan supposedly falls short of that and jump to the conclusion that japan is some sort of castrated version of america. the fact that there is a basically endless number of resources, possibilities etc that havn’t entered your equation in the first place means nothing to you. helllloooo!!!

    sexism

    an interview with shonen knife from some years ago came to mind. something like:
    american interviewer : oh, it must have been really hard as girls in the dick-driven band world .. (it’s hard enough in the states and japan evidently being a much more sexist society than the states …..
    shonen knife: no, not at all, the guys were always totally cool sometimes they’d give us a hand carrying stuff.. [something like this]

  33. Momus Says:

    one could argue that Japanese TV is a success, in that it serves the needs of its core audience– bored women

    I think it is a success, on a number of levels. I think it’s ethically successful, for instance, in that you don’t see on J-TV the appalling verbal cruelty and bear-pit social conflict of US shows like Springer and Donoghue, or endless parades of crime and murder, or the judgemental binary apportioning of praise and blame. Instead you see comedy, female beauty, consumption, travel… In other words, this is entirely popular culture, but it’s the least toxic popular culture anywhere. I think Marxy touched on this when he called it “Least Objectionable Programming”, and there’s real virtue in that.

    As for bored women, well, I think there’s a bored woman in all of us, whatever biological equipment we have. And maybe to invoke her is to invoke a better-socialised human profile. Hisae and I were discussing this while watching Japanese TV at lunchtime, actually (Doraemon): Hisae said that the consumption trend in Japan is veering away from women and towards men, but we agreed that the males were probably consuming in the manner of females; in other words, this has a femio angle to it. Men will now buy cosmetics, depilatory agents, clothes and so on in ways they wouldn’t have done before. To the extent that we are good consumers, we are feminized, and this is all to the good. In this sort of environment, men are as likely as women to watch a show in which a guy is given 3 million yen and goes all around Japan looking at the things he could spend it on (a horse in Hokkaido, a special duvet with ultra-rare feathers, etc).

    By the way, I’d just like to note something about the linguistic concept of redundancy. In popular usage, when we say something is redundant, we mean it’s useless, has no point. But in linguistics redundancy is seen as an essential part of communication. A quick definition is: “I know what you mean.” In other words, when something is highly redundant, it’s saying something we empathize with, something we can fill with our own experience no matter how lo-res or interrupted (by commercials, or turning the sound down, for instance) the information is. Things are redundant precisely because they resonate with us emotionally, even when no new information (complexity) is being supplied. “Phatic speech” is highly redundant; it’s “Hey, how’re ya doin” stuff, and it’s deeply reassuring. This is the very fabric of Japanese TV, Japanese society, and the Japanese language, which abounds in “Ne?” and “Desho?”-type prompts, and could be seen as a way of asking “Am I being redundant enough to communicate to you, quite unnecessarily but in a way that gives us both pleasure, the thing that we are all anyway already thinking?”

  34. alin Says:

    consumption trend in Japan is veering away from women and towards men

    absolutely, to the point that you see 50+ year old politicians on tv having undergone full dandy house treatment , hard version. a bit spooky kabuki but ultimately cool .

  35. Chris_B Says:

    y’all have gotten really close to the point here, but I think y’all missed something. Donald Richie observed that all Japanese cinema is still basically in the narrative tradition of kabuki (explaining before, showing, explaining afterwards). TV aint nothin but the same ol same ol.

    Anyways, life without conflict of some sort is deadly dull (much like the TV is here to me), this web page is a great example.

    As for male feminization, well thats an argument of another feather. However, let me remind you all that men still have far less disposable income than women here.

  36. nate Says:

    momus: “J-TV the appalling verbal cruelty and bear-pit social conflict of US shows like Springer and Donoghue, or endless parades of crime and murder, or the judgemental binary apportioning of praise and blame”

    again momus, along with marxy this time, seems to forget that japan is not a 12 year old girl. Yes, doraemon is less violent than Law and Order, but you’re apples and everything in the world but apples.

    appalling verbal cruelty: even if it pales in comparison, shinsuke (the king of the talento, and convicted woman-puncher) is basically a 1 trick pony. He calls women old, ugly, stupid and slutty to their faces for laughs. Insult comedy is at least as lively in japanese tv as the states.
    Crime and murder aren’t all that uncommon either. Japan has cop drama after cop drama too, and all of the high school dramas feature physical violence (as in 15 full grown men beating up a high school boy) a lot more regularly than dawson’s creek, or any other american teen drama.
    And the sports! K-1 fighting, bloody, punch the guy in the throat until he passes out style fighting is aired regurlary on broadcast TV. My elementary school kids know it well. It’s illegal in most US states, and definately no good for broadcast.

    praise and blame? Try nhk and everyone else’s investigative reporting. I watched an hour of tv where they bullied homeless people living in their cars to move them because the police weren’t doing their job. The investigative reports attack the disadvantaged so often that I tune out anything but shows about hostesses and cats.

    On the whole, US tv is darker, yes. and sharkier, if you will. but you’re either underinformed or ignoring the facts if you think japanese tv is paradise.

    regarding complexity, both desperate housewives and ER air on NHK’s BS channels this year.

  37. nate Says:

    chris_b. and everyone

    if the kekkon shinai movement gains traction (to the deepest chagrin of the govt), and women really begin to push past 30 without getting married, I don’t think japan will be a culture of female consumers much longer. Disposable income will fall squarely into the hands of the men.

    It could spell a boom for the sex industry, especially the low end. for 1.2 man, you can get dinner and a movie for two, or skip the middle(wo)man. If young men gain the money and wherewithal to put their money directly into sex, welcome to “raunch: japanese style”.

  38. saru Says:

    In between groan-inducing invocations of Shinto as justification for endless shows featuring ramen-eating celebrities and irrelevant and dated “discussion” of McLuhan, Momus actually had a good point that complexity does not equal quality.
    Then he burst out with this:
    Japanese TV is the kind of TV we’ll see in all advanced consumer societies soon. British TV looks more like it every day.
    You mean, you’re pawning off Ricky Gervais shows to us and every night you’re secretly watching shows of people traipsing around onsens?
    The hypocrisy is so evident. Japan, it seems, can do no wrong because of its pleasing aesthetics, while everything in “the West” is so wrong. The fact that you cite Phil Donahue along with Jerry Springer speaks volumes not only about your lack of familiarity of the subject matter but (again) the timeliness of your references. When he was at his peak around 20 years ago, Donahue was known for intelligent discussion. Except for a brief revival in the last few years on cable, when he was brought in as a left-leaning host to counterweigh the FOX types, he’s been off the air and out of the public eye for years. And on the other side of the comparison you’ve got whatever you see on the muted TV down at the local noodle stand?
    In your podcast, you even talk about how there’s nothing in the West like Ichi Maru Maru (JJ Club), and say “take that, west!” Momus, it’s an arcade. A big, weird, great arcade, but it’s an arcade. In your article in Metropolis, you talk about the pleasures of being foreign and how “orientalism” is not so bad when you aren’t denigating the subject. Hasn’t it occurred to you that you are using this lovely, aesthetic Japan as a crude tool, a weapon with which to beat “the West”? I don’t see what’s so nice about doing that–to Japan or “the West.”
    What would you say to someone who said “It’s dangerous to dismiss black skull T-shirts in a culture which has employed the memento mori motif in its art for centuries and is rooted in a religion which places heavy importance on the afterlife”? You wouldn’t give someone with that argument about “the West” the time of day; you’d dismiss them as “moronic cynics.” And I note the word “moronic.” Not “kneejerk” or “reactionary.” It’s “moronic.” This coming from a guy who dresses up in bright colors in order to say “f*ck you” to people, to the “morons” in black. And you are the one protecting Japan from the nasty foreigners saying bad things about it? And this “Japan” seems to be defined by the hipsters in certain fashionable neighborhoods of Tokyo?
    But sumo? Ah, yes, Shinto ritual–no sport at all.

  39. alin Says:

    s still basically in the narrative tradition of kabuki

    good point chris and a point i wish would be developed on here – at least acknowledged by this blogger himself. japan has had a huge history/tradition of media/entertaintment and it makes a lot more sense to see the current situation as a countinuation of rather than some mal-developed thing planted on barren ground some 50 years ago as marxy tends to assume.

  40. Momus Says:

    Saru, I’m afraid that comment is just way too scattershot for me to respond to, you managed to work in (dismissive) references to about 15 different essays, blog comments, and podcasts going back over several years. All I’ll say is that if you think Japanese people resent having nice things said about their culture, or positive comparisons made between Japan and the West, you’re wrong. It’s a bit like being told by a man that women find men who give them compliments “sexist”. It turns out always to be the other men who find this “sexist”, never the women concerned. And the reason they find it “sexist” is that they don’t have the generosity of spirit to give compliments themselves, and rankle at the idea that they’re going to have to compete with those who do.

  41. marxy Says:

    This has become an intersting thread, despite the clashing opinions.

    A couple points:

    1) Donald Richie observed that all Japanese cinema is still basically in the narrative tradition of kabuki

    This is an interesting idea and kabuki probably does set some of the narrative conventions of Japanese storytelling, but my original post was about change, not absolute states. If we’re just looking at the style of explanation, American television was equally over-explanatory twenty years ago, and it’s only recently that TV shows can rely on their viewers’ cognitive abilities to run multiple narratives in one single show and increase the subtlety of clues. Japanese culture does not automatically follow its precedent conditions, and traditions are altered and thrown out wholesale with great frequency. So kabuki may be an influence – in the same way that Vaudville was an influence on early American TV – but why specifically does Japan still follow these narrative conventions in prime-time television when games or anime, for example, have become more complicated? Why isn’t the abstract Noh theatre a basis for the quiz segments of pet shows?

    2) Slate’s TV critic, by the way, thinks that “Johnson’s claims for television as a tool for brain enhancement seem deeply, hilariously bogus”

    He’s probably right, but I do think the increases of complexity on American TV are a sign that 1) the culture is dynamic (which is not necessarily a good thing, but I would argue that it often can be) and 2) the average audience now needs more cognitive stimulation to be entertained. When TV “progresses” in this manner, the old software mostly loses its entertainment value. We can enjoy classic video game titles like Super Mario Brothers or Tetris without a need for complexity, but your average, pedestrian 4-bit or 8-bit game is now unplayable. Can mainstream Japanese viewers – for whom the producers create programming – still watch old shows? Yes, and the success of the hanryu “Winter Sonata” demonstrates that they like the obviousness of old Japanese drama structures. But Japanese 20 year olds are mostly unable to watch these shows, in the same way that we have a hard time sitting through an episode of “Knight Rider,” no matter how kitsch. Everything is overacted and overexplained for modern tastes.

    3) “Am I being redundant enough to communicate to you, quite unnecessarily but in a way that gives us both pleasure, the thing that we are all anyway already thinking?”

    But television shows have a limited amount of time for communication, and complexity and the amount of information automatically goes down when you are constantly repeating messages in that short time period.

    Again, complexity does not automatically equal “good,” but would you be saluting local, low-budget television if this was Portugal and not Japan?

    4) All I’ll say is that if you think Japanese people resent having nice things said about their culture, or positive comparisons made between Japan and the West, you’re wrong.

    I’m not sure that the goal of our discussions is to “please” the subjects. I think having a positive outlook is helpful, but applying it on every single issue gets tedious and dishonest. And it’s ultimately insulting. You shouldn’t criticize your 3 year-old’s finger painting, but a mature, working artist deserves some sort of critical response that is not bent entirely on apologizing and creating new euphemisms.

  42. marxy Says:

    Another observation: the visual quality of commercials in Japan is much higher than the television programming. CMs are shot in film with highly-advanced editing and camera work – the sounds don’t even sync up correctly in prime-time trendy dramas.

  43. Momus Says:

    You shouldn’t criticize your 3 year-old’s finger painting, but a mature, working artist deserves some sort of critical response that is not bent entirely on apologizing and creating new euphemisms.

    Sure, but also some sort of critical response that isn’t just some version of “I’m afraid you’re past your peak, in terminal decline, and your work is way behind what our painters are doing”. That approach smacks of sour ex-fandom; the Mark Chapman school of cultural criticism, we could call it.

    The reason that I’m highly positive about Japan is that, as a consumer, I filter out stuff that doesn’t interest me rather than attacking its right to exist. Also, for me Japan represents “difference”, and it’s much more acceptable to champion a “differing” culture than to champion a dominant and imperialistic one like the US. Of course, it lays you open to charges of Orientalism. But my argument is that we’re living through a period in which the Japanese represent the Other to themselves, which validates this approach to their culture. I actually think we don’t disagree on that analysis, just whether self-exoticizing is a good thing or not.

  44. marxy Says:

    I think that’s a pretty good explanation, and yes, I am a disillusioned fan.

    But I get the sense that we clash on a particular broad issue: this blog is about Japanese pop culture, not Japanese high art or folk culture. You don’t actually like most Japanese pop culture. I respect a lot of high culture, but I’m pretty middle-brow honestly, and Japan has less and less to offer for the middle-brow audience. If you’re interested in bento boxes as folk culture, yes, Japan is still a fascinating “Other,” equally different and romantic as the tribes of Papua New Guinea. But I think it’s clear that most people are interested these days in the innovative aspects of Japan’s contemporary pop culture – in comics and cartoons and sixteen year-old girl rappers and Planet of the Apes inspired t-shirt lines. We headbutt because you see bashing Hamasaki Ayumi as some sort of insulting attack on Japanese culture as a whole instead of honesting evaluating products coming out of a business. And since we’ve had more interesting products come out in the past, it’s an obvious path to the question of: what’s happening now?

    But I can feel your outrage if you find Orange Range to be an extention of the eternal Japanese way of life.

  45. Chris_B Says:

    So if TV still sticks to the dramatic roots of Kabuki rather than undergoing some kind of dynamic change, the question becomes “why”. Is the TV market just not worth so much without competition? Is it “enough” to make shows to sell crap to housewives and kids? Or something else entirely?

    Momus: your navel gazing otherness theorem holds no more water now than it did before.

    Alin: pretty much every culture has dramatic tradition, whats your point?

  46. Momus Says:

    (I’d just like to add that I think my positions on national identity are often misunderstood here. The right wing take on this is that national identity is real, rooted in ancient history, cosmology, blood and soil. The left wing (or “pompous universalist” version of left wing) response is that national identity is a “construct”, and therefore unreal and irrelevant. “We’re all the same, irregardless of race, colour, creed, nationality, etc”. But my stance is that national identity is both constructed and real. I’d like to use Douglas Rushkoff’s metaphor; it’s “open source”. Japanese and non-Japanese alike create the idea of Japaneseness. We’re doing it right here, day in, day out. To the extent that some of our conceptions get embraced by the Japanese themselves, they become, de facto, real parts of Japanese identity. What’s more, Japanese identity, both artificial and real, becomes something that can be used by non-Japanese who have become voluntarily “Japanized”.

    One reason I reject negative projections of Japaneseness is that, as memes, they remain powerless. An unattractive picture of Japaneseness won’t sway the Japanese themselves to pick it up and give it life. It also won’t attract new outsiders to Japan to tinker with definitions of Japaneseness in their turn. The only people who’ll find a use for it are Japan’s enemies.

  47. Jrim Says:

    One reason I reject negative projections of Japaneseness is that, as memes, they remain powerless. An unattractive picture of Japaneseness won’t sway the Japanese themselves to pick it up and give it life.

    What, so Japanese people are incapable of creating negative projections of Japaneseness themselves? I agree with a lot of what you say, but my problem with your unwavering support for Japan is this implicit assumption that the Japanese love everything about themselves and their country. Let’s celebrate everything about Japanese culture, because that’s what the Japanese themselves are doing, right? Thing is, some of the most vehement critics of Japan I’ve met here [note: in Nagoya, not Tokyo] are Japanese – both the “bring back the samurai spirit” nationalists, and the educated, English-speaking 20-somethings who can’t wait to escape what they see as a constrictive and utterly retrograde society. But maybe I’ve just been talking to the wrong people…

  48. saru Says:

    Momus, I am glad you cleared that up about identity, because I did find it a bit ironic that at times you end up sounding like Ishihara or someone like that despite yourself.
    It’s a good point, identity is both real and constructed. But I still think you are doing the Japanese no favors by using them as a rudimentary weapon with which to attack other societies, especially when you dissociate your image from reality. You are on the brink of the abyss which the Bush administration has fallen into–“We leave reality to the chumps. We’re making the world.” Comments to that effect by a Bush staffer led to the proud retort “proud member of the reality-based community” by some US-based political bloggers. Furthermore, promoting such fantasies really does nothing for actual understanding of what’s going on. That’s why I said your attitude is “Let them eat BAPE.”

  49. Momus Says:

    I’m just a firm believer in the carrot, not the stick; the sun, not the wind. I’m an admirer of the Jean Snow school of selective praise. And look, Jean Snow has a column in Japan Times now… you know, he’s successfully infiltrated the media in Japan, and his memes have a chance of influencing Japanese (well, anglophone Japanese) people’s ideas of self.

    Of course, it’s true that the negativity here does make for more passionate debate because it generates dialectics… even if we seem to be doing the same merry and rather pointless dance a lot of the time.

  50. Momus Says:

    The current entry on Jean’s blog is a case in point; he saw a TV profile of designer Bunpei Yorifuji, the guy who did the JT smoking campaign, and “fell in love with his books” (a funny book about shit, and another one about death). No diatribes against TV in general, bored housewives, declining generations or whatever, just a specific thing that TV showed him that brightened up his day, a good designer with a quirky personal style, a name to remember. It feels more like one’s actual experience of living in Japan… or anywhere, really. It feels… well, generous and friendly. Of course, I have discovered interesting cultural nuggets about Japan here too. Let’s see, there was something about Kiiiiiii, wasn’t there?

  51. saru Says:

    Momus, you are actually quite negative, just not about Japan. That’s what strikes me as condescending. What makes you think you are in a position to offer a carrot to Japan? I was quite turned off by that negativity when I went to your Click Opera and saw these rants calling people “morons” for wearing black clothes. In light of that, your comments on Japan seem not only condescending, but hypocritical as well.
    But, then I thought, anyone who wants to write a book about Laurie Anderson’s Big Science album can’t be all bad.

  52. alin Says:

    Alin: pretty much every culture has dramatic tradition, whats your point?

    one point, that (american) late 20th century pop culture is not the measure of things but a piece of history – like kabuki.

    don’t know exactly what donald ritchie said but i suspect the context might have been mizoguchi and the like and it’d be absurd to say contemporary japanese television comes from kabuki. what could be said though is that kabuki and japanese television and noh to some degree come from the same sensibility and are related within a certain paradigm.

    During the London bombing I was in a hotel room in bangkok flicking satelite channels. While BBC, CNN, Deutsche Welle etc. were bombarding hungry viewers with every minute piece of information NHK would briefly report the basic facts then go on with nature programs and stuff. Now to me there is a clear and deep connection between this and say the esthetic of an Ozu movie where the dramatic stuff happens very briefly and often off-screen which in turn relates to other stuff like noh and whatever, like the mosaic or the whole narrative structure of an adult video.

    orange range is boring but hey kabuki is also quite boring – unless you were some sort of connoseour or understood it from the inside. and there’s plenty of people out there outside japan who’d go nuts one way or the other over some flyingV smashing post-visual jap band, especially as it looks on the big screen in shibuya just like there’s hundreds of foreign tourists qued up every day in higasi ginza at the kabuki-za.

    I don’t have the stamina to develop this thoroughly but the I respect a lot of high culture, but I’m pretty middle-brow honestly, and Japan has less and less to offer for the middle-brow audience type of thing is lame and kind of hypocritical and deluded since just about every criticism articulated here can be transposed to the hi, classic etc stuff. so in effect the whole thing does come across as an attack on japanese culture per se.

    ___chris b. a few weeks/months ago in a discusion on shinto/buddhism you , evidently having a soft spot for it, said yes, but zen is [singularly] different. crap, viewed from california it is diferent, viewed from japan it’s not actually that different. i wonder if i’m getting my point across coz i never actually state it and i don’t think i actually have a point as such.

  53. Momus Says:

    What makes you think you are in a position to offer a carrot to Japan?

    I can! Jean can! We all can! Let me give you three examples of how I may have been able to contribute to the “open source” of Japanese self-image.

    1. Writing songs for Kahimi Karie that got into the Top 40, got performed on Music Station, became TV commercials, etc. In one I made her sing about her samurai relatives in Kamakura!

    2. I have a column in Wired that gets translated into Japanese every fortnight, gets sent to iModes, etc. My first column was about how Coca Cola sells green tea in the Japanese market, and what that means about capitalism: it means that consumers and local customs have a lot of power to give their own flavour to a system often thought of as culturally imperialistic.

    3. In 2003 I wrote a song about TV comedian Shimura Ken which got picked up by Yahoo News Japan, causing so many downloads that we had to move the mp3 to another server. The Yahoo piece expressed amazement and pleasure that a gaijin would celebrate this much-loved Japanese figure.

    That kind of message can reach a wide audience, and can tinker with perception (for instance, my Shimura Ken song connected Baka Tono to the Irish poet W.B. Yeats, and his fertility theories. But Yeats was deeply into Japanese culture anyway, so it’s all just global ricochet stuff).

  54. marxy Says:

    I hate to say it, but more Japanese people have actively bought Alex Kerr’s books than engaged in Momus’ offerings (or really understood Kahimi’s English lyrics).

    Jean Snow’s site is great. I read it everyday. And like Jean’s or Patrick’s blog, I try to write about exclusive areas that other sites don’t. We all leave things off our blog that work against our themes. I’m not as negative in real life, but I don’t think there’s a reason I should self-edit so that this one blog alone makes up a perfect balance of opinion. If you want to hear that the West is horribly corrupt at fundamental levels and Japan is the answer to all of our problems, read Momus. If you are suspcious about the idea that Japan isn’t also fundamentally corrupt, read mine.

  55. marxy Says:

    The other question is: why not offer America the carrot, Momus? But I already see the logic: America uses the stick, so they deserve the stick. I agree.

    But the only reason you don’t have any desire to use the stick on Japan is that you intentionally ignore the darker areas of Japanese society that would warrant its usage. I’ve never read your opinions on the Japanese justice system, which is based solely on arresting suspects, keeping them in prison for 1 month, and then extracting confessions from them in dubious ways. (You can’t make a CSI: Tokyo, because they don’t bother themselves with that “evidence collection” and “jury trial” bullshit.) Yes, Japanese people don’t have a sweettooth – hoorah!

  56. alin Says:

    marxy, but you don’t actualy do what you’re saying above, your actual entries are often quite fuzzy (which is nice i think) then only later bring up the authoritartian hard stuff up as some sort of last resort ideological back-up when things get heated up. under pressure. when you get cornered. do you have to?

  57. saru Says:

    Amen to that, Marxy–a friend was just released from a Japanese jail after a month without trial. And in the Momus carrot/stick scheme, do America and “the West” get the stick? or do they just get to be human and normal? Japan gets to be defined as certain fashionable areas of Tokyo, and made out to be a fantasyland. I find it a bit creepy.
    That said, I say good for Momus for the things he listed in the last post. Very nice, really. But at the same time, I notice none of those involve dragging out McLuhan or Einstein’s Theory of Relativity to make a point about a Shinto-based society.
    But let’s throw Momus a bone here: Though I found most Japanese TV to be histrionic and obnoxious, finely produced shows appeared regularly on NHK, and I enjoyed watching Trivia. Trivia occasionally gets into what I think is the admirable aspect of otaku culture–going really deep with something, well, trivial. Like the time they put together a panel of university professors to determine the world’s most unfunny joke. The professors then performed the results for an audience. I like to say the Japanese are very serious about their fun. Anything else good on Japanese TV these days, complex or otherwise?

    And I don’t know much about video games or whether they’re good for you, but you could make the argument that there’s just been a lucky run of good shows in the US and UK recently which are not necessarily indicative of any evolutionary trend. I bet in the US, HBO would be a factor in that. Not having read the book, though, I’m not entirely clear on Johnson’s thesis. But I’ll pick it up–I’m a fan of feelgood US pop-sociology bestsellers.

  58. Momus Says:

    I suddenly had this impression that we sound like Diaspora Jews here, cosmpolitan culture workers discussing how to infiltrate the countries we’ve arrived in by working our own agendas into the national dialogue. 1930s Jewish film producers, for instance, casting Jewish stars in Hollywood epics, so that heroism always has slightly Jewish features, and pogroms and persecution become just that little bit less likely in America. Or Jewish psychoanalysts in exile in London, publishing books and conducting therapy sessions that make every Englishman just a little bit more nervy, neurotic, hypochondriac, and mother-obsessed. Just a little bit more “Jewish”, in other words.

    In the light of this, it’s interesting that Marxy is saying that Japan doesn’t have enough lawyers! And perhaps there’s a tiny hint of there being not enough Jewish scriptwriters on Japanese TV… he did mention Seinfeld, after all!

  59. Momus Says:

    (Here’s the NY Metro telling us how Jerry Seinfeld “made the American everyman Jewish”. The writer of that piece is Ariel Levy, who I’ve just been endorsing on Click Opera for her condemnation of “raunch feminism”.)

  60. Momus Says:

    So perhaps our dispute on this thread boils down to:

    Marxy: Why aren’t there more Jerry Seinfelds on Japanese TV?

    Momus: Do you want there to be more Jerry Springers already, you schlemiel?

  61. Chris_B Says:

    alin: I still dont get what you were trying to say about kabuki. Could you put it country simple for us slow learners? Also I have no memory about anything I may have said here about shinto or budhism except for maybe saying I am a buddhist.

    momus: yippee skippy for your past glories! Its cool that you can continue to earn your bread with the golden shovel. I think thats a genuine tallent(o). I bet however that given 24 months straight of living here, you might get caught breaking persona. Environment matters even to an oyaji

  62. guest Says:

    Chris, I think Alin was referring to our exchange a while back about Shinto, Buddhism and militarism, archived here:

    http://www.pliink.com/mt/marxy/archives/000663.html

  63. tomek Says:

    I’m not sure how much Japanse television you watch, but I wonder if you’ve ever watched it late night. It does get more interesting after 12. Regarding the complexity of shows, my Japanese freind is a director who has produced some very bizarre, complex, and avante-garde shows for japanese televison. The themes he works with are often purely Japanese, including manga, superheroes, super cute pop-idols, salarymen, outrageous color shemes, wax food. The shows seem extremely perplexing to a western viewer like me, not only because of their comlexity, but because their theme is so purely Japanese that it’s difficult to relate unless you’ve steeped yourself in these media for a long time. Maybe you should spend more time watching late night Japanese television to find such shows, and then try to understand them, before you make a judgement on the quality of Japanese television.

  64. alin Says:

    chris:

    yes this was the quote:
    //careful not to confuse zen buddhism with other forms and even within zen there are distinctly opposing schools of thought.//

    sorry i do write elipticaly but am not a good enough writer to make up for that.

    i was thinking of the type of zen guy totaly taken by what’s basically their own projection of zen they picked up in california or reading keruak or whatever, are into the zen temple, zazen stuff and all but believe that other than that they’ve got it all wrong in japan, and pooh pooh everything from salariimen doing zazen to pure land buddhism to shintou to kamikaze pilots. finding just about everything about japan frustrating. the idea that comming to terms with any aspect of japanese society would be a hell lot better zen to their mind than 3 months in a fucking monastery wouldn’t cross their mind. (zen probably owes a lot more to shintou than to chinese zen – but that’s a different story; i just found the previous discussion of shinto as animism, not even a religion primitive in a 19th century kind of way, and that discussion on shintou is in no way different to this discussion on television.

    i didn’t imply that you, chris b, is like one of those zen guys, rather the attitude here is

    i think i misunderstood your point about kabuki. i thought your point was closer to mine.

    i said -/ the current situation as a countinuation of [a long thing] rather than some mal-developed thing planted on barren ground some 50 years ago

    marxy talks about change:

    it should be:

    kabuki -> current j-tv -> marxy tv

    no, it’s not mate.

    here’s a good point just above. [ tomek]

    there is inteligent, interesting , sophisticated subtle stuff on TV. you guys are weird. not because you don’t like it or you don’t get it but because you get agressive about it.

    a few months ago i was in ikebukuro seeing a friend off at the long distance night-bus station. now i’m carefully standing about half a meter outside the white line on the footpath that marks the no-smoking waiting area lighting a cigarette. there’re some 40 japanese people and one american guy with a huge backpack. i notice he’s looking at me, thought ok he might want to chat or something next second he’s up next to me launching this full-on attack about smoking and i’m like, what the fuck..

    …..
    guess i should do my own blog, it’s kind of rude to dump your boring private little anecdotes onto someone else’s blog

  65. tomek Says:

    Another interesting point I can make: As I learned from Yuki, my director friend, everyone who finishes media school as a director, cinematographer, or actor is guaranteed to get some work in the television industry. This gives everyone an equal chance to get a head start, even those with really bizarre ideas. From there, the viewers choose who they like. I believe this makes for a better system than any other I have heard of.

  66. tomek Says:

    A few other things that come to mind. What makes complexity such a positive thing for you? Sure there may be more shows with complex plots on television coming from the US, and some of them are captivating, but after analysing the content, it’s just the same old c*%p that they’ve been feeding us as far as I can remember, and once you’ve realized that the shows lose your interest, it’s like watching reruns of old shows at a faster pace, which is the reason I don’t even own a television when I live anywhere in North America. Booorrring!
    Another thing that you fail to take into enough consideration, is that you are not in touch with Japanese culture the way a Japanese person who grew up there is in touch with it. Many T.V. icons, words, symbols, pastiches, characters, genres, phrases, etc. etc. etc. have a cultural history, meaning, and endless associations and conotations, that you are not familiar with, and as on outsider can only disect with your analytical skills, but will not be able to understand them unless you choose to stay in Japan for the rest of your life and stew yourself so much in the culture that you become one of them, without writing such western perspective analytical critiques of Japanese culture as you are doing, but even then I’m not sure if it’s possible.
    Also, what positive attribute does complex televison have when it comes to society. Japanese people have no background in cartesian philosophy, nor much of any western philosophy for that matter, which might make complex shows appealing to you, nor do they study much of it, or are they very interested in it, from what I have learned having lived there for five years. Yet, for all that philosophical background, the US is a country in pretty poor shape, with poverty, crime, 80% of people addicted to some substance, and nearly everyone in debt. Whereas in Japan they are doing quite well in keeping crime under control, the unemployment rate is pretty low considering what’s going on in the rest of the world, there are few raving lunitics walking the streets, the homeless don’t scream at you demanding that it’s your responsibility to support them, and Japanese people are generally far more civil and polite, especially if you consider their closely populated living environment. So, what do they need complexity for, if they are doing better managing their society without it, than other countries that do have it?

  67. marxy Says:

    actor is guaranteed to get some work in the television industry. This gives everyone an equal chance to get a head start, even those with really bizarre ideas.

    I’m not sure about people behind the camera, but this is patently false with actors. All the major stars of the drama series come from only around a dozen major management offices, and being in a relatively strong agency is also how you get minor roles. The stations are overly dependent upon having the larger stars be in their shows, so they reward the management companies holding the big talent with small spots for their lesser members. I’m convinced that the “quiz sections” of otherwise “documentary” (or “fake documentary”) shows is to send some money and face time to the station’s favorite jimusho in exchange for access to the big guns (“barter” in local parlance).

    TV after 12 gets a lot more risque and weird, but I think the fact that the good stuff doesn’t show up until everyone’s asleep backs up my main point: prime-time Japanese TV is made to be as uncontroversial and static as possible.

    nother thing that you fail to take into enough consideration, is that you are not in touch with Japanese culture the way a Japanese person who grew up there is in touch with it.

    Well yes and no. I know enough about what is going to know that I’m not missing anything. Sit yourself down and watch Kiken na Aneki on Monday nights, 9 pm, Fuji TV. Tell me what I’m missing.

    , there are few raving lunitics walking the streets, the homeless don’t scream at you demanding that it’s your responsibility to support them

    Yes, because they’re all locked away and hidden. Have you ever noticed that you don’t even really see people in wheelchairs around? That’s how great Japan is: they’ve invented a society free of invalids! Amazing!

  68. alin Says:

    thank heavens a sane person droped by.

    you know the cellars of the potala palace were packed with criminals with ball and chain till way into the 20th C yet all we talk about tibet is shambalistic bullshit. would it help if you saw japan to suffer a similar fate then be more sympatetic to japan as a victim.

    Have you ever noticed that you don’t even really see people in wheelchairs around? That’s how great Japan is: they’ve invented a society free of invalids! Amazing!

    man, that’s realy mean and nasty. surely no system is perfect. with this atitude you seem like just the right man for the job/ huh?

    i can honestly say that i believe japan is more open to change than any country i know; moreover once the change hapened there’s hardly any hangovers, grudges or backlashes. that’s why some changes are relatively slow.

    there are people working on these problems all the time. why would you prefer transformation and change to be implemented through what can only be a lame type of dialectics when there are other methods that have proven themselves efficient? so you can feel superior?!.

    i have actually seen a number of people in wheelchairs strolling around tokyo and they were like realy cool and everyone around was really cool about it. much less than in other places (obviously NOT because there are less people with disabilities in japan) but somehow the situation was much cooler that in other place. i actually made a mental note of it and i, with western PC implanted in my mind, was actualy the least cool person around. the wheelchair/differently abled people issue has more to do with family tradition and politics than government and it’s a quite delicate issue. I have said it before if you want to see your agenda successfuly implemented you’ll have to strike at the family. actual family and the extended concept thereof.

  69. nate Says:

    I’ve mentioned this before, but the audience after 12:00 is comprised of a lot of middle school and high school kids taking their private time out of their sleep time. A lot more of everyone’s life happens after midnight out here than did in my old californy home.

    A comment on hiding to loonies too. By junior high, something like 5% of school age kids do not attend school because of social phobia, and every school has a few kids that attend but hide in the nurse’s office all day every day. The crazies are always encouraged to stay away from proper society.

  70. alin Says:

    nate:

    taking their private time out of their sleep time.

    this is a very didactic, ethnocentric, (californicentric) way of puting it – to a dramatic effect.
    fact is in most of urban japan as well as most of south east asia hong kong kl etc as well as places like spain etc people just have different sleeping patterns and basically sleep much less and stay up later than in anglo-saxon countries.

    tell me one place where loonies are not in some way or another kept at safe distance.

    marxy:

    I know enough about what is going to know that I’m not missing anything.

    mate, many people in japan think stuff like orange range or otsuka ai are crap but few have the kind of allergic, freak-out reaction you seem to have to them. (like some brahmsian hearing schonberg’s 12 tone shit). you’re just like so many japanese people who can’t stomach say western porn (too crass, fake and in your face), food (too dry too acidic, too rough (wild), western (lack of) manners and so forth.

    you surely are missing stuff mate.

    btw. just popped into the modest local libro book
    shop in shiosite (home of both nihon terebi and dentsuu) and the seemingly small media section was packed with some amazing(ly fresh) stuff, local and translation including some derrida stuff i havn’t even heard of (point ist’t that derrida is fresh, though surely more fresh than mcluhan). now, profesional people are actually buying and reading this shit. and they tend to be quite young and fresh (i know coz i see them everyday). someone’s got to be on the ball hey?

  71. marxy Says:

    Shame on all of us for thinking that anything Japanese is the same as that of other countries. Nothing must be compared!

    now, profesional people are actually buying and reading this shit. and they tend to be quite young and fresh (i know coz i see them everyday). someone’s got to be on the ball hey?

    Marilyn Ivy has a great essay about the brief popularity of one of Asada Akira’s very difficult books about post-structuralism in the collection, Postmodernism and Japan (1989). She essentially says that “difficult philosophy” was in style and consumers were consuming the work without necessarily following any of the arguments. Here’s a quote from Asada himself I printed on the blog a while back.

    mate, many people in japan think stuff like orange range or otsuka ai are crap but few have the kind of allergic, freak-out reaction you seem to have to them

    If you want to see full out Orange Range and Otsuka Ai bashing (especially in regards to “pakuri”), read Cyzo or the shukanshi. I learned how to properly bitch from reading them.

  72. guest Says:

    There is a great deal of interest in Western philosophy in Japan among the educated, and has been for at least 100 years. Inazo Nitobe, who wrote Bushido: Soul of Japan was an admirer of Nietzsche, and his vision of the warrior is comparable to Nietzsche’s superman (East and West united by proto-fascism).

    Academic high school social studies textbooks regularly feature the Greeks, Bacon, Descartes, Bentham, Pascal, Kant, Hume, Mill, Adam Smith, Marx, Freud, Keynes, Levi-Strauss, Nietzsche, Sartre and Camus. I’ve even seen features on the Frankfurt School and post-structuralism. The students might not understand this stuff, but somebody thinks it’s important for them to learn about it.

    Hell, Michel Onfray doesn’t have a single book in English, and I recently spotted a Japanese translation of his Anti-Manual of Philosophy in an inaka chain bookstore!

  73. guest Says:

    Posted that before I saw your post, Marxy. You said:

    “[Asada] essentially says that “difficult philosophy” was in style and consumers were consuming the work without necessarily following any of the arguments.”

    Doesn’t that also basically describe the 90s in the West? How many hipsters reading Deleuze really understood it (if it’s even really possible to understand in the first place)?

  74. Momus Says:

    Michel Onfray doesn’t have a single book in English, and I recently spotted a Japanese translation of his Anti-Manual of Philosophy in an inaka chain bookstore!

    That just about outlines my whole history with Japan in one soundbite. I find out about these characters in the West who are totally ignored by the Anglo-Saxon culture, usually because they’re not empirical enough or, as with Onfray, too sexual in their emphasis. Then I go to Japan and find them known, mapped, valued, bought and sold, in print, available.

  75. marxy Says:

    I’m not saying Western consumers necessarily understand post-structuralist philosophy but the underlying assumption is that they should “understand” what they’re consuming – whether it be punk rock or Derrida. Whether they are faking or not is another issue.

    I would argue that intellectualism is not something that necessarily comes out of the university system here, seeing that a majority of students (even the elite ones) do not attend class nor have particularly difficult requirements for graduation. (And only about 40% of students go to 4-year “liberal arts”-type colleges in the first place.) Grad students are few and far between because of the rigid employment system.

    I have to read a lot of Japanese academic writing and I find the bulk of it to be not particularly well written outside of descriptive writing about specifically Japanese topics. (Ignoring differences in writing style, there is still a gap in rigidity of arguments.) As far as I can tell, very few doctoral programs require “generals” or studying of the basics of the field; students mostly read sporatic and specific works under the guidance of their main professor. This means that a marketing student can get a PhD without any exposure to sociology, economics, or psychology – or even the fundamentals of marketing.

    “Serious” Japanese magazines that would be analog to the New Yorker are also less likely to drop the big names in a way that expects readers to understand the reference. Everything here is like Studio Voice: the media introduces and teaches about certain things, but rarely requires prior knowledge. Very anti-elitist, I’m sure you’ll say, but doesn’t really give credence to the idea that Japan (at the moment at least) has an enormously large class of over-educated people like Europe or North America. There is certainly less anti-intellectualism in Japan than elsewhere, but that doesn’t mean that intellectuals – no matter how revered – are actually being listened to and understood.

  76. Momus Says:

    This TV-related entry fell into a familiar Neomarxisme sub-category: the assertion that there’s a “lag” between Japan’s backward media and a Western media you often characterize as healthily critical, complex and independent-minded, a “fourth estate”.

    I wonder what you make, then, of the latest World Press Freedom Index from Reporters Sans Frontiers?

    “The index reflects the degree of freedom journalists and news organisations enjoy in each of 167 countries and the efforts made by the state to respect and ensure respect for this freedom. At the top of the list (all tied for first place) were Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland (yay!), The Netherlands, Norway, and Switzerland. Freedom’s Home, the United States, dropped twenty places from even last year – to 44th. That puts us behind Canada (21), the UK (24), Australia (31), japan (37), and every single country in Western Europe – as well as such diverse countries as South Korea, Namibia, El Salvador, the Czech Republic, and Hong Kong.”

  77. marxy Says:

    As much as I lament the results of this poll, I don’t think you even need America as the symbol of press freedom to show that the kisha clubs severly limit the kind of information flowing through the Japanese media, etc..

    Gloat all you want, but frame it this way: in which countries does the concept of media freedom and public responsibility take up greater public debate? Why didn’t a Japanese NPO create this poll?

  78. Momus Says:

    I don’t think you even need America as the symbol of press freedom to show that the kisha clubs severly limit the kind of information flowing through the Japanese media

    So we can expect your framing of the debate about Japanese media to be re-framed now to exclude the comparisons with America? Or will you keep including the US, but admit (in a lamenting tone) that, poor though Japan’s press freedom may be, the US has some catching up to do before it even reaches the Japanese situation?

  79. marxy Says:

    Oh stop it. The American press is still way more free on certain aspects. I’m not sure why they’ve fallen 20 places – throwing journalists in jail and limiting access to White House documents, most likely. But, there’s still a vibrant tradition of investigative journalism and self-identification with Fourth Estate-type ideals in the American media, where there is a very limited tradition in Japan. What are you to make of the fact that most newspaper reporters assigned to Tanaka Kakuei in the 70s knew about the Lockheed scandal but refuses to devulge the details to the public? And very recently, they threw the publisher of a series of books about Johnny’s (Rokusaisha) in jail for charges of libel. It’s a totally closed system only being recently slightly opened. America may fall on hard times, but it shares at least the ideas of an open media with the rest of Western Europe.

    If you want to go point by point where the Japanese media excels in freedom against that horribly dictatorship over behind the Iron Curtain of the US, we can do it. But you’d rather just look at that number and laugh and tally up some points for your side. All this is arbitrary point assignment at this juncture. You could do the same kind of thing for Costa Rica if you wanted.

  80. matt Says:

    if i could just drag this thread kicking n screaming back to the topic it started with – why is japanese tv generally so dull / stuffed with cooking shows etc – because i dont think it was fully explored before getting sidetracked.

    It seems to me that the basic function of television here is really quite different to the west. (i dont say america because i’m australian). Because of the different population demographic, (families divided by work, salarymen, lots of old people, one child families) TV’s major role seems to be as family substitute / extension. Think of those giant scary ant-farm apartment buildings in kawasaki, filled with salarymen who want to switch on a freeze-dried family complete with cute girls & group leader to dispense opinions (to save on any thinking which would tax a work-addled brain). Hence the plethora of variety shows, cooking shows etc – its to provide millions of japanese who are away from their families & loved ones with an instant, on-demand family (beat takeshi, sanma, the talento , the obligatory girl gang)

    TV here does have other functions- earthquake alerts & education, samurai drama for the old folks etc. Its a device that plays a bunch of important social functions to a society so split up & divided by work, space limitations & massive commutes.

    I think the big difference to me (as an australian whose favourite channel from australia, SBS, is a multicultural part-government funded channel that features world movies, tons of great self-produced docos, short films, newsreaders from a handful of races etc) is that TV in japan seems to have never been regarded by producers or consumers as a device to stimulate thought or debate.

    Its a pacifier, a social glue, an educational tool or a thing to gather round on new years eve to see the old favourite J-poppers belt out a few shaky tunes. Its not something to challenge or stimulate you intellectually.

    This is the great difference. (i refer here to what good TV can be (for me) as opposed to re-runs of Cops & reality shows )

    I doubt japanese TV will ever look critically at its own culture with the razor-cut intensity of The Office or Nathan Barley. There will be no Insider-style 60 minutes expose to bring down the government. Documentaries will feature cute girl reporters & the studio panel will discuss everything and feed us their opinions so we might be spared having to think of our own.

    To try and sum it up, J-TV is about comfort, not confrontation & i dont see it changing soon. Is this bad ? Well only if you like the idea of TV as a medium that can be stimulating to the brain, not just the channel-change finger. You want confrontation & challenge ? – go read a book or go to an indie film.. that seems to be the message from japanese TV

  81. marxy Says:

    That was well stated, Matt.

    But I do think there is an ideological element to the idea that TV cannot “challenge” authority or the powers-that-be. There have been newscasters in the 60s who were fired for stating honest opinions of the sort that made Walter Conkrite famous – like that Vietnam was a bad war -, because the LDP didn’t like such deviation from the script and essentially told the station that the troublemaker had to go. This is a direct interference, but there are much smaller battles being waged to keep any sort of anti-commercial, anti-social messages off television, which in turn, makes audiences extremely uncomfortable with “rebellious” messages.

    Fine, TV does not have to be about stimulation, but who “wins” from this outcome?

  82. matt Says:

    i guess i don’t even need to give the answer to that question..The usual gang of Japan Inc idiots keeps getting richer & the populace doesnt realise they’re missing out on anything..

    Taking the implication of your point a bit wider, consider an recent article in NYT which showed the massive explosion in funding for Chinese universities and the brain trust they are creating, reflected in booming PhD numbers.

    The safe, watch-out-passengers-here-comes-a-corner-hang-onto-those-straps kind of japan being pacified into a coma by emotional comfort TV & pliant, LDP-loving media may just be shocked out its safety-bubble cocoon when China overtakes it with some good ole-fashioned lateral, original thinking & becomes the new hi-tech HQ of Asia.

    Will we start to see investigative journalism & topical satire on TV then ? i wonder…

  83. marxy Says:

    I just want to add that I don’t think political satire or sophisticated plot lines on American TV makes Americans more political, but it does reflect the fact that there are Americans who want to see such forms of entertainment. Perhaps you could argue that American TV does “legitimize” the idea of political debate or breaking molds.

    Japan does a great job of selling kids shows and children’s culture around the world, so the point is not that Japanse TV is worthless. The question is why does it have such problems being “adult” without that just meaning “stale” or “risque”?

  84. guest Says:

    Abe Shinzo, who actively censored NHK’s comfort women documentary with impunity, is in line to be the next PM. Advocates of press freedom should be very afraid.

  85. marxy Says:

    Abe is also the one who publicly stated, “Japan’s textbooks should correspond with the government position on the war.” And he’s the grandson of Class A War criminal, yakuza member, and Prime Minister Kishi Nobusuke.

    If Abe’s elected, Japan will fall to the level of American press freedom, right Momus?

  86. Chris_B Says:

    matt; sounds like you are describing the boob tube function of TV most anywhere. I agree that TV has a different function here but I dont think that is it.

    marxy: who “wins” in any TV market? You know as well as I do that the whole fourth estate thing dont mean squat here in any medium.

    alin: OK I see what you are talking about. I never had nothin to do with california uber allies buddhism/new age or any of that granola crap. As far as a relationship between local zazen and shinto, I’m not gonna school you on your errors, I’m not even qualified to do so. I’d suggest you do a bit of learning before you say such things however.

    Now, as for the kabuki thing, lemme see if I can expand the point a bit. Since kabuki is not so much about the story as the telling and as noted the viewer is told what they are about to see/just saw, and that Japanese TV is for the most part viewable without the sound, I’m saying that the basic function of narative TV is about the the telling rather than the story just like kabuki.

    As far as the after midnight stuff, I’ve watched it and felt equally unfulfilled as during golden time. Not to say that shaberi ba or all night nippon arent good stuff and that some of the after 12 fare is at least somewhat less inane to me, but the fact is I have a different set of expectations as to whats gonna come out of the box which have been formed by the last 50 years of TV in the US. Sometimes I dont want to be told whats happening, I want to figure some of it out for myself.

    As far as comedy goes, I dont want to already know the joke and I dont find either 1) men dressing as women, or 2) larger guy hitting smaller guy on the head all that funny. Well I was endlessly ammused by The Three Stooges as a child, but its been a good three decades since I found that sort of humor worth watching.

    Does any of this mean I think Japanese TV is mostly “bad”? Not really. I do find most if it boring and lots of it to have very low production values, but obviously they are not producing stuff for people like me (over educated immigrant salaryman).

  87. guest Says:

    from the BBC:

    “Mr Abe has also argued that it is “not necessarily unconstitutional” for Japan to use limited tactical nuclear weapons in defence.”

    Don’t worry folks, these nukes are for SELF DEFENSE only!

    Momus, you do realize you’ve taken the long way ’round to George Bush’s side, right? Heard SDP’s Fukushima Mizuho call these bastards ネオコン on TV last night…

  88. marxy Says:

    Abe strikes me as being cut from the same cloth as the old guard nationalists of the 40s to 60s. The kind of guy who calls up the Sumiyoshi-kai to break up strikes and peaceful demonstrations.

  89. saru Says:

    Well a few more Continental philosophers and an NGO report on freedom of the press have been thrown into the mix, but still no concrete mentions of actual Japanese shows. Here’s a theory, though. The supposed trend of complex TV in the States was driven by cable, particularly the premium channel HBO. Being on cable and having subscribers allowed HBO more freedom in programming styles and they experimented. Shows like “Sex and the City” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” were big hits. They were also comedies without laugh tracks, and the latter is largely improvised and shot with one camera. They broke the mold of the network show. (There were also dramas, but to be honest I am not so sure about them as I never watched them.) The terrestrial networks, still locked in timeslot dogfights, were losing viewers in droves. (Another competitor might be low-cost DVDs. Why watch some stupid sitcom when you can pop in a DVD and watch cinematic-quality stuff?) The old network model was broken. To save themselves, they started trying to make stickier shows, ones that would become cultural “events.” Stuff like “Lost.” (The flipside is a rush-to-the-bottom with cheaply-produced, sensationalistic reality TV–the US equivalent of the Japanese variety show.)

    I don’t think cable has anywhere near the market penetration in Japan that it did in the late 90s/early 00s in America when the TV landsape began to change. And I am sure that very few people have the space for the massive home theaters that have been rising in popularity in the States. The standard models of programming (eating, going to onsen) have gone largely unchallenged, so why change?

    Perhaps another thing is economics. The States has a huge number of geographical markets, local affiliates, in which programming can be marketed. I bet it is bigger business, and therefore more capable of supporting shows with higher production values. (The great shows coming out of the UK like The Office are from the BBC,a nd produced in very short [by US standards] runs.) Japan has a very limited number of markets, and there is very little interest in Japanese programming outside of Japan (other than the anime, etc.).

    I was initially surprised in Japan to find that the quality of Japanese shows isn’t much better than those of their poorer Asian neighbors. It must be the small market.

  90. marxy Says:

    I think all those points are probably true, although Japan’s ad revenues for TV probably dwarf the other Asian countries.

    Anyone know specifically why cable diffusion has been so slow in Japan? I have cable, and it feels like US cable circa 1986, but a bit worse.

  91. matt Says:

    Chris,

    You dont think that is it but somehow, like momus’ “japan +shinto = cooking shows with spiritual meaning” theory, yours (japanese television = kabuki-sound) also sounds like a bit of a pasted-on attempt..

    rather than trying to mashup a theory based on [ insert stereotyped musty japanese artform / religion of your choice here ] why dont you consider some more basic ideas.. after all, cinema in japan may have been born of filmed kabuki but television was born from the mitsubishi fightman hour….

    Tv just reflects culture. What japanese TV reflects is what it is : a conservative group-orientated culture that values group harmony more than controversy, contemplation more than curiousity, and getting to the heart of it, comfort over truth.

    If we want peaceful streets and safe midnight strolls through just about anywhere in the land, perhaps the price we have to pay is that the TV is going to be shite.

    But its is not the same as dumb tv everywhere. The Japanese relationship with television is less of a “brain off, body off, slump on couch with TV dinner” than a social relationship that is a big link in the fabric of group society. You and i weren’t brought up with group behaviour instilled in them from birth, but all japanese are. I ran my tv theory past my girlfriend and she totally agreed. The Tv is a pseudo-family member, for those times when you miss your group (when alone) , or when you want to merge with an even bigger group (kohaku time). Most shows function merely as a bridge to connect you with that group. So to the less group-oriented, they seem stupendously boring, because we dont watch them in the same way..

    You take your kabuki theory & my “group replacement” theory out on the road & see which one gets stomped into the dust first ;-)

    and re shinzo abe – can i just say “arrrrrggh” – are we sposed to be grateful it wasnt Ishihara ?

  92. marxy Says:

    To put what you’re saying more “academically”: Japan was traditionally a “high-context” culture where personal connections and information from close sources meant more than objective facts or universal values, and the fracturing of Japanese society and destruction of tradtional communities from modernization created a populace looking for traditional, relational information sources in the mass media. Another facet of this is that market success becomes an ersatz for community acceptance in Japan – if something has sold well that must mean “everyone likes it.” Unfortunately, those running the commercial system are fully aware that consumers’ depend upon it in this traditional manner, and intentionally exploits consumers by tailoring the authority of messages to its own benefit. So you get the worst of capitalism – profit at all costs without consumer distrust – mixed with the worst of confucian social-orientation – virtue as trust in authority without authorties looking after the masses.

  93. saru Says:

    Marxy: I have a feeling that the comparative lack of cable in Japan has to do with the actual cables. We all know about that from (here it comes again) Alex Kerr’s Dogs and Demons. It was probably too much trouble, legal and otherwise, to run the cables out to homes back in the 1980s when cable was taking off elsewhere.

    Another thing is, even if you had cable, what programming would you put on it? There aren’t exactly tons of syndicated shows to broadcast–a catch 22. The Japanese also seem to like Japanese dubbing on a second audio channel for their foreign content, which is surely much more expensive and time-consuming than subtitles.

    The latter reasons, programming, probably explain why satellite hasn’t really taken off either. I had BS in Japan and it was, well, BS! I have to have an ugly little dish on my house to get 7-8 channels? (My house was registered with the city of Kyoto, so yes I did care about the aesthetics of the dish.)

    For a contrast, cable is massive in Taiwan. There are several 24hr “news” (they use the term loosely, they’re mostly sub-FOX level) networks, at least 10 movie channels showing films in their original languages with Chinese subtitles, and several Discovery-type channels. Discovery has been such a runaway success in Taiwan that it is going from all foreign content to some locally-produced stuff. Regular programming on the non-“theme” channels tends toward Japanese-style variety shows, however. Again, I think that’s because they’re cheap to produce.

    The ad revenues are most certainly much higher in Japan, but I wonder if they higher in proportion to their expenses. They are made in Japan, after all.

  94. Momus Says:

    I agree with Matt’s last posting there, the one about the TV as family member. But I think this stance is pretty disingenuous:

    The… safe… japan being pacified into a coma by emotional comfort TV… may just be shocked out its safety-bubble cocoon when China overtakes it with some good ole-fashioned lateral, original thinking & becomes the new hi-tech HQ of Asia. Will we start to see investigative journalism & topical satire on TV then ? i wonder…

    China will overtake Japan very soon, but it won’t be because of anything as wholesome as lateral, original thinking. It’ll be because China is even more authoritarian, confucian, group-oriented, conservative and safe than Japan is. Do you really think the Chinese state would tolerate anything even remotely like “investigative journalism”? And do you think Japan is likely to start divisive self-scrutiny when faced with a rival as ruthless as China?

    The trouble is that that very ruthlessness has now started to be used as a threat to other nations — by their own politicians. For instance, the recent German elections were very much dominated by the threat of German jobs being outsourced to China. “Give up your cosy social protection,” Merkel more or less explicitly said, “because they don’t have such luxuries in China, and that’s who we have to compete with”. But there is no way Europeans (or Japanese) can compete with brutal conditions and authoritarian government. We must diversify, do something else.

  95. tomek Says:

    You make claims about Japanese television, but you concentrate on shows that are particularly easy to pick on from your point of view. Why don’t you spend some time to find something that is stimulating and then make a judgement? I’m not living in Japan anymore so I can’t tell you what’s on. If you go to Tsutaya, you can ren’t my friends version of “Momotaro,” it is blunt social critique of Japanese culture from the inside, rather than the outside. I found it not only hard to digest, but it was impossible to disect from a western perspective. Sorry, that I can’t remember Yuki’s last name, but a few of his shorts, movies, and documetaries, are at Tsutaya in Shinjuku, many of them have been shown on televisions. You’ll know the right “Momotaro” if you find it, it’s not for children, and a very interesting look at Japanese culture from a fresh perspective.
    A lot of Japanese work in film is very subtle, the theory and philosophy is not explicit. While I enjoy films by Ozu and Kurosawa, I think that their films often cater to western analytical skills, even more so than the Japanese mindframe. I beleive that Japanese people look for completely different qualities in movies. I often found it difficult to discuss films with Yuki (my director friend), because, although he made movies, and edited them, he did not analyze them the way I did. Often, when I asked questions that would be blatantly clear to a western director, Yuki would just look at me stumbled wondering what I’m getting at — yet that doesn’t mean I know any more than he does about film making.
    Another thing I like about many Japanese artists I have met, is that they do not concern themselves with criticism. For a long time I have felt that the dual role or artist and critic has been unnecessarily forced upon me by western culture. I remember complaining to my teachers in art school about having to study critical skills. To them it seemed totally unquestionable, as if it were the artists duty to be able to analyze and criticize his own work. Since then I have learned that things are not so, and I believe that artists without analytical skills are less able to deceive, and their work is usually more original.
    You like complex western shows, because they cater to everything you’ve been taught to appreciate, but at the bottom these are just formulaic genres that dwell on old conventions. When I watch a lot of avante-garde Japanese work, I have difficulty understanding what’s happening, either because they are not tied to conventions, or their conventions are entirely different — and I’m not conversant in those conventions. At that level, it isn’t even possible to have a conversation with someone who understands these films or makes them, because you have no idea where to start, like being lost without a map, or you each have a map but are unable to see the other’s map. This is what it was like for me trying to discuss my friends films.

  96. saru Says:

    Do you really think the Chinese state would tolerate anything even remotely like “investigative journalism”?
    Actually, there is such a thing as “investigative journalism” in China, aimed mainly at corruption at the local level. Granted, everyone knows there are lines that shouldn’t be crossed, but it goes on.

    China is even more authoritarian, confucian, group-oriented, conservative and safe than Japan is.
    As someone who’s spent a lot of time in Japan, China, and Taiwan, I disagree wholeheartedly with that statement. The Chinese government may be more authoritarian, but part of the reason why is they are trying to keep everybody in line. China (and “Chinese” societies elsewhere) are much more chaotic than Japan. “Group-oriented”? “Safe”? As they say on that complex American TV show, “fuhgeddaboudit.”

  97. alin Says:

    but you concentrate on shows that are particularly easy to pick on from your point of view

    yes yes yes bloody yes.

    and there’s plenty critical stuff other than the obvious cyzo in every possible media but it’s often, subtle, oblique, ambiguous, wouln’t fit the agenda and marxy couldn’t probably stand finding himself without a map.

    chris. no it’s not scholarly ignorance, i do basically know what i’m saying but ain’t gonna write a thesis about it. just 2-3 basic non-quite-scholarly points.

    1. when zen was imported to japan it did basically undergo something similar to the swastika t-shirts or the shibuya-key bosanova// things weren’t that different then to now. and it did blend in with what was already here. (just like in tibet).

    2. in the mind of the non-scholarly, non-sectarian japanese there is no brick-wall between buddhism and shintou. call it ignorance, i don’t.

    3. zen esthetics , from architecture to pottery are largely based on shintou stuff. the typical sparse zen dera is closer to a jingu than to a chinese temple. the tea ceremony pottery (and the whole mujirushi esthetic) etc commomly atributed to zen basically existed before zen came to japan. (yayoi or whatever)

    my point earlier was number 2.

  98. alin Says:

    matt:

    SBS is great. don’t you think it’s ironic they’re showing early 90s japanese cooking shows as cult feature.

    does marxy know this?

  99. tomek Says:

    Now to reply to some of your critiques of my earlier comments:

    guest>>>”There is a great deal of interest in Western philosophy in Japan among the educated, and has been for at least 100 years. Inazo Nitobe, who wrote Bushido: Soul of Japan was an admirer of Nietzsche, and his vision of the warrior is comparable to Nietzsche’s superman (East and West united by proto-fascism).”

    A great deal? Really? I guess it depends how it is you weigh these things. I spent five years living in the country and met about three Japanese people with an interest in western philosophy, and only one of two of them could discuss it at lengh (to make that a more dramatic statement, I taught English at Waseda Universtiy). I will agree with you hawever that there are very intellegent Japanese people who study these subjects, and some of them are top authorities. However, my point was more about philosophy as entrenched in the culture and minds of a people, not necessarily an interest that’s immedieately concious. And your comment about Nietzsche as proto-facist is so typical and cliche, why don’t you study the man, his philosophy, and the relavant history in depth before making such flagrant false statements. You obviously know nothing about Nietzsche if you believe such statements that have been thrown about around him by people who never actually took the time to learn for themselves.

    me>>>, there are few raving lunitics walking the streets, the homeless don’t scream at you demanding that it’s your responsibility to support them

    Marxy>>>Yes, because they’re all locked away and hidden.

    That’s an obvious lie. There are homeless people, and they are tolerated, often within the direct view of authorities. Consider those in the park just below the Metropolitan building in Shinjuku. Do you think that the mayor or other authorites don’t see them. I kind of like the Japanese way of dealing with them by turning a blind eye and letting them live in the park as they choose. I walked through that park nearly every day, and about 60% of the time there was some kind of entertainment or food being provided for them, especially on weekends.
    Also, the homeless in Japan are very well behaved, they never beg or scream at me. Last, week two Japanese grils visited me here in Ottawa, and when a bum demanded that we give him money they almost fainted with fear. I had to stand in front of him to make sure he didn’t do anything. He was watching their fear and wanted to take advantage of them. I am truly ashamed that people like that walk the streets. I feel absolutely no obligation to tolerate people who seem to believe, or even blatantly demand that I support them. I can’t even get a decent job in this country but work as a cleaner, and make hardly enough money, and I’m supposed to give money to someone who wants to do nothing to support themselves. I have no problem with basquers who play or entertain, or homeless people who are just living in the neighbourhood, but where do these asses get off being so rude and threatening people. Last year one of tham grabbed my brother, pulled out a knife, and demended money on the spot. Such people have no right to walk the streets, and they ought to be locked up and kept away from us if they can’t learn to behave themselves and speak politely. I don’t need to be put on a guilt trip and / or act defensive every time I walk through town. Now I agree with you that there should be a social safety net to help these people, but it shouldn’t be one that condones begging.

    As for the mentally ill, while some of them have the ability to function in everyday society, many of them would probably be happier in settings adapted to their psychological needs. Half way homes with the necessary support, or in extreme cases resorts could be provided where such people could live together and work, or if incapable of work, just live.

    While I am against the idea of prisons in general, I do not want to have criminals, drug-addicts, or violent people around me. I don’t believe in the common dichotomy of good and evil, and I think that everyone should have what they desire, but in order for most of us to have what we desire, we have to get rid of drugs, crime, and violence in society. I think everyone should get what they deserve, so a nice place for addicts to live work and do drugs, a not so nice place for violent people to beat and kill each other, and a place where criminals can have their hayday too. Unless they all want to change and live with normal people, in which case we should support this with all the services we can muster to help them change, by, however, giving them the responsibility to do so.

    Now one problem in north america is that there just aren’t enough jobs.

    Well, Tokyo is still the safest capital in the world, last time I checked. There are less murders there than in this puny capital I live in. And that is because of the way the citizens behave — both high and low, rich and homeless.

    Now one thing I will agree with you is that the mental institutions are not very good. But I have first hand information that the authorities are trying to make things better. About one year ago I had dinner with Member of Parliament, Mrs. Shimoda and her husband who is the chief psychiatirist for the central Tokyo area; I don’t remember his exact title. In our conversation he admitted to me that the state of psychiatric practice, and particularly the facilities, are not in a good state, but I am reassured by that fact that he was a caring and kind man (and I know this personally), and he told me that he and others are doing their best to improve the situation.

  100. tomek Says:

    Actually, I reconsidered the drug addicts. They don’t cause problems as long as they don’t cause crimes. And there’s also people like Poe, Freud, and Thompson, who benefitted society, but the rest stands. Anyway, I’ll stop writing on this topic, since it has little to do with the main theme of this blog. Sorry; but you made me do it.

    I guess you all will be waking up soon, while I watch Tod Brownings “Freaks,” and then go to sleep.

  101. guest Says:

    “That’s an obvious lie. There are homeless people, and they are tolerated, often within the direct view of authorities. Consider those in the park just below the Metropolitan building in Shinjuku. Do you think that the mayor or other authorites don’t see them. I kind of like the Japanese way of dealing with them by turning a blind eye and letting them live in the park as they choose.”

    Tomek, you’ve got a lot of nerve calling people liars when you yourself are so demonstrably wrong about the situation of the homeless in Tokyo (and elsewhere in Japan):

    http://japan.indymedia.org/newswire/display/2171/index.php

    http://www7a.biglobe.ne.jp/~ninja/seimeipic.gif

    Do a Google search for “homeless” “eviction” “Tokyo” or “Japan,” and then tell us how good they have it.

    As for the small number of Japanese people you’ve met with an interest in Western philosophy, well what can I say? I’m sorry you’ve missed out. Do you speak Japanese? I won’t presume to know if you do or not, but this could be a crucial factor. For example, I am acquainted with an older gentleman with a deep interest in Heidegger, but he speaks no English (a little German yes, English, no). Age is a factor too: In my experience very few Japanese people under middle age are interested in this kind of stuff (though of course a great percentage of the Japanese people are over middle age).

    “However, my point was more about philosophy as entrenched in the culture and minds of a people, not necessarily an interest that’s immedieately concious.”

    Hmm, I think I may agree with this larger point of yours. I’ll have to give it some thought.

    As for Nietzsche, Bushido, and fascism, yes I was being flip and oversimplifying, but I don’t think I’m so far off the mark. You called the connection I drew between these things “cliched,” but I prefer “widely accepted.”

  102. Chris_B Says:

    matt: I think somehow our ideas are complimentary rather than contrasting. Your “family member” idea seems to me to concern the function where as my “kabuki” idea has more to do with form. The Mitsubishi Fightman Hour is actually a great example of both considering that all the fights were scripted…

    alin: I still think you are making sweeping generalizations in terms of zen buddhism, but neither of us seems to be capable of or willing to go into this in depth. Shall we agree to disagree on this matter?

    saru: the bilingual subchannel versions of movies/TV shows are actually cheaper to produce than the subtitled versions, at least historically. Subtitles for film and video require a seperately produced workprint to be sync’d and merged with the original whereas audio dubbing requries the comparably cheaper voiceover “talent” and the merging of the audio channel. Nowadays with digital video workstations, subtitling may be cheaper, but I’m not entirely sure.

    tomek: You taught English at Waseda University? Why is it I have trouble believing that statement… (or perhaps I have no trouble believing it at all comparing your writing to that I see coming out of many Waseda graduates) In regards to your friend the director, if you can’t give us a full name, how can we be expected to be able to follow up on your statements?

    Additionally you seem to be trying to put forth the argument that Japanese visual narrative technique is so far different from that of the west that no westerner could hope to understand it as the locals do. Allow me to say, “that sir is a first class crock of nihonjinron bullshit”. You do no one any favors by perpetuating such nonsense.

  103. matt Says:

    momus,

    as saru has already pointed out above, you’re pretty off beam with your china comments.

    It’ll be because China is even more authoritarian, confucian, group-oriented, conservative and safe than Japan is. Do you really think the Chinese state would tolerate anything even remotely like “investigative journalism”? And do you think Japan is likely to start divisive self-scrutiny when faced with a rival as ruthless as China?

    China is the anti-japan. In China they have the “Seven Not’s”, Do not spit, jaywalk, walk on new grass, swear etc etc. And in your first 5 minutes on chinese soil you will see an old lady break all of them, often simultaneously. In japan, by contrast, even where there are no laws against something, the unwritten social codes are followed by 95% of the population.

    Have you been following any of the (admittedly western) media coming out of China ? Investigative journalism is happening. Political activists are getting into the hotspots and getting out again to spread the word (in some cases after a hefty beating)

    My point is that China is a more extreme society less constrained by social mores than japan. Look to history. China is on the rebound. I would argue that creativity and lateral thinking will emerge in a repressive society precisely because of that repression (Italy under the Medicis). In reference to japan, i’m not talking about divisive self-scrutiny, what i’m talking about is that japan has long had a sense of being pre-eminent in asia.. so when China eclipses japan on the tech front (when, not if), what will that do to the national psyche ? My guess is, people will begin to severely question the national culture & look for the root of why japan is being beaten there. What else can they do ? Close the doors and crumble into dust ? Maybe you noticed the national obsession (and government legislation) to increase the number of nobel prizes here. If you look at the numbers it is interesting.

    Bottom line: historically, japan only makes major changes to its society when pressure reaches a climax. My call is that will happen when china overtakes japan technologically.

    Alin – yeah SBS loves “ryori no tetsujin” but hey, that WAS a cool show.. i just wish i could get SBS here on cable.. their cult & world movies rock.. And i miss Indira Naidoo, the sexy indian newsreader ;-)

    Chris,

    yeah you have a point actually. As i was writing my previous comment i was thinking that the two ideas were perhaps different ways of saying a similar idea. I just have allergic reactions to strapping old japanese culture concepts onto modernity as if it is automatically relevant..

    marxy,

    errr…yeah. Actually i was trying to keep my arguments free of academic wordarrhea, because i usually find that its just a cover for lack of precise understanding.(some of momus’ rants are like chasing the tail of a stripey green snake through a garden hose shop) Try this thought experiment: Translate one of basho’s haiku into academic language.

    my offering:

    deprecated symbol of chaotic pre-industrial water supply
    a Buergeria Japonica spontaneously exhibits acrobatic motion
    water is displaced, leading to the production of sound waves.

    ooooh err the snap & crackle of the language..just gives me cold shivers.. ;-)

    sorry – not trying to just flame you.. i just believe that original thinking can be expressed simply & that academic-style writing is a pox on the english language (academic thinking is great, but all of my favourite thinkers have the facility of elegant language )

    does this mean i’m a low-brow popculturist ? probably. But give me Salman Rushdie over Noam Chomsky any day.. If Noam could write just one line even half as perceptively and elegantly as Rushdie (circa midnight’s children), i’d give him a little more time..

  104. Chris_B Says:

    matt: I agree, $5 words are often used to cover up 5¢ of understanding. If I looked like I was strapping some old concepts on the present day, it was unintentional. I do however believe that the narrative structure of the old is still present in the new however.

  105. marxy Says:

    One note on China vs. Japan: China is apparently working very hard to bring American-trained PhDs in to improve its universities. The nation planners understand the importance of tertiary education to high-tech-based economic growth. Can the same be said of Japan?

  106. alin Says:

    chris.

    yes we agree on the zen thing ; or at least i’m not prepered to get into debates as to how many angels fit on a needle point.

    your nihonjinron is a different thing though. you guys (you, marxy and a couple others) while dismissing difference as nihonjinron forcefully set up a default , your own. universalizing your own values as momus says over and over.

    a while ago i mentioned a makoto aida performance he did in nyc (and marxy typicaly missed my point carying the conversation in a diferent disection – his own) where they’re doing a demonstration on the streets saying stuff like ‘speak clean vowels like the japanese, use hiragana’ etc point, or one of the points being that they were doing exactly what american people do in japan (or everywhere for that matter).

    if there’s no difference in the way people see things why do you hear stuff like ‘japanese horror movies have the timing totally wrong’, why would half a class walk out after the first five minutes of a screening of a japanese movie at a western university and so forth..

  107. alin Says:

    matt

    ryori no tetsujin is still on NOW.
    they refer to it as ‘SBS Television’s latest cooking show’

  108. alin Says:

    http://www.sbs.com.au/ironchef/

  109. Chris_B Says:

    alin: my assertion was towards tomek’s portrayal of local visual media. I hardly argue in favor of any universal model of film/TV narrative, nor do I claim any moral superiority. I am reasonably well versed in the local visual narrative, though I certainly miss some references, but if anything that has allowed me to more clearly understand my general preference for the visual narrative model of the west.

    BTW, I think horror is much like comedy, each can be confused for the other in the eyes of the wrong audience.

  110. Momus Says:

    Matt: I sorta agree with you that China is a weird mix of authoritarian and libertarian; Hong Kong was a bit like that when I visited last year, although the Special Economic Zone cities are like the spoiled children of China. But I still think you’re comparing two societies which are very similar, yet you’re twisting around for ways to justify China’s repression yet condemn Japan’s. Why, for instance, does

    I would argue that creativity and lateral thinking will emerge in a repressive society precisely because of that repression (Italy under the Medicis).

    not also apply to Japan?

    Alin: you guys (you, marxy and a couple others) while dismissing difference as nihonjinron forcefully set up a default , your own. universalizing your own values. This is absolutely the key problem here, and I’m so glad you brought up the Makoto Aida performance designed to sensitize New Yorkers to this kind of “pompous universalism”. This is a moral point, ultimately, a variant on “do as you would be done by” or “love thy neighbour as thyself”. All you need to do is switch roles in your head: “How would I feel if someone condemned American Studies as some reactionary aberation and said that my culture was failing insofar as it wasn’t converging towards someone else’s?”

  111. matt Says:

    alin: arrgg you’re right… sheesh.. i mean it was a good show, but wasnt it screened in like 1995 ? Still i guess its part of their love of kitsch japanese TV (des mangan’s cult movie night introduced me to such deliciously bad trash as “Robokill beneath Disco Club Layla” so i gotta give them a few points)

    momus:

    Don’t get me wrong, i’m not arguing that japan is not creative. It’s wildly creative in so many ways, one of the things i love dearly about it.

    My point was more that China (with whose authoritarian regime i totally disagree – don’t think i support it) is dead set on making world class universities, (check the NYT article that marxy also mentioned) turning out first rate PhD’s & getting ahead of japan in the technology field.

    And what is Japan doing in response ? Seems to me like a lot of fooling round with stirring up nationalism amongst the populace , in other words trying to play the distraction game -look here at this rabbit!!! (and dont look at the fact that china is rapidly gaining ground on us.)

    China is of course playing the same card to take the citizens mind of the growing gap between nouveau rich & poor. But given the size of the Chinese populace, their growth rate & the general high reputation of their students, i really do think its just a matter of time before they catch up & overtake japan in the tech field. (not necessarily in art、music & other creative endeavours – china will still look to japan for some time for that)

    My point is that china doesnt have the same intuitive conformity that japan has. Its building a better education system (whereas i assume that many japanese universities still have the system where its bad form for PhD students to publish anything that outshines their professors). It’s scoring some impressive science triumphs – the space launch for example. Japan is slowly reforming its education system. But with the LDP at the helm, its not going to reform too far..

    I just think japan is heading for another crisis in the next 20 years. Of population & of direction. Given the fact that Abe looks set to take over its fair to say that visionary leadership (which would solve the problem or at least make a start on it) will not be forthcoming. Instead it’ll be “Nippon Banzai” and assume the ostrich position while singing Kimigayo as the Chinese catch up & overtake..

    Maybe its for the best. If Japan settles for #2, it might mellow out a little & drop some of its ugly right-wing opinions. But somehow i doubt it..

  112. marxy Says:

    “How would I feel if someone condemned American Studies as some reactionary aberation and said that my culture was failing insofar as it wasn’t converging towards someone else’s?”

    I think you mistakenly thinking that “Nihonjinron” is analog to the academic field of “American Studies” is very revealing.

  113. alin Says:

    marxy , you’re practicing amerikajinron right here on these pages. or what do you call that in english

  114. marxy Says:

    Right – you can’t hear me shut up about how Americans are terribly unique and have been blessed with a spirit and behavior unchanged by historical alterations to the political and economy system in which we live.

  115. tomek Says:

    Chris B:
    Sorry about my writing, I have to write fast. This is not the only blog I write on, and blogging is not the only thing I do. Maybe, you’re under the impression that I meant I was a professor at Waseda, but I was just a teacher, I should have made that clear, too. But overall, that’s a rather low blow.

    Guest: I agree that in reference to the statement “Yes, because they’re all locked away and hidden.” I may have been too strong in calling it a lie, but I never intended on calling you liars.

    As to calling your comments about Nietzsche “widely accepted,” I think they are only accepted so by people who have not studied him, or have studied him only with the pre-concieved notion of him as a proto-facist. The philosophy of the ubermansch has nothing to do with facist theory, in fact it is completely anti-facist. The superman, briefly and limitedly summarized, is only the projection of an ideal which ambitious people can strive to attain in order to improve the human. “Man is an ape.” Nietzsche argues that our minds — having gained self-conciosness — are still only in a larval state, we have not yet gained full control over the use of our minds. The ubermanch has full control over it (an ideal projection to strive for). His is a life affirming, positive philosophy. He would have absolutely nothing to do with nazis, who don’t question the status-quo and follow the dictum of an idiot furer. Nietzsches philosophy has nothing to do with control or domination, in fact it is strictly against any restriction of the individual. He writes that everyone is born with limited capacities of what they can become, but that we can use all we are born with in the choices we make to become the better alternative rather than the lower. This is where many writers claim existentionalism originated from, and what Sartre build his philosophy on. And it has nothing to do with facism, except for the fact that shotty scholars or simply people who don’t know better have said these things and continue repeating them because a few Facist who themselves had no understanding of Nietzsce, chose to use him as an icon to promote their propaganada. Which means that your flagrant statement is neither “widely accepted” knoledge nor a “widely accepted” opinion, but “widely accepted” misinformation.

    As to people in Japan who are interested in Western Philosophy, and that does not mean philosophy in general. I have met only four in the five years I was there. Those who were interested were very well versed, but one of them could not speak enough english to converse on the subject with me. One was a psychologist who was very well versed in Michel Foucault, and I discussed “Madness and Civilization” with him, briefly. He was a busy man, responisble for running several psychiatric hospitals in Tokyo, so I could not discuss such topics with him.

    Out of the ~1000 university students I taught, I met two with a deep interest in Western Philosophy, and both of them were very well versed. One of them remains a close friend of mine, and we’ve spent a good number of nights discussing various philosophies.

    So, I hope you take the information for what it is. In my experience most Japanese are not interested in philosphy, yet the few who are are well versed. Yet the improtant point I’m trying to make is that Japanese people don’t have a background in western philosophy, and I don’t thing that they use cartesian logic, or further, much of any western form of logic.

  116. Wesley Says:

    i’m neither an academic nor possess any relevant academic knowledge so i can’t offer any new perspective or knowledge to be stated more eloquently than most here already have. aside from lots of incredibly low blows and immature “dick waving” as someone called it, i’ve spent a good couple hours reading through every single comment and enjoyed the discussion–thank you for it.

  117. guest Says:

    “I may have been too strong in calling it a lie, but I never intended on calling you liars.”

    That’s an interesting distinction to make, Tomek. Do you mean that you thought a lie was being repeated unknowingly? And you weren’t “too strong” in the things you said about the situation of the situation of the homeless in Tokyo, you were just plain wrong. The truth of your statement doesn’t have anything to do with how forcefully you made it. But let’s let bygones be bygones.

    As for Nietzsche being proto-fascist, this probably isn’t the place to get into it, but let me tell you briefly what I think.

    I understand that Nietzsche was not himself a Nazi, and that his ideas have appealed to people on both the far right and far left of the political spectrum over time, they even has some limited appeal for me. But I don’t think you can just write off his influence on the Nazis as some abberation. It is directly related to his privileging of strength, his romanticism, and his elitism. Remember, as Wikipedia puts it, Nietzsche “made it clear that only certain individuals should attempt to break away from the herd mentality.”

    “Nietzsche argues that our minds — having gained self-conciosness — are still only in a larval state, we have not yet gained full control over the use of our minds. The ubermanch has full control over it (an ideal projection to strive for).”

    That’s where Bushido and Zen come in. Maybe you think I’m drawing simplistic connections, I think I’m drawing simple ones. I don’t expect us to agree about this. I’m not necessarily damning this all to hell, just saying it has serious problems. You might think all this bad stuff is due to misinterpretation of Nietzsche, I think it’s a result of problems inherent in- not alien to- Nietzsche’s philosophy.

    “His is a life affirming, positive philosophy.”

    Yeah, so is Jesus’, right? Very few people claim that the philosophies they like are anything but positive. I think we need to admit the flaws of even those philopsophies which we admire. If there is something about a philosophy that leads people to scorn the mass of men and realize their own positive liberty at the expense of others, we need to address it as problematic.

    “He would have absolutely nothing to do with nazis, who don’t question the status-quo and follow the dictum of an idiot furer.”

    OK, I’ll agree with that, but in this situation it is the leader himself who has realized his “will to power,” not the people who are following him. Hitler was certainly, to use your words, an “ambitious person.”

    “In my experience most Japanese are not interested in philosphy, yet the few who are are well versed.”

    I agree.

    “Yet the improtant point I’m trying to make is that Japanese people don’t have a background in western philosophy, and I don’t thing that they use cartesian logic, or further, much of any western form of logic.”

    Not formally, no, but then none of us use formal logic to make the majority of decisions in our daily lives. However, all people necessarily use both deductive and inductive reason informally to understand their world. It’s just that that’s not all they are using. People not trained in formal logic, when asked to think about a hypothetical situation, or one that is obviously untrue, balk at the problem or its components and don’t follow the reasoning to its “logical” (but perhaps false) conclusion.

    Experience and belief trump reason, not just for Richard Nisbett’s Asian test subjects who won’t follow a false but logical syllogism about rabbits hibernating, or the Kpelle tribesman who won’t offer an answer about a topic that is unkown/abstract to him, but for all of us, most of the time.

    Acquainting people with formal logic is basically getting them to override the “common sense” heuristics that are actually much more useful to them in daily life. It is “widely accepted” (there I go again) that formal logic is a poor model of actual human reasoning, which is much more complex, and highly irrational!

    Anyway, wasn’t this thread about TV- long, long ago?

  118. marxy Says:

    In my experience most Japanese are not interested in philosphy, yet the few who are are well versed

    I don’t think this necessarily leads us anywhere. “Most Japanese are not interested in bobsledding, yet the few who are are well versed.” The question is more: what does it mean for a society to have very few well-versed in topics such as history, philosophy, literature, and politics? A technocracy thinks it wants only specialized technical skills in its workers, but broad cultural knowledge is a positive externality.

  119. alin Says:

    wouldn’t hitler be closer to nietzsche’s last man?

    is g.w. bush an overman?

    philosophy:

    western philosophy, up to deluze derrida focault , resting as it does (in one way or another) upon layers upon layers of other western philosophy is in the final review as narcisistic a practice as nihonjinron. it makes therefore perfect sense to see a much less passionate and somewhat distanced involvment with the material on behalf of the ‘eastern’ scholar. While there always are more pragmatic applications , say marxists in the first half of the 20th C or Focault even now. (there are some interesting studies of Edo life in focaultian terms) the more esoteric stuff would inevitably have to end up as a kind of ‘other’ studies and treated as such. (moreover one of the aims of much 20C western philosophy was to rid western thought of so much clutter and bring it to a level of which proto-forms or equivalent forms rather can be found in many non-western societies. I’m trying to be careful not to draw sweeping paralells but when say deluze speaks of the grass-model as a valid and preferable model to the tree-model of western thought one can not help thinking that the grass-model is actually functioning, and functioning rather well in japan — the political system would be a different issue though-. there are also well documented paralells between derridean thought and modes of debate of more hard-core schools of buddhism etc etc)

    There was a rather brilliant fashion shoot in a studio voice not so long ago the model being some focault-like character, the setting grungy lecture halls. The reason I can say brilliant is that it was so sensitively, intelligently and understandingly in tune yet created such a cool gap betweed subject mantter and representation that any discussion along the lines of the swastika T-shirt would be pointless.

  120. guest Says:

    Alin said: “wouldn’t hitler be closer to nietzsche’s last man?”

    Only if you can imagine him saying the following:

    “Who still wants to rule? Who obey? Both require too much exertion.” -Thus Spoke Zarathustra

    I think Neville Chamberlain might be a better candidate.