Just now I went to buy a can of royal milk tea to cure the Monday morning blues, and the oddly-matte vending machine kept running away from me.
Oh wait, it was just someone wearing the experimental-yet-society-defining fashion of Tsukioka Aya — a person whom the entire Japanese nation only now realized existed. Neat: the skirt turns into a “vending machine” disguise. Three cheers for art.
The one-joke-ness1 of most post-modernist art fits very well with the meme morsels of blog culture, and I understand fully well why Tsukioka’s work made the RSS rounds last week. More puzzling, however, is the New York Times article, which takes up the fool’s errand of trying to turn this one-off link into a full-fledged trend story. Among author Martin Fackler’s points:
“These elaborate defenses are coming at a time when crime rates are actually declining in Japan.”
We start off with the fundamental flaw: Fackler believes that Tsukioka’s work is “elaborate defense” against crime rather than an art project.
“Instead of pepper spray, though, they are devising a variety of novel solutions, some high-tech, others quirky, but all reflecting a peculiarly Japanese sensibility.”
Tsukioka’s work is apparently more indicative of “Japanese” responses to heightened sensitivity towards crime than of post-modernist art projects.
“The devices’ creators admit that some of their ideas may seem far-fetched, especially to crime-hardened Americans. And even some Japanese find some of them a tad naïve”
Some Japanese people would find Tsukioka’s work a “naïve” solution to crime-fighting, probably because it is simply an art project.
“[Tsukioka] said her vending machine disguise was inspired by a trick used by the ancient ninja, who cloaked themselves in black blankets at night.”
Historical linkage back to an “ancient” culture. Ninjas are an easy way to get history to function as you’d like since they are at least 50% mythical to start with.
“To be sure, some of these ideas have yet to become commercially viable. However, the fact that they were greeted here with straight faces, or even appeared at all, underscores another, less appreciated facet of Japanese society: its fondness for oddball ideas and inventions.”
Here the piece eats itself: is Tsukioka’s work an actual sign of serious “crime worries” in Japan or is it part of a larger, more innocent field of intentionally-unserious “useless inventions”?
“‘These ideas might strike foreigners as far-fetched,’ she added, ‘but in Japan, they can become reality.’”
Nice to wrap everything off with an idea about “unique Japan” being fundamentally different in its approach to wacky products and fighting crime. Just ignore the fact that no one has ever used the main piece of evidence as a crime-prevention device, nor will they ever.
I had assumed that the Internet would improve mainstream media coverage on Japan by offering more sources of citizen journalism and information translated out of Japanese. Instead, blog culture has only made foreign correspondents lazier, since they can just scour RSS for the lead and then make some phone calls to fill out the text. The remaining difference between BoingBoing and the New York Times is that the Grey Lady tries to justify its goofy Japan reporting as trend stories with social import, complete with quotes from “experts,” rather than just isolated cultural events intended to be consumed in five-to-ten seconds and passed around to friends on Del.icio.us.
Thank god Marcel Duchamp wasn’t Japanese or we’d still be hearing about how “the Japanese have unique opinions about the fundamental artistry in plumbing that dates back to ancient ninja times.”