There was some psychology experiment I read about last year where some researchers tested people's stress levels when shown pictures of George W., Clinton, Rush Limbaugh and other polarizing political figures. Not surprisingly, the subjects political affiliations determined whether they would get pissed off by just looking at a picture of George W. for a few seconds. I know that I certainly derive a pervserse satisfaction from looking at Bush pictures and feeling the rise in my gut that just reviles the guy. Putting his policies aside, I dislike the way he does the things, the smirk he wears, the childish little outbursts during the debates. ("Hey, my job is really hard. I go over all the data. That's a tough job.") Clinton and Reagan may have gutted US labor, waged a few wars here and there and mushroomed the US prisons to o.7% of the population, but I could at least sit down and have a beer and a civil discussion with those guys. I think I would have a hard time not just yelling and spitting like a feral cat if you put me near W.
One of the pluses about being an ex-pat in Japan is you can just bliss out, let the cultural and language gap insulate you from many of the domestic problems here, and envision Japan to be as perfect or as imperfect as you want, going only on the trickle of information available in English and your daily experiences. While Japanese government remains a mystery to me, I've been learning a lot of cultural icons lately, and was surprised to find one I react to almost as strongly as Bush. Foreigners in Japan, here is the face of the enemy:
This smarmy face first drifted into my consciousness when I happened to stumble upon the Japanese version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" on TV (they give away a million yen, not quite as exciting as a million dollars), and wondered who that greasy host was. He just seemed to be another face in the sea of Japanese tarento, "talent", the ranks of the professionally famous who litter Japanese talk shows, and don't have do anything else than be famous to get on.
Soon that face was popping up everywhere in my life, like when I was browsing beers, and came upon this horriying little gremlin from Ginga Kogen, normally an excellent Nagano brewery:
This is Oyasumi biru, "Goodnight Beer", an unsettling little nightcap for the hard working Japanese man over 40. Seeing the guys face rankled me something fierce; I mean, have you ever seen a smile so disingenuous?
In anycase, my suspicions were correct. This man is Mino Monta, beloved spokesperson of Japan's graying generation, the postwar economic warriors who look out at the country they built with horror and revulsion. Over the New Years break I was eating one dinner in front of the TV, and stumbled upon a show hosted by Mino Monta that "exposed" the way South East Asian prostitutes were destroying Japanese downtowns. These poor women, often brought to Japan under false promises of entertainment work and frequently kept in abusive situations by yakuza employers, were vilified as "corrupting foreigners" who are destroying Japan's peace and innocence. Mino Monta took a kind of lurid morally superior satisfaction in condemning the whorehouses that lined main streets frequented by commuting school children. There was absolutely no mention made of the fact that all the employers and customers who actually created the situation are Japanese. Apparently this show is on every week, it's only theme the way foreigners are degrading Japanese society.
The other night I spotted another Mino Monta hosted show during dinner, and my lurid curiosity got the better of me. The title alone got me pissed off: Yo no naka de, kore wa yurusenai!, loosely translated, "This is Absolutely Unforgiveable!" Mino Monta and a carefully selected panel of older or conservatively young tarento talked about how Japan's youth are going to the pits. Their roaming reporter did man on the street interviews with older people, with his killer lead off question: "What pisses you off about young people today?" I found the reporter's aggressive tactics more unforgiveable than anything they exposed. At one point the guy bursts in, uninvited, to a booth in an internet cafe in Akihabara, where young computer geeks, paying by the hour, are typing away feverishly. One of them, showing remarkable restraint and tact, answered the questions that came at a furious pace. "How long have you been in here?" "Five hours... instant messaging online." "What, you don't like to talk to people!? Hey you [gesturing at a guy in the corner who is ignoring the camera and continues typing], what you don't like talking?" "Well, for some people it's easier to express themselves online, it's not as much pressure..." "How many friends do you have?", and so on and so on.
They also featured a "representative" panel of young people, ganguro kids and fashion victims, who only spoke in an impenetrable slang, which Mino Monta and the panel proceeded to attack straight out: "Why don't you talk normally! I can't understand what you're saying!" While most of them just stared back, jaws slack, one young man responded: "That's kind of the point." I know where he's coming from.
rrrrrrrrrrrrrr, I just hate this guy.