Tuesday, February 08, 2011

One Japanese perspective

Author, editor, photographer and friend Hiroko Yoda weighs in with one Japanese perspective on the question of trans-cultural humor and humiliation, via CNN Go Tokyo:
The other day a friend of mine and I were talking the about the now notorious “QI incident,” where a British game show made light of a Japanese man’s having survived both the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

As we chatted, he forwarded me a link to another British show by the name of “Turning Japanese.”

“Here we go again,” he said. “This one is even worse.” The Channel Five show appears to focus on some of Tokyo’s strangest spots: a lingerie shop for men, a costumed stage performance, a samurai theme park. It was superficial. It was silly. But I couldn’t find myself getting upset about it. My friend couldn’t understand.

“QI was about one man's situation,” he said. “But ’Turning Japanese’ is ridiculing an entire race of people!” He’s right about one thing: the foreign media always loves a good “wacky Japan” story.

And superficially, the image of a British comedian running around Tokyo in a bra seems like a bigger slap in the face than a panel of comedians discussing a nuclear survivor. But you can’t compare these things one to one; they’re both “fruit” of a sort, but they’re apples and oranges.

There are two types of humor: laughing with someone, and laughing at them. It’s all about position. When you put yourself in the same space as someone, you’re in a position to laugh WITH them.

When you’re at a significant remove however, you’re completely isolated from the effects. You’re setting yourself up to be seen as laughing AT someone.

A British guy strutting on a stage in a silly costume in Japan? He’s making as much of an idiot of himself as the guys he’s covering, and doing it right in front of them. That’s entertainment.

A British guy making quips about the survivor of not one but two atomic bombings? That’s out of line. One is laughing with the Japanese; the other is laughing at them. [more @ CNN Go]


Roy said...

It happens a lot more than you think... Check these two examples of Top Gear:

And in my country (Holland) there is a show called Ushi and Van Dijk, she's supposed to be japanese: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4v0esqOpW_o

Here she does a black woman:

Toby said...

Roland, you probably already saw or heard about it, but just in case, here's a link to an article in today's business section of the New York Times regarding the crackdown on hentai anime/manga: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/10/business/global/10manga.html?_r=1&src=me&ref=business

Roland Kelts said...

Roy, thanks for the clips. That Ushi and Van Dijk clip is quite provocative. And the proverbial straight man is speaking Japanese in response to her gibberish.

Toby, I did see it, and know the Times writer, Hiroko Tabuchi, who was clearly trying mightily to seek a patch of middle ground. Thanks for reminding me.