I just watched the C4 program, "Japan's Tsunami - Caught on Camera", and it was well worth taking a ganders. Most of the footage has been shown on TV or the internet before, but the interviews with the camera-peoples were very illuminating, mostly for the largely normal and predictable reactions they all exhibited (except for the totally chilled out guy who said, "Well, what could I do? I just climbed the tree.").
Ten months on and, well at least here in Shizuoka, you'd be hard pressed to find any evidence in daily life that Japan had suffered it's worst natural disaster since the Great Kanto earthquake crushed and burned over 300,000. An order of magnitude smaller in the blood cost, about 30,000 people were crushed and drowned. Trivial! If I reach into the collective psyche of the culture I now live in, this catastrophe, the instant death of 0.02% of the population, has really registered as nothing more than an event of the year. A "happening", as the Japanese say in borrowed English, that is quite disagreeable yet nevertheless seems right at home amongst the milieu of bad news that permeates the twilight of fear-driven Western capitalism.
Engage Anti-Capitalist Drive
"The contrast between publicity's interpretation of the world and the world's actual condition is a very stark one, and this sometimes becomes evident in the colour magazines which deal with news stories. Overleaf is the contents page of such a magazine."
Ways of Seeing, John Berger
The following page shows in the top half refugees from atrocities in Bangladesh in 1971, the bottom this ad for badedas bath products...
I witnessed no stronger proof of Berger's argument than what happened to publicity in Japan after March 11th. The commercials on TV just stopped. For weeks. Only one company, one suspects at the behest of the government or TV stations since nobody wants consumers remembering a time when there were no ads, continued to "advertise" on TV. But these were thirty second, "We can do it, Japan!" "commercials" for a company which nobody has a clue what they actually do. They only had three or four commercials in their portfolio, and indeed viewers got so irritated by seeing the same commercials, often back to back, day in day out, the company even made some more.
If you watch this 100 times, I guarantee you too shall grow to hate this kid.
Berger's assault on Capitalism from this point is merciless...
"Publicity exerts an enormous influence and is a political phenomenon of great importance. But its offer is as narrow as its references are wide. It recognizes nothing except the power to acquire."
"Publicity turns consumption into a substitute for democracy. The choice of what one eats (or wears or drives) takes the place of significant political choice. Publicity helps to mask and compensate for all that is undemocratic within society."
"Capitalism survives by forcing the majority, whom it exploits, to define their own interests as narrowly as possible. This was once achieved by extensive deprivation. Today in the developed countries it is being achieved by imposing a false standard of what and what is not desirable."
He is perfectly correct. TV stations just cut everything for round the clock news commentary for several days, since no existing program could cope with the reality presented by the disaster. The silence of Japanese culture spoke more about itself in that week than it has ever done in its loud, crass, rock-bottom-denominator days before or since.
Irrespective of what Japan was before, which from my point of view had some very artistically productive and socially vibrant decades within living memory, it is now a consumer-culture par excellence. Rather like a perverse Orwellian perpetual war culture, Japan is now in a state of goading its citizens to spend more, forget about reality more, worry about China more in a desperate bid to stave off the long defeat. The long defeat into what? Into a marginally poorer and more anarchic state than the situation they had the good fortune to be handed to them by America and protected-market policies after the Second World War. This wholly reasonable reaction to an economic decline would not be so bad if they didn't have to drag the culture down with it, by employing every artistic mouthpiece for hire to bray the monotonous call-to-arms (to support Japanese industry) before the impending Ragnarok.
I think my body is slightly purer for having got that out.
If you buy into Japanese culture, it isn't nearly so bad looking from the inside. I enjoy some programs on TV, and go to J-Pop concerts and readily engorge my share of complementary tripe as happily as Ralph. Not two weeks ago we partook of an Arashi concert in Nagoya, had excellent seats in the central arena section, and I boast to my students that I got a wave from Ninomiya.
Man, it was awesome. I should add that even the lamentation of death is something that is beginning to irk me; currently I am fascinated by pre-industrial/pre-modern fatalism, so even if Japan had commemorated those taken by Poseidon with sufficient European melancholy and pomp, I should have had something to complain about. Not to mention that today I found myself (kind of) defending the SOPA bill and political lobbying in a forum discussion with some stridently uneducated gamers, it's probably best that I suffer my chronic dualism in silence. ..........