While much of television programming geared toward entertaining children is disturbing (what is with the NHK morning show where the main characters are a chair whose lips do not move and a tall, dancing, talking saguaro cactus?) there is one segment in one of the morning shows that gives me the shivers. The segment is called "Otetsudai robo" ("The Helper Robot") which encourages children to think of themselves as helpful household robots. The first part is an animated section where the child, as a heroic, flying character, helps out his mother and father, earning their gratitude and affection. The second half is a live segment where the human/robot -- sometimes a child, sometimes a parent, sometimes a grandparent -- responds to a command sent from a box with a series of buttons from the "a, i, u, e, o" order of kana.
I wish I did not have an inkling of what the producers of the show are trying to tell me here. If it is that the relations between humans are bettered when one side is a robot responding mechanically to the orders of another -- they should be reassured that I and probably the children are getting that message.
This is a terrible message to be sending to small children.
Of course, I could, due to my upbringing, be failing to see the cute, acceptable side of defining ideal human relations in such a peculiar fashion. After all, this is the country of Astro Boy (Tetsuwan no Atomu), the extremely humanoid robot boy (powered by atomic energy, in a nice, desensitizing nod to the nuclear power industry) who is not just a boy and a robot but cute and brave and strong. What a role model!
However, the interchangeability of the human with the humanoid, where the humanoid is not manufacturable using current technology, leads to a breakdown somewhat in the ability of children to discriminate what is real and what is not. In the lastest annual survey of Kuraray, a manufacturer of the ubiquitous landoseru -- the anachronistic leather backpacks all elementary school students are required to buy -- the fourth most popular answer to question of "What do you want to be when you when you grow up?" when it is put to 6 year-old boys is "Television/Anime Character."
I can foresee the conversation:
"Son...about your answer to the survey. I am afraid that when you grown up you cannot become an animation character. Sorry."
The really odd thing about the Kuraray survey is that the parents have input into the process, as the survey results are based on postcards filled out and sent in to the company. There is a special section for the parents to write down what their dreams are for their children (and yes, the answers in that section are very interesting). So it is not as if the children are slipping off, confessing to the company their secret wish that they were alive in only two dimensions, not three. (Link - J)
The Kuraray survey is of course a goldmine for marketers, which can gear their advertising to fit the most prominent current life goals of children. Furthermore, it recounts the dreams of 6 year-olds, which cannot be criticized too much for reflecting their consumption of hours and hours of television broadcasts.
Then again, if one could not believe that when you grow up you could be an anime character, then we might not have Wrecking Crew Orchestra taking dance performance to now-world famous and previously unimagined technical limits (You Tube).