Friday, August 15, 2008

TIME Magazine Is Eating Holes in My Brain

I have been thinking of a verb, one crafted out of a person's name like "guillotine" or "boycott." The person in question would be a journalist based in Japan. The verb associated with his/her name would be:

[Name] - (v) the act of writing an article for a major English-language publication wherein one disingenuously argues that what a shameless self-promoter is doing is a key to understanding the true essence of Japan, giving the self-promoter free publicity and the publication a black eye.


"Wow. Have you seen what Hannah Beech, TIME magazine's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief has written about Japanese design for the Asia edition? I mean she totally [Name]d it...and what's worse, it's this week's cover article!"
I can think of a present participle describing Beech's self-delusion and self-admiration - "appalling." How can a journalist not know that anyone claiming to be drawing upon the essential spirit of (insert country name) in defiance of what his/her peers are doing -- is offering up a steaming pile of either nonsense or propaganda -- or both?

That that someone is trying to play on the journalist's desire to be the member of a knowing elite, to be "in" with the culturally more sophisticated and aware crowd?

Few artists and thinkers consider themselves avatars of national purpose or essence. Instead, most admit themselves to be hodgepodges of past and present, of national, international, regional and local habits and messages, bound by the technology of the present, caught in and not the spinners of a web of influences. Real talents express admiration for the past, lament the inadequacy of own meagre work but insist upon the undesirability of a return to the way things were.

What compels journalists to write essentialist junk on Japan? Is it because in order to maintain one's station in Mediaville one must present an illusion of knowing? Or is it just "Narita, bar, bing, bam, there I am, I'll be damned, the real Japan, Narita and home again" unseriousness?

Were there any justice, the below sentence from Ms. Beech's opus would be cast in brass and hung on the wall of the Foreign Correspondent's Club in Uchisaiwaichō with the caption, "When Stupid Met Insulting."

"For a country that has assimilated foreign concepts so successfully — today few Japanese think much of the overseas origins of baseball or curry — the idea of exporting true Japanese craftsmanship is, indeed, revolutionary."

What would be revolutionary would be for TIME magazine to revive the position of Editor.

And yes, I was not done reeling from this.


Anonymous said...

I felt queasy as soon as I saw the ninja reference on the first sentence.

Unfortunately, I've always felt there's been an essentializing trend in journalism when talking about Japan. It gets on my nerves too.

I think I'll let one of Soseki Natsume's characters do the talking:

"'The Spirit of Japan,' scream the papers,
Pickpockets scream it too:
In one great jump the Japanese Spirit
Crosses the ocean blue
And is lectured upon in England,
While a play on this staggering theme
Is a huge success on the German stage.
A huge success? A scream!"
"But if you ask what this Spirit is
They give that cough and say
'The Spirit of Japan is the Japanese Spirit,'
Then they walk away
And when they've walked ten yards or so
They clear their throats of phlegm,
And that clearing sound is the Japanese Spirit
Manifest in them."
"There's not one man in the whole of Japan
Who has not used the phrase,
But I have not met one user yet
Who knows what it conveys.
The Spirit of Japan, the Japanese Spirit,
Could it conceivably be
Nothing but another of those long-nose goblins
Only the mad can see?"
(Soseki Natsume, I am a Cat)

Jun Okumura said...

... as in: Oh stop beeching and stick to ze facts...

... not good, not good at all...

Anonymous said...

I'm reminded of the conversation between Vivian and Cyril in Oscar Wilde's "The Decay of Lying" (of which, sadly, only the last two lines are usually quoted). How little has changed in the last hundred years:

"I know that you are fond of Japanese things. Now, do you really imagine that the Japanese people, as they are presented to us in art, have any existence? If you do, you have never understood Japanese art at all. The Japanese people are the deliberate self-conscious creation of certain individual artists. If you set a picture by Hokusai, or Hokkei, or any of the great native painters, beside a real Japanese gentleman or lady, you will see that there is not the slightest resemblance between them. The actual people who live in Japan are not unlike the general run of English people; that is to say, they are extremely commonplace, and have nothing curious or extraordinary about them. In fact the whole of Japan is a pure invention. There is no such country, there are no such people."

MTC said...

derek and christopher -

Both quotes are extraordinary. Thank you very much for posting them.

Anonymous said...

Well, one obvious candidate for the verb would be "to onishi".

Anonymous said...

But TIME has not been a serious magazine for years, if not decades. The Asia version seems to be especially bad, though that may just be my imagination.

I completely gave up on it about 5 years ago when they printed nearly a whole issue which was basically an ad for Apple.