The wife and I have an ongoing.....discussion, shall we say, about the amount that TV, especially Japanese TV lies to you. I contend that the amount is somewhere between always and most of the time. Her contention is that that would be bad so it would be surprising if that wer to happen. By singalling out Japanese TV you may think that I am letting American TV off the hook. I am not, but we live in Japan and the exposure that we both have to American TV is usually trying to force her to watch Treme while she struggles to stay awake or of renting Lost on DVD.
If you have never witnessed Japanese TV you are probably picturing the kind of shows that become notorious in the US. Men seeing who can drink beer in a sauna until they die. Doe-eyed, dyed blonds in pink maid outfits up to no good. Absurd obstacle courses. Those programs must exist, but they aren't the staple of prime time viewing. What is the mainstay of Japanese television is a constant barrage of the same recycled celebrities providing inane commentary on everything that they either don't know about or I don't care about. If you follow martial arts at all you will be familiar with a dynamic. Often for a kick-boxing match the commentary team will be a retired baseball player and a model. They will provide critical information such as, "He is big." Or "He looks mean." Often the model will cry win the man they had tauted to win, but was weaker all along loses. They people are called "talent." This wasn't meant to be ironic. The main qualification seems to be, and yes I will go ahead and finish the though just for forms sake, is to have no talent. You will have a sure hit on your hands if a pop band that can neither dance nor sing, much less play any instruments, hosts a cooking show where they don't really cook.
I had avoided Japanese television for years because it works my nerves as well as rotting my brains. I avoided it until I got married and I could no longer avoid it. My wife, being Japanese, will feel terrible and alone if not plugged into the hive mind. That is largely what television in Japan is. There are only four or so channels and the same people are on all of them everyday. Literally. The real literally, not the figurative one. I should state that I don't mean this as an insult to my wife. I don't like her viewing choices, but, if we were in America, I would certainly feel left out if I didn't watch football on Sunday's and March Madness and everything else that is sewed tenderly into the fabric of our society. It would be normal.
As TV is TV, it is in the habit of lying. The truth is shaped to form the storyline as following reality can get messy. I could just sit back and scoff at all of this ironically, but in Japan, the storyline guides society. There aren't those who prefer MSNBC to FOX or who like HBO and AMC shows and forgo CSI:Miami. It is THE storyline for the nation. It is THE way the world works. And it is an absurd fable.
Last night I experienced a prime example. For some reason at my house we end up watching the same show most Tuesday's. Neither of us like this show. We never say, "I really want to watch that show." We never change or plans to see it or check what channel it is on. It just happens. Cafes usually have Tuesdays off. I am home. She is home. Whatever the cause. The show itself is awful. I am not sure how to translate it accurately in English. It is, according to the title, about witches. But not how we would envision them. Maybe magical princesses. It usually involves a lady in her mid forties who had a run of bad luck, got fat, and then lost the weight. They story will have a few amusing turns and people will call the hero names and she will try really hard, often coming up with a ridiculous diet or exercise program, and then she will triumph in the end. The show climaxes with the witch coming on stage in a soft, white, Warren Beatty like light, where the panelists of cross-dressers, comedians and washed-up pop stars can faun over them.
Yesterday featured a chubby girl who was watching TV and decided she wanted an American boyfriend so she moved to America. While there, in New York City of course, she found the perfect guy, wrote a manga about him, fell in love and got married. Everyone was amazed. She also dropped 20 or so pounds in the process. They showed a picture of her and her husband and told everyone how her manga was more popular than Harry Potter in America. I was sitting at the computer studying kanji and smelled something fishy, not just from y kitchen. During the whole story I had been voicing my disapproval, saying that someone who moved to America to get a boyfriend was pathetic and should be embarrassed to admit to it on TV. When the statement was made about the popularity of her manga, I immediately realized that that made the story verifiable and decided to check it out. Five seconds on Google later, I came up with this. This is an interesting story, but it is surely not the same thing. The wife was taken aback, my exposure of the falsehood of the storyline was rendered such, "So she is really famous!"
"Well, she is in the newspaper." I answered. "But look at the story. She was homeless and she got divorced and she was an exchange student, not just a boyfriend hunter. The story isn't true. It was much more textured and said a lot about the artists grit and the nature of trying to make it in America. It had all been sanitized into a vapid love story that only played to Japanese conceptions. Look, she says that American college was harder than Japanese college." I laughed, knowing the truth and being glad that the lady had realized it. "You just love to make fun of Japan!" I could pursue that argument, but rather I make the declaration, Japan just loves to make a fool of itself.