On multiple family-based comedies produced in the U.S. (The Simpsons and Roseanne spring to mind), there is a theme of one parent wanting to be popular or well-liked while the other, usually the mother, has to mete out discipline and try to instill a sense of balance rather than cater to their children's raging ids. In such cases, the mother has to be the bad guy who talks about unpleasant realities and consequences while Dad gets to be seen more as one of the kids.
As of late, I've started to feel a lot like my role when talking about Japan is one of being the bad guy. I try (very hard) to be balanced about life in Japan and to present both the yin and the yang of life here. When I talk about something positive, it doesn't mean that I see Japan as a flawless paradise. When I talk about something negative, it doesn't mean I hate Japan and see it as all dark and terrible. Unfortunately, my experiences with my former blog (and as of late, as a commenter on Digg) leave me with the impression that no matter what I say, someone is going to see my comments as painting things in black or white. Every comment or post is viewed in isolation rather than as part of my overall dialog about life (which I just happen to live in Japan). You'd think that my former blog readers would have known better, but some people seem to only focus on points they can argue with rather than on what is actually being said in an entire piece (or an entire blog). These people used to bug the hell out of me and I'm glad to have left them behind when I abandoned my old blog.
In most instances (particularly on Digg), I run across people who have never been to Japan or have only been here as tourists and have a fantasy image of it. In fact, sometimes I think that they cling to the notion of it being a superior society because it fulfills some need to believe there's a Utopian existence somewhere in the real world that they could live in if they just could find a way. I think others just enjoy imbuing Japan with whatever personal narrative suits their favored image of it. Because the overwhelming view of Japan is an unfairly positive one, I more often than not play the bad guy. I'm the parent who says the tooth fairy and Santa Claus aren't real. I'm the one who says that Japanese people aren't all polite and refined and that its not a safe place where you can leave your wallet lying around and no one will steal it. I get to be the one to break the news that the socialized medical care program is frequently abused and on occasion women die or give birth in ambulances because they are refused at hospitals.
I've realized as of late that the overwhelmingly positive (and exceptionally naive) view that many Westerners have of Japan forces me to one side of the topic when I get involved in discussions. That is, by others being polarized in a highly positive fashion, I can only add balance by focusing on the negative. I don't add such comments to discussions to harsh anyone's Japanophilic buzz, mind you. I do it because I think holding an idealized notion of any real place on earth tends to make people dislike their current circumstances and demonize their own culture's weaknesses more. Ultimately, those fantasies which are fueled by tons of pro-Japan PR doled out by news agencies both in Japan and abroad, are adding to an imbalanced view of life in general. The truth is that things are both good and bad in nearly every developed country.
Americans in particular seem inclined to focus excessively on America's bad points and Japan's good points. I'm guessing this is both a counter-balance to the rhetoric of neoconservatives and their ilk and buying into the heavily prejudiced world-wide view of the U.S. a dangerous place full of fat, stupid, mono-lingual, unworldly, materialistic people. This is a view which is espoused by those with no or little first-hand experience of the U.S. for the most part, though disillusioned Americans say such things as well. The irony is, of course, that Americans bad-mouthing other Americans never see themselves in the portrait of the ugly American that they themselves assist in painting. If every American can't see himself or herself as a part of these stereotypes, exactly who is fitting into them? The answer is no one.
Talking about both the positive and the negative is important so that people accept that life is never perfect and that the grass is always greener thinking is ultimately defeating and fruitless. Also, any discussion which is polarized lowers the discourse on both sides and fails to educate or be meaningful. For instance, those who badmouth the U.S. are only polarizing the discussion in the same way I noted earlier. If you see the U.S. as all negative, you force its defenders to talk about the parts that are all positive and invite jingoism and nationalism into the discussion. And finally, in regards to the way I comment about Japan, from a practical viewpoint, I'm also hoping to mitigate some rude awakenings for the handful of dreamers who ever actually make it over here to live for an extended time.
I've decided, however, that I don't like playing the role of "balancer" when it's frequently forcing me to focus on the negative because it in turn makes me dwell on the negative. I've spent years actively (and sometimes painfully) cultivating a less pessimistic character and a balanced spirit and I believe I'm undermining my efforts by trying to educate people who are not only ignorant of reality, but unreceptive to talk of it. In other words, if they want to keep believing in the Easter Bunny, I'm not going to fight them about it anymore. In retrospect, I have to question why I ever even tried. I'm guessing it leads back to some issues I've had for a long time regarding feeling it's somehow my responsibility to toss the ice cold water of reality into people's faces. However, I do believe it also has a lot to do with a sense of disliking polarized and ignorant views, but that sense isn't serving me very well, so it's time to stop catering to it.
To this end, on the Internet at large, I'm going to stop commenting on the highly-skewed articles that are present in abundance and coaxing people out of their romantic notions of Japan. On this blog, I'm going to do what I've always done which is talk about both the good and the bad and try to view things in a balanced fashion as it suits the sort of person I want to be. Of course, not every positive has a serious negative and not every negative has a serious positive so some posts will skew one way or another, but, on the whole, I'll endeavor (as I always have) to neither glorify nor demonize life in Japan, or anywhere else.
And, I guess I really should stay away from Digg.