Since the late 1970s, a key idea in Western science fiction has been that Japan represents the future. Japan's "weird" culture is a figure for an incomprehensible tomorrow. But commentator Lisa Katayama says this idea reveals common misconceptions about Japan.
io9 pal Katayama writes the popular Tokyomango blog and has recently published a series of pieces on Japanese men who marry cartoon characters (she's covered this phenomenon for the New York Times Magazine, as well as in the BoingBoingTV segment above) . Dismayed over the oddly serious, and occasionally insulting, responses from Western audiences, she recently analyzed the idea of "Japanese weirdness" over on BoingBoing. Katayama writes:
Why do so many love to gawk at this mysterious, foreign "other" that is Japanese culture? There are plenty of strange things going on in the US too, but when it happens in Japan, it's suddenly incomprehensible, despicable, awesome, and crazy. This fascination doesn't just end with angry commenters, either. Over the last couple of decades, it has spawned a huge industry of magazines, blogs, and products themed around Japanese culture marketed to Westerners by Westerners who are also obsessed with Japanese culture . . . [But the fact is] that none of this is meant to be taken seriously. One important premise of Japanese popular culture is the commitment to have fun and not take offense. Japanese humor works on many different levels and its nuances can be hard to explain to people who didn't grow up with it.
If you're one of those people who watched our wedding video between the man and his DS girlfriend and said things like: "He's such a loser" "He takes it too seriously LOL" and "God help this poor soul" - not to mention the racist comments about Japs and nukes and one-inch dicks - you just don't get it. You're not in on the joke. You're the one taking it too seriously, and you might be imposing your own biases and hang-ups on someone else's situation.
Being majime (too serious) is not cool in Japan; likewise it is important for voyeurs of Japanese culture to recognize that most everything pop-culture-y that is exported to the West comes at us with a wink. If you're all up in arms about it, then maybe the joke is on you.
I think her comments here apply to far more than videos of Japanese men marrying anime characters. She's talking about a strong tendency in Western culture to misinterpret Japanese goofiness as something seriously weird. In science fiction, this misinterpreted humor is used as a way of showing an "incomprehensible" or bizarre future world.
Obviously some of William Gibson's early works exhibit this fascination with Japan, as does the movie Bladerunner. These days, Western SF has also turned its eye toward the "weirdness" of China (think Firefly, or Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age) and India (Ian McDonald's River of Gods). And in recent indie flick Moon, our abused clones were manufactured by a Korean company. Is the West doomed to misunderstand the Eastern present as some weird version of the future?