Take a Walk on the Slutty Side

My mother, who is formidably proper in most other things, is a staunch believer of "showing a bit of legs," and urges me to do so, although she is extremely averse to cleavage flashing to the degree that she manages to find fault even with wedding gowns. To give you some insightful background information, my cleavage hardly exists and my thighs are too robust, shall we say, bordering on offensive. Mother, however, jealously guards my most innocuous cleavage while urges me to suffer the general public with my offending thighs. I am not quite sure if this is due to our generation gap, or simply my own mother's idiosyncrasy, but every time she gives me once-over with accompanying advice before I go out, it always strikes me that mothers are incomprehensible creatures with their own sense of propriety and dress codes.

The world, too, seems to have some strong ideas about what girls should wear. In sharp contrast to my mother's belief, it seems to think that girls should not expose too much of their limbs (though they are in perfect accord when it comes to neckline). Apparently, women are still to blame for exciting men's base desire, causing them to attack us forcibly: the ancient biological truth since the days of our simian ancestors. I believe that is what a Canadian police officer meant when he offered kindly advice to female students: "I've been told I'm not supposed to say this - however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised."

Well, the force of argument is self-apparent. No doubt the British MP, Nadine Dorries, who proposed a bill for teaching young girls how to say No to their over-sexed boyfriends, would agree with this well-meaning policeman. Society is "saturated in sex," she said, and girls aged 13 to 16 should be taught abstinence, in order to empower them, really. Though boys are OK, they are free to go on just being boys, pestering girls for sex, because boys are like that, aren't they, at that age?

I do not understand why she did not see the obvious solution of giving them the snip. After all, if boys are the sole offenders as no doubt they are, when poor girls simply don't know how to say No, why not go to the source? And this environmentally-friendly solution has the extra advantage of solving the bursting world population problem too.

Just possibly, Kenneth Clarke with his subtle shades of rape-and-not-so-offensive-rape, may have had exposed midriffs and come-on boots in his mind when he suggested that date rapes "vary extraordinarily one from another," though I am sure he was merely thinking of the overflowing British jails in drawing up his plan for sentence discounts for early guilty pleas in rape cases.

Some women (and men, let it be said), however, took issue with this universal understanding that rape victims were asking for it; they have taken to the street to claim girls' right to tart up. The movement known as SlutWalks has now spread throughout the US, and to Argentina, Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden and the UK, apparently. This may have raised some eyebrows among ranks of decent citizens, who never dream of even verbally abusing women or commodifying their bodies (the male half) and never wear anything that cannot be worn in the presence of their mother-in-laws (the female half). It may simply be bad taste and silliness as it appears to be.

I ask for understanding and generosity here, however. When you look at young girls in scanty clothes, arrogantly exhibiting their fearless youth, you may only see young girls in scanty clothes, arrogantly exhibiting their fearless youth. Yet, only too soon, their bodies will succumb to gravity and passage of time. Their limbs will not stay so supple, nor their hair so shiny for long.

So please overlook their proud crowning of their youth; it will not be there for long to bother you. Rather, why not admire the beauty of it all, the amazing vitality of radiant health, of youth that is yet to learn fear? Sadly, I do not possess ample bosom to present, or lithe limbs to exhibit; but if I did, I'd put on the tartiest of the clothes in my wardrobe and join them in a heartbeat on the SlutWalks. The only complaint I have with the SlutWalks is that participants do not seem to be dressed provocatively enough. What is the point of SlutWalk if it is merely a well-behaved march of demure-looking, well-dressed, well-meaning men and women?

One last thing on this matter; please do not be unduly offended when women, who are practically begging for sex for all intents and purposes, do inexplicably and stubbornly refuse to cooperate, because their assets are not meant for your consumption, however unbelievable that may be. When they put on tarty skirts, they are showing the world that this is what they are, what they are made of; that they have nothing to hide; that they are young, beautiful, and alive. Gentlemen, have you got the guts to be so alive?

PS. I accidentally went on one-woman SlutWalk, going to work today. Complete with aggressive makeup that was most inappropriate for a Monday morning. I tried to make my presence very scarce before leaving home, but mother was not to be defeated; she even overtook me as I was hurrying out the door, to take stock of my appearance. I braced myself for the usual "Isn't that showing too much?" (this always means cleavage, never legs) but got "Cool" instead. I'll never understand mother's sense of propriety.

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No Laughing Matter?

Mr. Tsutomu Yamaguchi, one of the "double atomic bomb survivors" passed away on 4 January, 2010. His extraordinary experience was featured in a comedy quiz show by BBC, aired last December. This programme immediately caused a stir among Japanese viewers, which led BBC to issue apologies a few times. Here's the video-clip of the programme in question.

It may be "bad taste" and "ignorant" as some viewers thought, but it certainly isn't racist in any way, or trying to belittle the tragedy. You can see they are just being British. These men are bursting to say something funny on the topic, but they are not making light of Mr. Yamaguchi's experience or poking fun at atomic bombing itself. As far as I can see, the only offensive moment in the programme was when one of the panel said "his life wasn't curtailed" because he lived to be 93, rather carelessly and dismissively, and Stephen Fry hurriedly murmured "not exactly." If you think he had a jolly good old life, only kicking the bucket at 93, the old dog, then you should've done your homework. Just google "atomic bomb disease/ victims."

Apart from that, I do not find the programme itself particularly offensive (although it is not at all hard to imagine how his family must've felt, watching this programme). I do take issue with BBC's apology, however.

"QI[the comedy quiz show] never sets out to cause offence with any of the people or subjects it covers. However on this occasion, given the sensitivity of the subject matter for Japanese viewers, we understand why they did not feel it appropriate for inclusion in the programme."

This is fine, you may think. A good enough apology on a tricky matter. What seems to be missing in this official comment is the bit about QI frequently taking up European experiences during WWII too, this not being any preferential racist treatment for Japan. Interestingly, this part of the apology, which was reported by a reliable source of Japanese media (Nikkei), cannot be found anywhere else in the English coverage of this fiasco (so that was only my rough translation: the original text from the article was 『第2次大戦中の欧米人の悲惨な経験についてもお笑いクイズ番組で「しばしば取り上げてきた」とし、日本人だけを差別的に扱っているわけではないと釈明している』).

How charmingly condescending, as only Brits can be: "oh we shouldn't have done that. These Japanese, they're so touchy about atomic bombings. We, the mature Europeans, laugh at each other all the time, in fact, even at the Holocaust. That's the extent of our sophistication, it's part of our culture and history. But they'll never get that, will they, because they don't understand the first thing about humour (particularly the British kind)."

Oh, please don't go highbrow on us, BBC, especially with that sad excuse of a second-class comedy quiz show, with a bunch of middle-aged men in Hawaiian shirts trying so hard to be funny, desperate not to be outdone by others. If you need to make some apologetic noises, then please let it be about failing to be funny or provocative.

Granted, laughter has transcending power. To laugh at something means, to some degree, to look at things differently. That is why we can laugh at tragic events; it does not mean we are inhuman monsters who find other people's tragedy funny. We are laughing at something else that humour lets us see in the otherwise unlaughable situation. Laughter offers us a different perspective.

In fact, laughter probably is the only way we can cope with the sheer human misery in some cases. Laughter offers us some escape, as it lets you switch out of your perspective. It allows you to look at your life from outside, which is already some form of relief in itself. While you're laughing, you are outside of your own predicaments; you're no longer trapped in your life. If you can laugh, despite everything, you are OK.

This works on onlookers too; those happy people, who lead comfortable enough life, may be jostled out of their comfort zone when they laugh at something they are not supposed to find funny. It makes them feel uneasy. Laughter can have some disturbing effect, precisely because it sticks the harsh, raw reality of this world in our faces for a split second. Because of this, laughter is, by nature, subversive. In the hands of someone like Dario Fo, it can be made into explosive expressions of anger. But we don't go into that here, to keep it simple.

So, laughter is probably the greatest gift we have (some even claim that it is a specifically human ability to laugh, though I'd argue that that is a particularly human-centric idea and even smacks of imperialism somewhat. How many times have we seen similar scenes in films where the supposedly incomprehensible "natives" make some awkward attempts at jokes to the dumbfounded-and-then-delighted white people, by which we are supposed to understand that they have managed to build some connection because those who have been hardly perceptibly human so far are now shown to be "human"? But I digress).

We can laugh at ourselves, and embark afresh on this thing called life. Or, we can laugh with those afflicted, in our utmost compassion for the fundamental misery of our existence. There should be no taboo for laughter, as long as it is offered in understanding of our fellow beings. Sometimes, all we can do is laugh or cry.

Here's my complaint, BBC; you can laugh at anything you like, but please have the decency to make it funny. (And tread carefully when you apologise.)

I heard a rumour before that James Cameron was planning to make a film about the late Mr. Yamaguchi. While we cannot expect this film to be as irresistibly witty as BBC, we can at least be sure that it will be thoroughly informative, disturbing and deeply moving. I'd very much like to see this film. In 3D, of course.

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The essay I wrote for July seminar. Undeniably patronising...though not intentional (does this make it even worse?)

Hunger is something that is unheard of in Japan nowadays, unless it is the self-inflicted kind. We only hear about people who were driven to eat dogs and bugs in times of extreme need, in stories passed down from grandparents' generation. (Insects may well be deemed delicacies in some rural areas, however. I have seen a man argue that bug cuisine is a veritable culture of Nagano and lament its gradual demise on TV once.)

It was an eye-opening experience for me, therefore, to visit Cambodia and meet its “hungry” people. “Hungry,” transcribed into katakana, means “aggressively acquisitive, driven, or determined to succeed.” The Cambodians I met during my short stay were hungry in both senses.

Cambodia has achieved an incredible recovery in a short period of time, although many parts of the country still lie in devastation the civil war left the country in. We flew into a magnificent modern airport, then I saw people still living in what appeared to be traditional hovels made of wood and straw, on the way into town from the airport. There may be a great chasm between those in power and the indigent in this country, but what I saw of the people subsequently on the trip was enough to make me believe that they would not stay there for long, what with their diligence and their indomitable aspirations.

Landmine victims play beautiful traditional music on the grounds of temples and shrines, with a sign that says that they do not want charity but we can leave something there if we appreciate their music. Young boys and girls dance at hotels at night, to tourists who enjoy traditional Cambodian food and “traditional” Cambodian dance. It was quite obvious that the boys were new to this dance, but I’m sure they’ll be quite professional in a year or so. At a breakfast table, one of the waiters came up to us and smiled broadly, and started talking to us. This friendly waiter stayed there after taking our orders, practising his English with us, while I became increasingly worried if we’d be served in time for the ferry. And our English guide told us that he was hoping to take classes in Japanese one day, so that he’d earn a lot more as a Japanese guide. Better English, or a “better language” directly translates to a lot more money in this country; a lot more money means a much better life, or at least no more hunger.

It was our good fortune to meet this guide, Mr. Pang, an intelligent young man, as casual chats with him gave us some insight into what life must have been like for him, growing up in Cambodia's troubled past. I had noticed that there was hardly any dog or cat meandering on the streets, so I became rather excited when I finally spotted a dog and I foolishly called out “Dog!” so there would be no mistake it was a dog. Mr. Pang instantly offered he knew a good restaurant if I liked dogs. In the following awkward moment, we both realised our mistakes. Another time, I mistook a statue for a live monkey, and that led him to tell us how they used to catch monkeys and eat them, but their hands. Their hands looked too human.

Cambodian people I came across on this short trip were both hungry and ハングリー. I thought I saw the reason behind the progress (if it indeed were progress) from the hovels to the airport at the end of the stay. I hope that one day, Mr. Pang will earn as big an income as any guide could, taking Japanese tourists around the country. And I’m sure he will not feel empty when his hunger is sated. That’ll be left to the next generation.


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