Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Isn't it NEET?

Since I was dangerously behind on my Anime quota, I desided to watch Welcome to the N.H.K., a short show about a Hikikomori/NEET (two phrases that may very well describe me as well) and the girl who loves him desperately clings on to him because he is the one person she knows more pathetic then she is. Though many misadventures, the somewhat screwed up cast goes though a few psychotic episodes, has a few amusing happenstances, and finally manages to fix most of there problems and ends up in a somewhat happy ending though the power of friendship. You know, standard anime stuff. Well almost.

I kind of have a problem with some of the subtext though. Like a lot of anime, there seems to be an underlining subtext of conformity and social unity. Largely this is probably related to the Japanese culture that spawned anime. It is interesting to compare Japanese values and ideals with American ones on this point. Japanese values typically involve more looking out for the collective, and American values typically involve looking out for the individual. This of course, a gross oversimplification, but it's a general starting point.

For the Japanese for example, shaming people is a big deal. People don't typically worry about failing for the sake of their own failure as much as shaming their family, friends, or coworkers, or even people they don't know, and this is seen as normal and expected. For Americans the very idea is almost laughable. It still exists of course, but for the most part Americans are more concern with their OWN status rather then the status of others. In other words, Americans, if their mom catches them in a dirty act is more concerned about what she thinks of them, while the Japanese may well be concerned about what people would think of her. This is of course only a rough expression of something that bound to be more complex in reality, and I have not studied Japanese culture above watching some anime here and there and often looking up things that they reference. Anyway what I am getting at is that the way people act in anime can often not mesh with our ideas on how people should behave and this DOES apply in some ways to people in real life too.

So getting back to subtext then. For me, there are a few problematic elements over and over in anime:

1. "Power of Friendship" - In some ways, I can understand this. The connections between people IS a powerful and important motivator and source of people's desire to accomplish things. The problem is, it can go so far as having people without friends as either worthless or downright evil. Friendship and love DOES motivate people, but it's not the ONLY thing that does, and it's no guarantee that it will make you GOOD. Though Jiggles would disagree.

2. "It can't be helped" - This phrase is uttered again and again (almost surely ironically at least a quarter of the time) in almost every anime whenever a character gives in to some request. No matter how outrageous the request or how untrustworthy the requester, the character will utter this an begrudgingly go along with whatever is requested. Now half the time this is exactly the point of course, to have a character be an extreme doormat for everyone who has any request. The problem is, almost every anime usually has a main character like this and some animes have EVERY character like this in some degree.

3. Loose lips sink people - Although to be sure this also happens in America, the persistent staple of anime of a character overhearing gossip about themselves and being absolutely TORN APART AS IF THEY WERE RIPPED OPEN AND LEFT FOR DEAD. Look, people say dumb things. We all know that. But what makes it worse is the apparent Japanese idea that people have NO worth EXCEPT though their peers. At least America ATTEMPTS to make people reject that notion. In anime the solution is that at least ONE other person needs you.

Now I don't know about you, but I see a very sinister subtext scattered though all this: That people are only worth anything if they are part of the group. There are many other examples, and quite a few that work just as well with American culture, so it isn't just a problem with Japan. Though America tends to try and glorify the individual more, but that just leads to laziness, apathy, and lack of work ethic overall, and I don't think I need to explain examples for that (hint: one is writing this blog).

What makes this worse, and what many people blame for it, is the out of control consumerism. In Japan anime, games, music, manga, and other such things seem to consume large chunks of people's lives, and of course, this in-group dynamic is profitable for this. Everyone buys the same stuff watches the same things, ect. This is why anime and Japanese games is so filled with stuff like Pokemon, which practically makes buying things into the whole MESSAGE. Of course we can't blame only Japan for that, after all, the USA practically gave them the idea. This also seems to extend to the work force as well. It's a common stereotype, seemingly enforced in Japan, that the Japanese workforce is like a brutal devourer of souls, where salaryman are often worked half to death in insanely long workdays for barely enough pay for their families. Also the school system doesn't seem much better. Once again, this is not so much different then in America, but the difference is, I don't think Americans put up with it quite as much.

It's this sort of condition that, I think, is the primary catalyst for the emergence of Hikikomori and NEETs. And here I think it's where my biggest gripe with Welcome to the N.H.K. comes in. It seems to imply these people are simply disconnected from the world. To me it seems almost like the opposite. Here in America, for better or for worse, if you were to try that sort of lifestyle, you would have a few big problems. In Japan, it seems, parents are more willing to pay an allowance and/or let their children stay at home until nearly middle age or older. In America, while it does happen, it's usually not without making the child get some kind of income. The only reason I am able to pay for an apartment is mostly because I get disability benefits, and somewhat because I am in a government housing program. And do I get to sit around doing nothing all day? Well mostly, but I am visited daily by a sort of social worker, and made to clean up after myself for the most part. And I am encouraged by nearly everyone to get a job anyway. Japan seems to have solved this problem in the past with "Problem? What problem?" and suddenly recently decided to say "Ohhhh that problem! I hadn't noticed! Er... Maybe it's that they aren't feed right?"

So what do I propose? Make people WANT to work by fixing the workforce and the education system, and that goes for EVERYBODY. The problem now is, not enough people are seeing how it is worth it. As for me though, I am happy being a lazy bum. Long Live the N.H.K.!

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