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Attention-Hungry America and Shy Modest Japan: A Contrast of Entertainment Cultures

The What
I'll just go ahead and say it from the get-go: American culture just doesn't have as many privacy or modesty provisions built into it as Japan does.  We Americans all want attention and fame and all the bling-bling that goes with it.  We post YouTube videos documenting our morning's breakfast, personal blogs detailing sexual exploits, scandalous vacation photos, bitter gripes against our a-hole bosses, and our latest hit single played acoustic coffee house-style all in the hopes of going viral.  "Anonymous tips" just don't exist in my home country.  We want recognition, dammit!

Why?  Maybe Hollywood just pays too damn well, inflating our high-cholesterol veins with gold-encrusted American dreams.

Conversely, Japanese don't want to be in front of the camera.  They flee from the weekend camera crews filming in Ginza.  Turn on the news and half the time they're using mosaics and voice-changers.  Use a public restroom and pleasantly surprised to find it your own (albeit stinky) private resort.  They're surprisingly respectful when it comes to protecting privacy.  That is, unless you're one of 2 foreigners living in a countryside town.  In that case half the town knows you wear adult diapers and drink gin by the gallon.

America is an attention-hungry individualist rainbow culture that cherishes personal freedom and assertive innovation.  Japan is a homogeneous culture of modesty and shame that honors collective concordance and group betterment.  The squeaky wheel gets the oil in America; while the nail sticking up gets hammered down in Japan.

The Why
While it's true that Japanese-style hot springs probably wouldn't work in Puritan America, socially we're encouraged to speak up and assert our opinions on the things that matter.  Maybe we're just compensating for all the sexual subjugation and oppressive censorship upon which our culture was founded.  Like how Mormons used to practice polygamy, you need some kind of release.  Attention mongering is our catharsis--the culture's anti-anxiety pill.  It's a release rooted in the over-dramatization of real life.  Mocking reality while blending it with mildly fantastical elements helps in dealing with daily stressors.

America's entertainment culture takes reality and subtly twists it to make it appeal to an audience.  It's therapeutic to see a close representation of reality presented in a world where people say what they really feel and act spontaneously.  It's reality delicately influenced by fantasy--real life with Freud's "id" factor turned up a bit.

Japan's release on the other hand is wild fantasy blended with mild elements of reality, and this might be the very reason why the "standard" Japanese citizen does not participate in the attention-gathering aspects of the culture.  All forms of Japanese entertainment--TV, magazines, movies, comedy, music, and even porn--mirror Japan's comic book fantasy culture.  Manga and anime are interlocked in a critical symbiotic relationship with the real life of Japanese people.  They're meant to be so vividly removed from reality as to serve the purpose of release.  This comic book world is Japan's anti-anxiety pill, and the base of this pill is the opposite of America's--it's fantasy subtly influenced by reality.  Countless Japanese TV shows paint this picture.  Wildly gaudy circus train sets coupled with transvestites donning feral costumes and cutesy idols chronically overreacting trace a thick border between TV world and reality.

America, being founded upon rugged individualism, seeks to connect an already discordant group of individuals by satirizing and dramatizing bleak realities.  Take USA comedy, for example.  Political satires and comedy based on top news stories dominate the essence of American culture.  We're all suffering in this bad economy, so don't feel like you're alone in this boat.  Others have it just as bad if not worse than you do.  Let's all make fun of the situation so we feel better about it.  As our entertainment maintains such a strong interlock with reality, it makes us feel temporarily, yet therapeutically connected in our individualist culture.

Japan already has a collectivist culture, so they seek to reinforce group sentiments by presenting a conflicting view and either tearing it to pieces or highlighting shock and surprise.  For example, Japan's key 2-person comedy form manzai features a straight man and a stupid guy.  Expectedly, the stupid guy says stupid things which are subsequently criticized by the straight man--an attitude likely shared by the majority of the homogeneous audience.  The material is most often a departure from real life--material based on politics or current events is extremely rare as it resonates too close to home.  Instead, Japanese TV is full of freaks because it reinforces the norms of the group collective.  Japanese sleep soundly knowing their lives are more normal and stable than the lives of those in TV land.

America is a land abundant with squeaky wheels because the entertainment culture roughly connects the individual noises by showing each that they often resonate at similar frequencies.  Japan, on the other hand, is a hive of bees uniformly humming and buzzing, so there exists a disconnection from the dissonance naturally created by the entertainment culture.  Speaking up in America endows you with influence; remaining quiet in Japan blesses you with harmony.

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  • Guest - nag

    Very good text. It seems to me that my culture looks like a softcore version of the American one with few hints of Japan and Europe!