Why do middle-aged gentlemen make such easy targets?
Everyone who is not one seems to resent them. They get on people’s nerves. They are gauche, insensitive, tactless; they mean well but, rooted in an age less enlightened than the present, are forever saying the wrong thing, making the wrong gesture; they smell bad besides. They are relentlessly mocked, derided, slandered, maligned – in a word, bashed – online. Why? asks Spa (May 30-June 6).
Let’s consider cases. “Yoshihiro Shimizu” (all names in quotation marks are pseudonyms) is a 39-year-old mid-level executive who for the past year has been engaging in online konkatsu – searching for a marriage partner. He and a likely candidate arranged to meet in real as opposed to virtual space-time. He suggested a walk. They walked, talked, and parted, each to post online the feelings aroused by the encounter. No experience is complete, it seems, no emotion properly savored, unless shared. The private realm become public is one of the facts of the new life that middle-aged men may struggle to assimilate.
Be that as it may, Shimizu’s date posted that the walk had left her “tired.” Probably she meant dispirited. Shimizu took it that way, and retorted huffily. Immediately the lady’s followers entered the fray; then his. It became something of a free-for-all. Did a walk suit the occasion? The lady certainly thought not: “I even wore high heels!” She’d expected better; she deserved it, said her followers: “No wonder the guy’s going on 40 and can’t find someone to marry him!” “Well, what next?” wonders Shimizu, rather dispirited himself at this point.
Spa tells the story of an individual who went online as “Bijo Rider.” “Bijo” means beautiful woman. Rider suggests motorcycling. It’s what the photo shows: in the foreground a beautiful woman, behind her a beautiful bike. It just goes to show: anybody can appear as anybody, be taken for anybody, create an alter ego, live an alter-life. How the “truth” – assuming appearance is distinct from truth, though on second thought why should it be? – came out is not clear; masculine language may have betrayed him; he doesn’t in fact seem to have tried very hard to preserve his cover: “It was just a way for me to express my love of biking,” he says; “the photo of a tired-looking 52-year-old man wouldn’t have done.” He altered his face courtesy of an app which alters faces according to specifications, and gathered a following. He’s blithely unrepentant. “I wasn’t trying to profit from this, or to deceive anyone.” But his young followers feel deceived, and some are pretty sure he was up to something sinister. “What else do you expect from a middle-aged man?” perhaps sums up the collective reaction.
From love to leisure, from leisure to work. Some years ago “Takeshi Matsugawa,” 50, headed the personnel department of software developer Cybozu. By his own admission he was “very gung-ho” – rather too much so to suit the young recruits he was charged with training. He’d put them through the paces and was frankly surprised to see them chatting and lazing their breaks away. Shouldn’t they rather be studying, pondering or practicing what he’d taught them? He showed his displeasure. They showed theirs – on Twitter and similar sites. “Free time is free time!” “None of his business what we do on breaks!” And so on. Matsugawa was hurt. In his day, when he was on their lowly rung of the hierarchy, he hadn’t dared vent such feelings – if he’d dared to harbor them in the first place.
There’s the heart of the matter right there, says Spa – a generation gap between those old enough to have grown up with the values of the Showa era (1926-1989) and those who came of age in the succeeding era of Heisei (1989-2019), with its more liberal values, relaxed mores and exploding techno-empowerment.
“Bashing” of any kind is ugly, hurtful and morally objectionable, most right-thinking people would probably agree. But pressures mount, stress builds, and – say what you like about it – bashing is a vent, and maybe all of us resort to it at one time or another, in one form or another. Up until a generation or so ago, Spa hears from essayist Akiko Shihara, it was the so-called weak members of society who bore the brunt of it – the young and inexperienced, the physically infirm, the economically disadvantaged, women for their low social and economic status, and so on. That, says Shihara, is no longer acceptable, and it’s the strong – or those perceived as strong, like middle-aged men – who are fair game. Will they brace under the strain, or buckle?
Michael Hoffman is the author of “Arimasen.”© Japan Today