The year was 1948 -- and George Orwell had just finished writing his magnum opus, a dystopian fiction novel depicting a society where Big Brother rules the people with an iron fist. Published in 1949 (this is why most people overlook the fact that “1984″ was really just a play on 1948, when the book was written), the book has since been a must-read in secondary education.
In “1984,” one of Big Brother’s primary objectives is to minimalize the vocabulary of the people. For instance, you wouldn’t need words like “great” or “excellent” if you could take a rather generic word like “good” and simply change it to “doublegood” or “doubleplusgood.” In this manner, the ministry that oversees the shortening of the dictionary (and thus the peoples’ vocabulary), systematically and deliberately impedes the ability for people to express sophisticated ideas. This was instrumental toward achieving a more complete dictatorship, for what better to enslave the mind of man by stripping him of his mode of expression?
So, what do Big Brother in “1984″ and the Japanese media have in common? They are both culpable in preventing people from attaining higher forms of verbal expression. Japanese television, apart from being unhealthily obsessed with the trivial, sensational, scandalous and irrelevant, plays a part in making certain words and phrases “stick” (using Malcolm Gladwell’s terminology here.)
This is no more evident in how overused the word “kawaii” is today among the younger generation of Japanese women. “Kawaii,” a word which means “cute,” is used to describe a dog, a man, an object, you name it. Well, that doesn’t seem very problematic, until one realizes that the ability of the word “kawaii” to describe, say, a dog and a man at the same time is evidence of mental laziness.
Let me clarify. Say, a girl sees an adorable, heartwarming little poodle with round, curious eyes. This poodle is “kawaii.” Later on in the day, she sees in a fashion magazine a young, idolized Japanese male star with the whole feminine-unisex-guy thing going on. He, too, is “kawaii.”
Ahh. Now we see here that “kawaii” is an all-encompassing form of expression. If she likes it, it is “kawaii.” There is little incentive for young women to pick up, say, a classic Japanese novel and delve in its rich forms of expression because all of the people they look up to, who just so happen to be idols they see on TV, use the word “kawaii” so rampantly that if a device was created to pick up its use in Japan, it would have quite simply overheated.
Of course, not every woman is glued to the TV. In addition, watching TV is not morally untenable. But whatever happened to picking up a book? Whatever happened to going to a cafe and letting your mind explore the worlds created by the great writers that our society had birthed? Whatever happened to the freedom envisioned by Locke, where men would engage in public discourse and debate the common good?
Japan is, if it hasn’t already, descending into a state of mobocracy, a low-brow union of citizens concerned only with the trivial, sensational, scandalous and irrelevant. These four that I’ve just enumerated are all things that the Japanese media spew out and saturate Japan’s citizens with daily.
Looks like the agenda of that of Big Brother and the Japanese media are the same in regards to peoples’ vocabulary: truncate, truncate, truncate.
What room is left for a better polis, when the media, in all its notorious glory, have eroded any vestiges of a public sphere? How can there be an enriched public discourse when all you see on TV are one-hit-wonder comedians doing some 30-second skit, flailing their arms for a few extra months of prime-time viewing? How can the men and women of Japan be encouraged to open books, when the media encourage them to duplicate the immaculate looks of the people on TV who literally have their own hairdressers, nutritionists and the works?
I blame the Japanese media for the impoverished state of public discourse in Japan. This, I believe, is morally reprehensible, for the media has a role to play as the organ that voices how sophisticated and cultured a nation is.
Et tu, Brutus?
The writer is a student at the University of Tokyo.© Japan Today