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    The hardcore and the gentle

    Posted by Sean at 03:39, April 8th, 2006

    or “All the gay stuff I haven’t written about for the last two weeks”

    or “How to be gay and annoy me”

    Beautiful Atrocities had this column of advice for newly minted gay men linked under “Outside Reading” this past week. Most of it is pretty sound underneath the inevitable tone of snark (and be warned that some of it’s on the raunchy side). It’s also, unlike a lot of attempts to be funny, actually funny. Item #1 made me laugh out loud.

    However, item #14 nettled me. It’s not so much that it’s bad advice as that it scornfully hits an easy target but leaves out the flip side, which I think affects far more people:

    14. Beauty fades. Develop some inner resources, otherwise when it goes, those of us with less far to fall will laugh at you. To your aging face.

    Fine. Point taken. But newly out guys also need it drummed into their heads that…

    14.1. Don’t assume that someone you think is unusually hot must therefore be (1) a bitch, (2) a slut, (3) a moron, and (4) a shallow user.

    14.2. Plenty of men who will never be models or CEOs are in happy relationships. You can be one of them if you look for ways to be generous and stop expecting The Love You Deserve to ambush you while you lean expectantly against the bar.

    For every gorgeous, turned-out man who thinks he’s some kind of Gay Brahmin, there’s a fag who sabotages his own potential regular-guy attractiveness by constantly drawing attention to the fact that he’s not Jude Law. Humility can be sexy; self-humiliation is a turn-off.

    Not all stereotyping is quite so damaging. At least, I don’t think so, though people have too much time on their hands apparently disagree:

    Some gay rights advocates are raising questions about a new Chrysler commercial that features a fairy who uses her wand to turn a tough-looking guy with a big dog into a pastel-clad man walking four small dogs on pink leashes.

    DaimlerChrysler AG’s Chrysler Group introduced the “Anything but Cute” ad campaign last month to promote the new Dodge Caliber compact car, aimed at young buyers.

    The Commercial Closet, which monitors marketing tactics that could be offensive to gays and lesbians, was more critical of the ad [than the mewling executive director of the Triangle Foundation, cited earlier].

    “It directly finds humor with the term fairy, referring not just to the type that flies around with a magic wand, but also the universally recognizable gay stereotype of an effeminate gay man,” it said in an online review of the ad.

    I’m afraid I’d make a very bad gay activist, because there is no way in hell I could make a public statement that solemnly and carefully differentiates between a fairy “that flies around with a magic wand” and a gay guy without dissolving into laughter.

    Of course, we want to get rid of the stereotype that gay guys are all girlie, emotionally fragile, flighty, and limp-wristed. Permit me to point out, though, that advertising spots are not the place to expect sophisticated commentary that challenges preconceptions. (There are plenty of ads that end in unexpected revelations as a way of providing a jolt that might make the product memorable, but they usually don’t constitute social science lessons.) Steve Miller at IGF posts a link to the ads.

    We’re supposed to bloviate over that? I was more offended by the guy’s post-spell walking-shorts-and-socks combo than anything else. That fairy needs to get herself a fag friend to teach her about style, cute or otherwise.

    And people need to learn how commercials work. Television is populated by dads who are amazed to find out that you can clean clothes with detergent, black women who have clearly been directed to turn the sassy-chick-erator all the way up, Italians who can’t say a word without windmilling their arms, and people whose persnicketiness is signaled by British accents. Sometimes these types are used skillfully, and sometimes they’re used poorly; but ads generally have to rely on stock characters because they have an extremely short amount of time to make an impression. It’s certainly possible to imagine an advertisement that implies something genuinely offensive, but I don’t see how showing some dumb jock type get turned into an dorky metrosexual necessarily does, even if he’s supposedly being punished for saying “Silly fairy!” to a fairy.

    Speaking of silly–or at least muddled–fairies: Last week, Rondi Adamson posted about the release of Canadian Christian peace activist James Loney, who had been abducted in Iraq. Loney’s family and friends scrupulously avoided mentioning his homosexuality while he was in the hands of his abductors:

    I remain puzzled that a gay man like James Loney would, de facto, have aligned himself with people who would see his sexual orientation as sufficient reason to kill him.

    One of Loney’s CPT colleagues, Doug Pritchard, seems to have a case of both [mental-midgetitis and irony deficiency]:

    “It’s a sad fact that around the world gays and lesbians are more vulnerable to attack than straights,” Pritchard said.

    Hmm. Yeah. Particularly under Islamist fascist regimes, Doug.

    No kidding. I don’t think this is the first time Rondi has expressed (perfectly understandable) puzzlement about gays who give a free pass to the Palestinians and other aggrieved groups whose anti-homosexuality is so extreme as actually to warrant the overused word oppression. The article doesn’t mention whether Pritchard is gay, but his attitude is pretty representative of the basic problem. His statement isn’t inaccurate taken as a self-contained thought. But that “around the world,” which runs the entire world together into one, big vaguely threatening place, is bizarre given that the context for the remark is that contrast between Islamofascists in Iraq, among whom revealing your homosexuality could lead to mistreatment or worse, and Canada, where you can talk about it to the press. (One of Loney’s fellow abductees was murdered.)

    [Aside: Martha Stewart just explained to viewers that when the shrimp turn opaque that means they are “not transparent.” Has the educational system deteriorated that much?]

    Unlike a car commercial, the public spotlight that comes with having your gay colleague released by terrorist kidnappers seems to me like the perfect opportunity to make a social and political argument: Thank God he’s back here in the democratic West, where we value personal liberty and the ability to live peaceably with our differences. After all, these people are supposed to be looking for ways to espouse Christian Peace, are they not? Perhaps even the mention of bloodthirstiness, however germane to the situation at hand, would have seemed off message.

    The message from the director of a new movie out of the UK is that Chinese-British gay men exist (via Gay News):

    “It’s very frustrating. Chinese people don’t just run restaurants. Lots of them do great jobs like lawyers. It’s scarily backward in the UK. In the US, Lucy Liu was in Charlie’s Angels not because of her ‘Chinese-ness’ but because she was right for the role.”

    Tell that to the more oversensitive Asian-American activists, honey. Anyway, what I found interesting was this part:

    The filmmaker said Hong Kong is the most liberated Asian country, “Racism exists on the international gay scene. Chinese gay men have a low ranking in the gay hierarchy because they don’t fulfil the classical male beauty.”

    “I know some Asians who have switched to dating Asians.”

    Because there aren’t enough Western gay men who are looking for smooth little Asian hotties?! That’s a demographic development I hadn’t been aware of, though I admit to not being all that familiar with the scene in Hong Kong. The tendency for some Westerners to want their Asian boyfriends to act like man-geisha does strike me as a problem, but that doesn’t appear to be what Yeung is talking about. In any case, he seems to be able to point out what he thinks are problems without taking a whiny tone, which is always good to see. If his movie is the same, I hope it does well.


    Posted by Sean at 02:21, April 7th, 2006

    The government has denied that it has yet shared any DNA information about Megumi Yokota’s possible husband with the ROK:

    Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe made a statement the report in the South Korean press that the Japanese government has confirmed that the person reported to be DPRK abductee Megumi Yokota’s husband was also a man who was abducted from South Korea at a press conference following an April 7 cabinet meeting. He denied the reports, saying, “We are moving forward diligently with the DNA evaluation, but at this point in time, the results are not yet in, and in our capacity as the government, we have not specified anything about the person said to be Megumi Yokota’s husband.” Minister of Foreign Affairs Taro Aso also stated emphatically, “It certainly isn’t yet the case that word has officially come from among the professionals–scholars and such–that this is the man, or this isn’t the man.”

    Unlike a lot of diplomatic issues, the abductee problem has an obvious human interest angle, and the Japanese public has responded. One wonders whether the government isn’t being so quick to deny that it’s helped the ROK because of the loud complaints here at home that it’s doing little to find out what happened to the Japanese abductees still not satisfactorily accounted for.


    Posted by Sean at 10:41, April 6th, 2006

    The 6-party talks will, if the negotiations work out, be scheduled to open again some time soon:

    The Chinese foreign ministry announced on 6 April that Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Wu Dawei, chair of the 6-party talks revolving around North Korea’s nuclear issues, will visit Japan. Representatives to the talks from the DPRK, ROK, and US plan visits to Japan to coincide with an international summit to be convened on 9 April; Russia is also looking into the possibility of participating. That means that all major members, including Japan, will be gathered in Tokyo. Signs are that each of these high officials will be in contact with the others on an individual basis, looking for a way to reopen the 6-party talks, which have been suspended since last November.

    It’s not possible to tell what will come of this, of course. Precedent says the 6-party talks will, if repoened, be useful more for making the DPRK feel appreciated and respected like a real country with legitimacy and stuff than for resolving things.

    Speaking of Chinese diplomats, PRC politicians’ remarks about the Yasukuni Shrine pilgrimages keep coming:

    Last week’s declaration by Chinese President Hu Jintao on Yasukuni Shrine continued to ripple through Japan’s political community Tuesday.

    Foreign Minister Taro Aso once again had strong words for Hu over the Chinese president’s suggestion that he would meet with Japanese leaders on condition that they stop visiting Yasukuni Shrine.

    “It sounds like a method similar to saying to Taiwan ‘We won’t meet with you unless you recognize such-and-such aspect of China,'” Aso said Tuesday. “Their methods go beyond our understanding.”

    Yeah, listen to you, tough guy. Surely, Taiwan is the last issue Aso wants to be bringing up in the process of ringingly declaring that Japan stands firm in the face of China’s irritable demands.


    Posted by Sean at 11:26, April 5th, 2006

    Zak, who comments here sometimes, directed me to an old post of his on the Japanese willingness to part with priceless artifacts:

    A Japanophile is merely someone who doesn’t really know Japan.

    Sometimes you will hear people refer to “old cultures” as though that age gives the culture some measure of wisdom. What rubbish. The opposite is perhaps more likely to be true: the older a culture, the more time it has to accumulate really stupid ideas which become part of the national consciousness and continue doing damage century after century.

    Sure, some beautiful things have originated in Japan. But, the whole culture seems geared towards insuring that those things don’t survive. This is visible on many levels. Again in the shakuhachi world, for instance, traditionally if you go see another teacher you’ll be excommunicated from your old one. So, everyone practices and learns in little pathetic isolated islands, prevented from venturing out by fear that they’ll never be let back in.

    Ask most Japanese people if Japan is an “ashi no hippariai no sekai,” and most them will nod. This is a particularly Japanese phrase which means “pulling each other back to ensure no one gets ahead.” This is not just me ranting—most Japanese people freely acknowledge this to be the case. It’s just that no one really minds. Japan is an “old culture,” after all, but not one where people are stupid; this just means that its dysfunctionalities are recognized but met with nothing but blithely passive acceptance.

    Zak’s covering a lot of ground there, some of it a bit sketchily. At its broadest, the issue is that the Japanese tend to accept external reality as obdurate, something to be adapted to, even as they recognize that particular circumstances are endlessly shifting. One reason for that is the environment: Much of the country consists of near-impassable crags and gorges; a lot of the soil is poor for agriculture–we modern Western students, having been preached at about healthy Japanese eating habits are since we were little, are often shocked to learn in Japanese history classes about the poor food quality that was the rule until the Meiji Restoration–and natural resources are few. Even the closest trading partner is a sea journey away; for all intents and purposes, the Japanese Archipelago is at the edge of the world. It is also regularly visited by earthquakes, vulcanism, tidal waves, typhoons, and heavy snows.

    Therefore, the Japanese have felt isolated and at the mercy of nature for pretty much the entire history of their civilization. I don’t know that the way society evolved to value group affiliation, discipline, and emotional detachment was inevitable, but it was certainly understandable. Nature frequently took away things that people had let themselves get invested in; in those sorts of circumstances, one reasonable reaction is to avoid investing yourself in things and to find safety in numbers.

    Japan has taken those ideas to extremes that, it could be persuasively argued, aren’t very wise. But then, let’s remember that they aren’t necessarily very old, either. In many fields, the idea that there’s a rigid, codified “right” way of doing them down to the last millimeter actually originated in the Meiji Restoration in attempts to “reclaim” a static, idealized Japaneseness that was in fact being projected backward. Not that Japan up to 1868 was a devil-may-care kind of place–art forms had gone through the usual stages of fresh experimentation through balanced formal perfection through ossification and breakdown. Still, the great Japanese art traditions overall involved improvisation based on circumstance and idiosyncratic wisdom that was passed down by masters, and other sets of customs–the warrior culture and native religion among them–weren’t nearly as formulaic as we’re accustomed to thinking of them now.

    And where Japanese mediocrity is concerned, blithe is possibly the last word I’d use. Mediocrity here is in fact full of tension, maintained as it is through constant effort to avoid doing anything that would be (literally) egregious. The costs have become obvious. Tamping down individual initiative not only keeps people from pursuing contentment but also keeps them from following through on offbeat, experimental ideas that could bear unexpected dividends later. But there are benefits, too. Strict adherence to group and hierarchical roles provided stability, which is a value in its own right.

    It’s starting to sound as if I disagreed with everything Zak wrote, I fear. In fact, I agree with him in the main with regards to Japanophilia, one of the most tiresome mental disorders on the planet. Far too many Westerners, undervaluing the rich strains of spiritual quest in our own traditions, are willing to look at any and every custom in Japan as a manifestation of mystical profundity, toward which the proper posture is receptive, uncritical awe.

    Japanese customs are actually like everyone else’s customs, having developed through the usual combination of practicality, happenstance, and arbitrary decisions along the way. Many of them serve a purpose very well–Japanese society wouldn’t still exist, let alone be this successful, if they didn’t–and others could stand to be transformed or dropped. In some contexts, the emphasis placed on how ephemeral this life is is as pragmatic and as moving as it’s cracked up to be; in others, it produces needless waste. It’s possible to love Japan and acknowledge that.

    Added on 9 April: Rondi Adamson has kindly linked this post and added some interesting observations of her own, based on her experience of having lived not only in Japan but also in Turkey and in France. Worth reading as always.

    Ozawa and Kan in race for DPJ leader

    Posted by Sean at 09:42, April 5th, 2006

    It’s now official: Naoto Kan and Ichiro Ozawa will run for the position of Democratic Party of Japan president this coming week:

    On the night of 5 April, the DPJ’s Ichiro Ozawa and Naoto Kan officially announced in rapid succession at press conferences their intention to stand as candidates in the 7 April election for party leader in the wake of current leader Seiji Maehara’s resignation. Ozawa stated emphatically that he has “resolved to throw my political viability into find a solution to our current hardships and realize [the goal of] a DPJ administration [in the Diet].” Kan related that “the DPJ is truly standing at the edge of a cliff. I aim for an administration that will revitalize it.”

    The vote is expected to be close.

    Japan and South Korea may cooperate on Yokota case

    Posted by Sean at 09:28, April 5th, 2006

    Apparently, Japan and the ROK are teaming up to try to find out the identity of Megumi Yokota’s husband:

    In February, the Japanese government took blood and other samples from the families of five South Korean abduction victims who were cited as possible husbands of Yokota, and had been testing the DNA of the samples.

    In response, South Korean officials said that if the possibility of Yokota’s husband being a South Korean abductee arose, it would ask Japan for DNA information from Yokota’s daughter, Kim Hye Gyong, and conduct its own verification of the identity of Yokota’s husband.

    Five South Koreans who disappeared in 1977 and 1978 have been citied as possible husbands of Yokota. South Korea has acknowledged that all five were abducted by North Korean agents.

    For Yokota’s husband’s sake, let’s hope his affairs are settled more easily than hers have been. The poor woman’s father has been on television so frequently over the last few years that a lot of us news watchers know him by sight now. The reason, of course, is that the DPRK keeps playing games about releasing her remains–who knows whether Pyongyang even knows where they are by this point? Some abductees have returned to more (Hitomi Soga, wife of US Army deserter Charles Jenkins) or less (several others who have returned to quiet lives in the provinces) publicity, but Yokota’s case has become a symbol of North Korea’s inability just to do something…anything…forthright.

    Push, push, push

    Posted by Sean at 13:48, April 4th, 2006

    Agenda Bender finds subliminal messages in the darnedest places. (And the scary thing is, he doesn’t seem to be forcing it at all.)


    Posted by Sean at 13:39, April 4th, 2006

    The proprietor of this site, clearly a lady of rare discernment, pronounced my blog “beautiful” in the process of linking to a cherry blossom poem I translated last year. (Yes, I’m a sucker for flattery, but her blog is a good read, too, with lots of interesting comments about offbeat Tokyo stuff without that look-how-weird-Japan-is tone that can get tedious. And if she doesn’t have a serious posse of gay friends, she needs to get one pronto. Lines such as “Love shoes made from reptiles [my shoe closet looks like a zoo]” are wasted on any audience that doesn’t include a healthy contingent of uproariously approving fags.)

    Anyway, the poem was here, and now that the cherry blossoms are just beginning to shed their petals, it’s nice to reproduce:



    negawakuba/hana no moto nite/haru shinan/sono kisaragi no/mochidzuki no koro

    Saigyō Hōshi

    If I have my wish,
    I will die beneath the boughs
    laden with blossoms–
    Spring, the night of the full moon,
    second moon of the new year.

    The Priest Saigyo

    See, if you die beneath the boughs while the petals are still on them, looking gorgeous, you don’t have to be disillusioned by the sight, a week later, of them all lying on the ground in a dingy, grey, gutter-choking paste.

    Japan Post post-debate

    Posted by Sean at 11:11, April 4th, 2006

    Today’s lead editorial in the Nikkei is about the post-privatization Japan Post, which quietly began operating yesterday. The information isn’t new, but it’s a good reminder of what’s at stake:

    Despite being labeled “privatization,” the changeover will in real terms leave, in October 2007, operations still under state control–the government holds 100% of the stock of the holding company under which the mails, window services, Postal Savings, and Postal Insurance subsidiaries will be arrayed. There’s a real danger that, if while the government’s interest is still strong it will keeps adding new businesses, it will not be in fair competition with private enterprises. When the time comes to investigate the introduction of new business by the privatized corporation, we call on the privatization committee to consider this point thoroughly.

    For the gajillionth time, the Nikkei editors also call upon the government to sell off its controlling interest ahead of schedule.


    Posted by Sean at 10:30, April 4th, 2006

    Yes, of course, even while I was taking a break from the blog, I noticed that Seiji Maehara was stepping down as head of the Democratic Party of Japan, thus reducing the number of I’d-do-him politicians in Japan by approximately 100%. The cause was the disastrous handling of the (beyond wearisome) fake e-mail scandal:

    DPJ Secretary-General Yukio Hatoyama and other top executives will also resign.

    Moreover, Hisayasu Nagata, a DPJ member of the House of Representatives at the center of the scandal, who had stubbornly refused to step down as a legislator, finally agreed Friday to give up his Diet seat. His resignation was accepted by the chamber’s speaker, Yohei Kono, later in the day.

    “I’m solely to blame for causing this problem to expand. As the party leader, I’d like to take responsibility for that,” Maehara told a news conference. “The party should elect a new leader at an early date to fulfill its responsibility as the largest opposition party.”

    Based on an e-mail he had obtained from a former freelance journalist, Nagata falsely accused ruling Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Tsutomu Takebe during a Diet session in mid-February of having collusive relations with Livedoor Co. founder Takafumi Horie.

    However, the DPJ concluded that his claim was groundless after the e-mail, which suggested Horie had ordered that 30 million yen be sent to Takebe’s second son, proved to be fake.

    The Livedoor scandal is one of those things you can’t be an informed resident of Japan without following, but I’ve never found it all that engaging. That there was such a flap over an e-mail, however, was an almost too-perfect symbol of the conflict between the smartypants tech-minded Livedoor crew and the scowling suits who are nostalgic for the Japan Inc. era. Maehara’s insistence about it did seem odd; perhaps he was taking the opportunity to demonstrate some implacability vis-à-vis Prime Minister Koizumi, who, though he’s often not so hot at follow-through, is absolutely brilliant at stagey showdowns.

    In any case, as divisive as his stance on defense and his relative youth were, they at least suggested that the DPJ might be moving in the direction of welcoming fresh thinking about the changing realities Japan is operating in. It’s hard to be hopeful about that given who his potential successors are, though it’s hard to blame DPJ higher-ups who think what’s necessary now is a leader with name recognition, a power base, and a clear relation to the DPJ brand.