Saturday, June 19, 2010

“Next of Kin to Chaos”

There are things in America I miss, but I don’t really pine for the country itself. The general cultural knowledge, though, I’ll admit to getting slightly nostalgic for on occasion.

There are just so many things one takes for granted. Sometimes I try memorizing the Japanese songs I like, and it’s an uphill battle. While here are the students who couldn’t care less about the artists, but know the songs just because they’ve been hearing them all their lives. It’s the same, I expect, how I know pretty much every Beatles song. But then, I also know a lot of music I’d prefer not to – if only I could selectively erase every Britney Spears song I’ve heard from my brain.

For everything you gain in another country you lose an equal something. I can imitate various comedians here to the delight of the students. But I can’t get any recognition for saying “Beam me up” or “Live long or prosper” or “Make it so” or “Damn it, Jim, I’m doctor not an English teacher,” or “Let me show you this earth thing called kissing.”

I expect you see where I’m going with this. Most of the students had a tournament with the school clubs of other schools the past few days, so we bundled the remaining kids in front of a projector and played them the “Star Trek.”

I’ve never seen an entire season of Star Trek. We didn’t have TV, but like anyone who has spent time in a hotel, I have probably seen a handful of episodes from each series. More importantly, I run in the sort of circles – both in real life and on the internet – made of people who are Very Big Fans. So I’ve managed, just by proximity – or perhaps in the interest of survival – to acquire a knowledge of who is who of Star Trek (and a bunch of other TV shows that I don’t like to admit.)

So when the captain’s silhouette first came on the screen, I had to restrain myself from clapping my hands in delight. I mean, are there people in the world who don’t know how awesome Patrick Stewart is? There are. They are most of the population of Japan. They are my students, who said, “What’s with Baldie?” and who were chatting or falling asleep half-way through. Well, it was a pilot episode so twice as long, and it was two years after I was born so the special effects and hairstyles were interesting, and it was trying to impress with “We are a very deep show with deep people talking about deep matters!” so it was a little dull. But I still wish I could have conveyed that despite all that, it was also Classic. I couldn’t help bouncing in my seat when I realized the pilot episode already had the omnipresent entity Q, as played by the indomitable John de Lancie. How strange that I’d never seen an episode with Q but I still knew who he was? And later Wil Wheaton came on, only a year or so after the heartwarming “Stand By Me.” All the characters introduced one by one, it’s like watching an old family home video. “Here’s your creepy uncle Riker, before he grew the beard. And here’s your crazy cousin Troi, check out the hairdo.”

Not that there aren’t Japanese Trekkies – in fact the teacher who pushed to have the kids watch this instead of any other DVD that they might have enjoyed more is hardcore, owns every series, and is viewed with the same sort of bemusement that we look at his type in the States. Except with a slightly different tone. See, here they are prepared to deal with people obsessed with Japanese pop stars or comic books – but they don’t really get why someone would care so deeply about something from another country. They give him the same looks as I get when I say that my favorite artists are a duo from Kansai, or that I used to read all sorts of manga, or that I like to watch Japanese comedy shows.

Maybe we can’t get the innate knowledge of other cultures when we’re trying to catch up for the twenty years we lived somewhere else. But I see no reason why people can’t enjoy the entertainment of other countries, if they enjoy them – in fact I see many reasons why they should.

There is so much we’re missing out on by living where and when and how we do. Why not boldly go where no one we know has gone before?

1 comment:

Raney Brook said...

Great essay on 'being where you are' and appreciating a culture in a deeper way. I liked the quotes from Star Trek, though I'm not a diehard fan. I was thinking about going to the Star Wars(different) in Concert they have here: you can dress up in movie costume optionally.