Sun 24 Jun 2012
With my wife and kids in Japan, I have been spending a lot more time reading, watching movies and TV shows, etc. Although reading books is usually a personal experience, watching TV or movies is often a social experience. But when you’re a lone, it becomes personal again and I find that I have been exhibiting some strange behavior in that regard. Here are some examples:
1. Reading the book The Name of the Wind, recommended by my brother. So far seems to be an interesting and well-written fantasy novel. However about 1/3 of the way through the book, where the main character is telling his life story (making the entire novel into a story-within-a-story, it seems), when he starts telling about his first attempt at romance, I find myself putting the book down and being unable to continue. I’m not sure why, but since I know it will not end well (since we know from the beginning of the novel that he is not with this girl that obviously it didn’t end well, even though I haven’t read the actual account yet), I find it difficult to continue reading the book. I’ll get back to it eventually, but in the meantime I’ve been reading some ‘lighter’ fare, such as David Edding’s fantasy series.
2. Friday night I watched the brainless action movie ‘Dead or Alive’, based on the titular (that was a joke, get it?) video game of the same name. It’s utterly vapid in such a degree that I couldn’t even conceive of a better villain than Eric Roberts for the movie, but if you’re expecting a brainless and nearly plotless fighting movie that’s heavy on the fanservice, it’s pretty entertaining. However there is a scene where the hacker/nerd character (fitting every Hollywood trope and stereotype of the hacker/nerd) tries to woo one of the supermodel beauties that he has a crush on. I found myself pausing the movie and taking a break, because I knew that he was going to get shot down hard, and I didn’t want to watch that.
Later I continued watching the movie, and it turned out that the writer subverted the trope in this case, and the nerd did get the girl in the end. Probably a wise choice considering the target audience of this movie.
3. Last night I started watching the 1982 movie The Challenge, fish out of water tale where the hapless American protagonist in Japan gets stuck in the middle of the warring factions of a powerful family over the possession a priceless sword. It’s directed by John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate, Ronin), and the supporting actor is none other than bad-ass legend Toshiro Mifune (who so far hasn’t spoken a single line in English!) Mifune plays Toru Yoshida, the head of the ‘good’ branch of the family who runs a martial arts school. There is a scene where the protagonist Rick (played by Scott Glen), is at a formal dinner with Yoshida’s family and students. Rick gets drunk on sake and does a classic Ugly American, shouting out inane and racist comments in English, completely ignoring the alienating and hostile atmosphere he himself has created, etc. Just watching the scene, I became very uncomfortable and embarrassed. Again I found myself stopping the movie and taking a break, reading a book for a little while.
I actually didn’t finish the movie last night, I ended up going to bed early. But I do intend to watch the rest of the movie this evening.
So what is the deal with me getting uncomfortable enough while watching a movie or reading a book that I actually put it down? It isn’t anything that I find distasteful, sickening, overly erotic, or that I’m simply not enjoying it, but because I find a scene to be embarrassing for the character, and somehow I feel embarrassed by proxy and find it difficult to continue.
Perhaps I’m even projecting myself onto the characters, and recalling experiences in my past where I have been embarrassed or humiliated. Well, looking at the three examples above:
1. First love ending badly? Check.
2. Rejection when asking out a girl who is ‘out of your league’? Check.
3. Being a culturally-insensitive American in Japan? Check.
Yes, all three are embarrassing things I have experienced int he past, and even now I don’t like to recall them. Although my experience with #3 was nowhere near as bad as the scene in the film, when I look back on some of the things I said and did back during my first time in Japan when I home-stayed with a family, I feel a lot of shame and embarrassment.
Is embarrassment and shame by proxy due to self-projection into characters and scenes from books and movies a common occurrence for other people?