It took me a very long time (for me, anyway) to come up with a decent title for this blog. After I am done writing, I’ll tell you some of the titles I rejected. And I’m still not entirely happy with this one.
There is an old joke. A man walks up to a woman and says “Would you sleep with me for a million dollars?”
“Sure,” she says.
“How about ten?”
She acts scandalized. “I’m not that type of girl!”
“My dear,” the man says, “We’ve already established that you are. Now we’re just haggling price.”
I tend to spend way too much time on YouTube. YouTube is both an amazing resource for knowledge and entertainment, and a colossal waste of time. It can be used for wholesome and prurient purposes, wonderful and terrible purposes, fun and disturbing purposes.
But lately I’ve started to think of YouTube as a transactional medium. It’s mostly bereft of actual community. The creators produce content that people such as me might like. We watch and provide them with views, ad revenue, etc. If they continue to provide good content, we keep watching. If they start providing stuff that’s not interesting, we stop. I have actually started to codify this in how I interact with many channels. They have absolutely no interest in me as a person – I’m an eyeball, a customer, a view.
And there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you know exactly where you stand, both as a creator and as a viewer/consumer.
I have made the mistake in the past of thinking those whose videos I was watching might be interested in my feedback, but especially with the larger channels, I have come to realize that nothing could be further from the truth. They are absolutely uninterested in anything about me – except for the fact that I am consuming what they’re producing and providing them money.
This is the nature of entertainment, in a nutshell. Those who provide the entertainment are entertainers. They don’t care about you, and you don’t care about them. It’s a transaction. That’s all it’s ever been, and that’s all it ever will be. If you do start to care about them, know that it’s never going to be returned. That’s what makes it shallow.
The thing is, every time I think of this concept, the idea of “maid cafes” immediately pops into my head.
So, for those who have been living under a Japanese pop culture rock, there are some cafes in Japan where pretty women in maid costumes will treat you as if you’re the master of the house. You’ll walk in, and they’ll say “irasshaimase, goshujinsama”, or something similar. They’ll dote on you, they’ll play the role up to the hilt (within reason, of course, at most maid cafes – some I imagine have some pretty interesting back rooms, for the right price), and at the end of the day, you give them lots of money and walk out. They’ll forget you exist the minute that door closes.
They are entertainers, just as if they were producing a YouTube video for you to consume. They are producing a fantasy for you to consume, and you get.. I guess, a memory. You get to pretend for a few moments that a pretty girl actually likes you. And if you pay extra, maybe a few perks.
So I’m going to take this to a place you might not be comfortable with, but it’s a legitimate question: what is the difference between a YouTube creator, a woman at a maid cafe, and a prostitute?
You might say “There’s all the difference in the world!” And on one level, you’d be absolutely right. On another level… not as much as you might think.
With the caveat that some YouTube creators are more interested in being informative than building a false relationship with their viewers, all three professions make their money off of creating false relationships.
The only real difference is how personal that false relationship is.
With YouTube creators and other media types (including porn) the relationship is completely impersonal.
With maid cafes and other one to one types of entertainment, the relationship is somewhat personal but with boundaries.
With prostitutes, the relationship is highly personal with no (physical) boundaries.
But the thing all three have in common is that you mean nothing.
And, unfortunately, probably the same thing is true with bloggers. My blog is small. But I can’t promise that I wouldn’t see this in entirely the same way, if it were to get larger. I have one or two people (those people change, but their existence is pretty consistent) who like almost every post I create. I really appreciate that. But the only thing I know about them is the name they choose to share with me. I appreciate every one of my readers, and particularly them, but at the end of the day, it’s the same kind of relationship. I am only what I write.
So, what does this have to do with the topic of this blog? Japanese?
Well, I’d think that would be obvious, but I’ll spell it out anyway, because that’s the kind of entertainment that bloggers like me produce.
Almost all forms of Japanese (and non-Japanese, but…) entertainment are this kind of shallow.
Now, on the one hand, I don’t fault them for this. Why would I fault them for this? This is the nature of entertainment! As I said above, entertainment is basically presenting, in yourself, things that other people want for some kind of transactional reward – be it views, money, respect, whatever. And this is how entertainers in every culture make their money! Famous actors such as Tom Hanks, for example, didn’t make money by forming deep, personal relationships with those who watch his movies! Famous actors such as Tom Hanks, for example, made money by being good enough at pretending to be characters that people thought they could have a deep, personal relationship with for them to pay money to see him do that! So why, pray tell, would I think that Japanese media would be any different at all?
There’s nothing wrong with that. It becomes a problem, though, when people start to actually believe it.
Let us say for the sake of argument that I was going to go to Akihabara tomorrow. I walk into a maid cafe. A bunch of pretty girls dressed as maids (and I am absolutely sure they are gorgeous and sweet and everything you would imagine a Japanese girl dressed as a maid and behaving as a maid would be) would yell “irasshaimase, goshujinsama!”. And I’d think it was cute and funny and I would love their attention. I’ve never been to one, but I imagine they’d take my order, and probably flirt a bit, and shower on the compliments, and always call me “goshujinsama”. And I won’t lie. That would probably be a really great temporary experience. I mean, after all, who wouldn’t want a bunch of cute Japanese girls acting like you’re the center of their world?
But you know what would suck? Walking out.
That’s always the part that sucks.
Because they’d never look at me again. They have my money. And all they had to do was pretend to like me.
That is the worst feeling in the world. It truly is. It would hurt less if they didn’t bother.
I have never been to a prostitute. And, for all of the good reasons not to, that’s the biggest.
Some might wonder why I’m a Christian. I wonder that myself, often. I haven’t made much pretense of the fact that God and I struggle mightily sometimes. I don’t understand why he created such an awful, horrible, rotten world, where pretty much everyone in this world views me as a walking, talking wallet full of cash, tries to manipulate and hurt me at every opportunity for their own gain, and all I have left when all that is taken away is… nothing.
I think that’s why. For all of the things that I absolutely hate about people who call themselves Christians, Jesus is the only person out there who has no reason to care about what I can give him. He doesn’t care about my money, he doesn’t care that I blog, he doesn’t care what I look like, I have nothing I can offer him physically that he doesn’t already own, including my own body. He’s the only one I can even remotely be myself around.
This is, truly, why I really don’t want to visit Japan. I mean, for all of the great things about Japan – and there are many of them – I really hate the idea of people being superficially friendly with me to take my money. I get enough of that here! I don’t want to walk into a maid cafe and be doted on by women who are very, very good at making me feel like they like me – for just long enough to take my money. I don’t want to go to some kind of idol event where the idols are very, very good at pretending to care about me as a person – when they have thousands of other fans that are more dedicated than I who they also have to make the same pretense to. I don’t want to go to some kind of Japanese novelty store where people have to pretend that I’m not some kind of stupid gaijin in order to make me feel welcome and, again, take my money. I just don’t want it. I hate knowing that, underneath, it’s just a transaction, and they couldn’t give a rat’s ass about me.
But you know what? That’s not unique to Japan. I feel that way in almost every transaction I make in this country as well. And in some ways, it even hurts more here, because this is supposed to be my home, and it isn’t. I go to get a massage, and they do a really good job, and don’t give a shit about anything but the fact that I have money for them. I go to get groceries, a necessity of life, and I wouldn’t be able to eat if I didn’t have money. I have no worth to anyone in my country without money.
I have some money. People entertain me. People make videos and movies and manga and other things to compete for my money. Then they go and spend that money on things that entertain them in much the same way. It’s a circle of relationship-less distraction. And I hate every bit of it. I mean, being entertained is a great distraction, and I really appreciate that when quality entertainment is offered, but at the end of the day, that’s all it is. When whatever I have to offer dries up, so does my value as a person. And what do I have left?
Well, I think you can probably infer what my answer to that question is.
Oh, I promised some of the titles I rejected.
“Entertainment as Prostitution”
“The Shallowness of Entertainment”
“Fun is Shallow”
… this one really was about as good as I could come up with.