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Sins of the father are Rola’s burden

by Philip Brasor

Two weeks ago one of the big stories in the tabloid press was on Jurip Al-Asa, the father of popular TV personality Rola. He was in the news because the Tokyo Metropolitan Police had issued a warrant for his arrest on charges of swindling. Allegedly, Jurip, a Bangladesh national, conspired with a compatriot to defraud the national health insurance system of ¥875,000 in benefits by claiming that the compatriot, who lives in Japan and pays into the system, received medical care abroad and was thus entitled to be reimbursed. The police claim that the receipt for the medical care was forged. He has since fled Japan.

Anyone who watches any amount of Japanese TV will conclude that the story wouldn’t have warranted coverage if Jurip wasn’t Rola’s father; which isn’t to say that such fraud cases don’t deserve media attention, only that they normally don’t get it unless the amount of money is particularly large or there are extenuating circumstances, such as the fact that the suspect’s daughter is a media fixture. In any case, the combination of high-profile relation and foreign passport automatically makes tabloid reporters think: That’s exactly the sort of thing I’m supposed to cover.

The coverage was snarky but also fat-free. The weekly magazine Bunshun barely concealed it’s lack of genuine interest but acknowledged that it needed to address the story with a gratuitous one-page knockoff that took advantage of a brief telephone conversation one of its reporters had with Jurip seven months ago, when the magazine was pursuing a different story that implied he had brought relatives to Japan from Bangladesh to work illegally. The quotes used in the piece made him look rude and thus suspicious, but the article didn’t bring up anything new. The celebrity gossip magazine Asahi Geino suggested that Jurip might be a “mafia boss” in Bangladesh, based on police statements, and then speculated that as a result of the story Rola isn’t long for the show business world.

The mainstream press made more of the warrant than they normally would, and all mentioned Rola in their reports. Though the morning wide shows could be expected to cover the matter since Rola is one of their own, the national newspapers and wire services also dedicated resources to the story. There is no doubt that the warrant qualifies as news, but some journalists seem to be hesitant because covering it might confer some measure of responsibility on Rola. We still live in a world where the sins of the fathers, even those not proven yet, are borne by the children, and many people think it’s unfair that she has to answer for her dad’s alleged misdemeanors just because she’s famous.

However, a closer look at the way the story developed reveals something interesting. According to the Internet news service J-Cast, though the reaction on the infamous chat site 2Channel has been anything but sympathetic (“the daughter of the swindler should be made to pay the money back”), elsewhere people have questioned the press’s handling of the story and flooded social media sites like Twitter with Rola-positive comments that range from the self-serving (“without Rola variety shows are boring”) to the self-evident (“her father is her father; Rola is Rola”). And while Asahi Geino, for one, reported that the dozen companies who use her in their advertising are currently “restudying” her contracts, they don’t say that any have been cancelled. J-Cast conjectures that a company might think that if it fires her its image will suffer more than if it doesn’t. The hair-care products manufacturer Tsuyamoto Beauty, for one, has expressly said it does not plan to drop Rola.

If Rola hasn’t been hurt by the press attention it may be due to her peculiar star quality. Her odd behavioral tics, meant to enhance her adorability, include puffing out her cheeks and pursing her lips in an exaggerated fashion. Like her inability to speak polite Japanese and the resulting embarrassed effusions, they betray innocence and earnestness at the same time. Unlike other similarly talent-challenged female model-idols, whether wholly Japanese or mongrel, she gets away with the act because she doesn’t use it to suck up to her interlocutors. Three years ago, when she made her first appearance on the talk show “Odoru! Sanma Goten,” the host, comedian Sanma Akashiya, asked her bluntly, “Did your agency tell you to act that way?” She denied it did. Some of her fellow TV personalities still react negatively whenever she goes into Rola mode. Calculated or not, this set of traits is weird and distinctive enough to make her stand out. That doesn’t mean she adds anything compelling to the usual variety show nonsense, but within that already weird world she at least strikes viewers as being genuine. She talks back to her betters, and while the sting of impertinence is lessened by the artless attitude, it makes her different and the difference protects her.

The press feels it’s OK to take advantage of Rola’s notoriety in their coverage not just because of her quasi-alien status, which makes her an easy target, but also because her talent agency, Libera Production, isn’t very big. Last year, when the mother of AKB48 member Minami Takahashi was arrested for having “indecent relations” with a minor, the press was careful so as not to upset one of the most powerful companies in show business. In that instance, the relationship between parent and child was relevant to the story since the mother had reportedly gained access to the victim through her daughter’s fame. Rola is said to be close to her father, but no one, not even the tabloids, implies she had any involvement in or knowledge of the alleged swindle. She apologized by fax, saying she became aware of the warrant through the news, and that was that. She’s still on the air giggling and sticking her tongue out, resigned to the fact that there’s nothing she can do about it. Regardless of the effect of the coverage, her moment in the limelight will be over soon enough, so she might as well enjoy it while she can.

  • inqualia

    While the author is clearly no fan of Rola, the reference to multiracial television personalities as “mongrel” is wholly uncalled for.

    • johnny cassidy

      Sometimes I think the JT spends more time and effort moderating these comments than it does checking the contents of the paper itself. I’d bet if a reader left a comment using that same expression to refer to someone of mixed ethnicity there would be a good chance that it would get moderated out of existence. It looks like the Cole Porter school of journalism is at work here in this column – Anything Goes.

  • Ken Yasumoto-Nicolson

    Although I too do find her annoying whenever she appears on television, I also find that “mongrel” name-calling very offensive.

  • johnny cassidy

    “Mongrel”!!!???

  • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

    “We still live in a world where the sins of the fathers, even those not proven yet, are borne by the children, and many people think it’s unfair that she has to answer for her dad’s alleged misdemeanors just because she’s famous.”

    Mr. Brasor, do you not notice that the second part of your sentence contradicts the first? Didn’t the editor? I would assume, since this obvious opinion piece is in the “news” section (even though it is not) not the “community” section where it perhaps more properly belongs, that the Japan Times would edit more stringently…

    “Unlike other similarly talent-challenged female model-idols, whether wholly Japanese or mongrel”

    Or perhaps not. Mr. Brasor, didn’t you consider this turn of phrase to be patently offensive? Didn’t your editor?

    Mr. Brasor would be well advised to heed his own concluding sentence. When one’s “reporting” for “newspaper” consists of nothing better than a poorly-written opinion piece concerning coverage in other media of the news, and said “newspaper” agrees to publish same as “news”, neither the reporter nor said newspaper have many more moments in the limelight left.

  • Paul Smith

    Count me among those offended by the use of the term “mongrel”. It reverberates with more loathsome associations than I can count.

    However, GMainwaring’s complaint about an opinion piece in the News section is off-base. Philip Brasor has been writing the Media Mix column for many years, and regular readers know that it is, by definition, commentary, not reporting.

    Before the Japan Times web site was remodeled a few months ago, the column was down at the bottom of the page under a separate “Media” heading. When the site was remodeled, I was surprised to find the column had been moved the News section, which struck me as an odd location for it, but it is still clearly identified as a column, i.e., an opinion piece, not as reporting.

    • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

      I stand corrected, then, on that point (placement of this column). Thank you for the insight. It is somewhat surprising that an organization that once tried to pass itself off as a serious newspaper would randomly stick opinion pieces in its national news section, but that appears to be a choice the owners made in their belated rush to remain relevant by reformatting to compete with the Japan Today or Gaijinpot crowd.

  • wanderingpippin

    I was quite shocked to see the word “mongrel” used in such a way in the Japan Times. Does this not go against the standards of this publication?
    I also wonder why the author has downplayed the allegations against Mr. Jurip by mentioning only that a warrant has been put out for him without the additional information that he has been put on the international wanted list. And mentioning only the one alleged fraud incident with the implication that it is small potatoes without the information that police suspect he was involved in other cases for a total of more than 10 million yen. What is the motive of the author here?
    And on what does he base the statement that Rola’s time in the limelight will soon be over? There are plenty of examples of entertainers who were thought to be stupid, too impolite, or whatever, who are still going strong decades later. Only time will tell and I dare say the opinion of the author will be quite inconsequential in the matter.

  • Philip Brasor

    “Mongrel” as in “not pure-blooded.” (American Heritage Dictionary: “of mixed origin or character”) The Japanese media is fixated on pedigree. It’s a good word.

    • johnny cassidy

      Thanks very much for explaining!

    • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

      From the American Heritage Dictionary, Mr. Brasor, since that is your dictionary of choice:

      noun

      1. An animal or a plant resulting from various interbreedings, especially a dog of mixed or undetermined breed.

      2. A cross between different breeds, groups, or varieties, especially a mixture that is or appears to be incongruous.

      adjective

      Of mixed origin or character.

      The adjectival form of a noun does not exist in a vacuum, it also contains the meanings of that noun. “Mongrel” is not a word to be used concerning people, unless one is trying to denigrate or insult them. It is not a “good word”, by any stretch of the imagination. That you would defend it as one says a great deal, unfortunately, about your outlook, as well as revealing exactly who it is who is fixated on pedigree.

      • johnny cassidy

        Yeah, the OED spells it out plain and simple – derogatory. The word breeds controversy. Earlier this year Pres. Obama caused a minor stir when he used the word in reference to himself. I read about it in the Japan Times.

    • Paul Smith

      I don’t think anyone who has criticized your use of “mongrel” is ignorant of the word’s meaning.

      The issue is that the term has a well-known and thoroughly disgraceful history as a term of opprobrium for a person of mixed ancestry, and it cannot be used in the way you used it without invoking that history and all the attendant connotations.

      Certainly the Japanese media fixation on pedigree could be addressed without resorting to the use of “mongrel” or any other comparably offensive term. The three-word phrase “of mixed ancestry”, for example, makes the same point without the implicitly derogatory connotation of “mongrel”.

      • http://www.dadsarmy.co.uk/ GMainwaring

        I’m not certain who is more fixated on pedigree – the Japanese media for mentioning that Rola’s father is Bangladeshi and her mother is Japanese (something Rola herself repeatedly mentioned in TV appearances), or people like Mr. Brasor who go to lengths to split hairs and point out (as he did in his blog entry counterpart to this opinion piece) that Rola’s “Japanese mother (is) one-fourth Russian, which technically makes (Rola) three-eighths Japanese, and thus not a hafu (half), as Japanese parlance has it.” It appears that Mr. Brasor has as firm a grasp of the nuances of “haafu” as he does of the nuances of calling someone a “mongrel”.

  • Ian Martin

    I think it’s pretty obvious that the line “whether wholly Japanese or mongrel” is meant as an ironic comment on Japanese media (and Japanese culture generally)’s obsessive interest in the “purity” of one’s Japanese heritage and the relative status that heritage confers on one, as evidenced by the contrast he draws with the AKB48 member’s mother’s sex scandal in the same article. It was meant as a criticism of those giving Rola a hard time and while the writer obviously has little time for Rola herself as a “talent”, from a full reading of the article, it’s clearly more sympathetic towards her position than critical.

    There are definitely differences between, say, British and American newspapers with regard to the separation between news and comment, and a paper like The Japan Times with a multinational editorial staff is never going to fit exactly everyone’s idea of how a “proper newspaper” does things, but even so, a full reading of the article puts his word choices into context and makes it easy enough to work out what he meant.

    • Sam Gilman

      Philip Brasor in these comments is not saying it’s meant ironically. He’s saying the word mongrel is literally meant. He defends this by citing a dictionary. I think you may be granting him more sophistication than he merits.

      Even said ironically, it would have been a highly inadvisable turn of phrase for someone like him to wheel out.

      • Paul Smith

        My own reading of Philip Brasor’s comment is that it is ambiguous. It leaves open the possibility that he intended “mongrel” to represent the view of the Japanese media.

        As for Philip Brasor’s sophistication, I’ve been reading him for many years, and I am confident that he is sophisticated enough to have used “mongrel” in the sense that Ian Martin believes he did. However, that’s not the way it comes across in what he actually wrote.

        The most charitable interpretation I can put on this is that Brasor intended “mongrel” to represent the view of the Japanese media, but he did a poor job of expressing himself.

        I would welcome a fuller response from Philip Brasor that addresses this issue unambiguously.