After reading Debito Arudou’s Sept. 1 article, “Meet Mr. James, gaijin clown ,” I am not sure what Arudou is more upset about: Mr. James as a threat to foreign identity in Japan, or foreigners who refuse to join Arudou in his dramatic outrage. I would like to suggest that Arudou’s writing does more harm than good for the “foreign cause” in Japan.
Arudou’s article reads like editorial filler in a campus newspaper — berating others for not seeing the light and assuming the worst of reader intelligence. Arudou shuts out all dissent: “Don’t tell people who feel adversely affected by media campaigns to just suck it up.” Many of the terms he uses are charged with meaning disproportionate to his argument. Should I measure my human worth — or lack of it — by a feeling of “perpetual ‘otherness’ “? Device wins over substance.
In his defense, Arudou makes up for a lack of substance with quantity, as when he recounts in painful detail his “three tests for whether stereotyping is offensive or unfair” [sic] and applies this test to the case of Mr. James. His long list of dodgy comparisons is defended only by anecdote. Arudou wrongly assumes that we trust him enough to give us the straight goods. He offers only his tenure in Japan as guarantee to the reader.
It is bloody hard to write about the problems of a minority group within a larger, homogeneous society. I am not denying the problems foreigners face in Japan, or that there is a need for discussion or protest. Simply, the means to bring about social change must take the upper hand. They must be made of better, stronger stuff than third-rate cynicism. Arudou adopts the same flimsy, insensate attitudes he pretends to rail against.
Mr. James is not the problem here. A burger dork will not destroy the collective image of foreigners in Japan. Arudou doesn’t give the Japanese public enough credit to see through the ruse. Arudou’s framing of this issue is the problem, despite his well-meaning intentions. A better way to raise a stink over Mr. James would probably require a slower hand — a measured approach that does not lend itself well to drama or puffery.
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