Suffering from the lack of satire

Regarding Noriko Fujita’s Sept. 29 letter, “When cartoons don’t go our way“: Fujita seems to have absolutely no idea what satire is. This is not surprising in a country whose media habitually treat politicians with deference and where any kind of political satire is lacking. Consequently ordinary people feel loyal to their leaders and tend to rush to their defense if anyone dares lampoon them for their callous mismanagement of, say, a nuclear disaster.

The fact is that, in a mature democracy, people are not afraid to use humor to criticize those in power. Satire is supposed to be “insolent.” Japanese who take criticism of their leaders as a personal affront have no real understanding of their own interests. The real needs of ordinary people seldom coincide with those of politicians and business leaders. The 18th-century English author Samuel Johnson was right to call patriotism “the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

Unfortunately scoundrels like Tokyo Electric Power Co. find plenty of refuge. Mine is one of the millions of lives put at risk by Tepco’s clandestine penny-pinching approach to disaster management. Imagine if there were a forest fire and the government allowed the landowner not only to refuse access to the fire brigade but also to try to put out the fire himself with plastic cupfuls of water. The reason a largely docile population [like Japan’s] allows such an outrage is precisely because there is no tradition of satire or of questioning authority.

And for Fujita’s information, the world in truth probably has about the same amount of “general envy” for a “well-ordered society” based on rigid conformity and vicious bullying as it does for one based on the burqa and the beheading of apostates.

jim makin

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

  • Steve

    Hear, hear. When Fujita defines satire in her letter as something that “should either elicit our admiration or please us”, you know she doesn’t have a clue.
    The lack of satire in the mainstream in this country is bizarre and unhealthy. I’ve asked my Japanese friends, all of whom are generally amused by the same things as me, why this is the case and the usual answer is that satire is boring and they are not interested in politicians, etc. Mmmmm, with such easy pickings as ex-Prime Ministers calling women “baby-making machines”, or describing purportedly low educational scores in America being down to too many non-whites, Simpsons-esque TWITCO shenanigans, etc (the list is endless), one can only despair if this were true.
    Surely the real reason for the lack of mainstream satire is the power of advertising sponsors and their allies in media companies and “talent” agency monopolies (are these actually separate entities?) Any controversy, any critique even slightly outside the narrow bounds of what reactionary, conformist “middle Japan” deems acceptable might be detrimental to sales (as unfortunately its “middle Japan” wots got the lolly) and is therefore banished. Actor Taro Yamamoto’s anti-nuclear stand, anyone? (See And when you get top comedians, who are supposedly brilliantly witty, making harmless quips, but basically praising sponsors in hour long commercials that are barely dressed up as legitimate “documentaries” (i.e. standard prime-time Japanese TV fare) then you know there is no hope. Do these so-called comedians have any pride, or does their need to be famous and to take the corporate shilling over-ride any notion of integrity or chance to be more than anything other than a performing clown? What about some of the other comedians who actually have something to say and their inability to get on the box?
    Consuming this mindless, bland conformist media day in day out for years and years has of course atrophied appreciation of satire. Without satirical ideas bouncing around all the time, it is obvious difficult to add your own to the public debate. This is what those in power want, and, judging by Fujita’s wild ideas and the various ongoing sagas in Japan’s national life, this is what the authorities have got.