Sunday, 30 November 2014

Hang on, what?

Yeah, seems like no one noticed. Or cared. Anyway, the Abysmal record isn't. It's great. The other one? Not my thing but it does the job.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Gaijin Myths About Japan: The Salaryman

No one type in Japan earns as much discombobulated Gaijin ire as the Salaryman (sarariman). Salarymen are frequently referred to as uncreative, mindless, drones, grunts, alcoholic, misogynist and all that is wrong with Japan. Perhaps there is some measure of truth to these observations. But before we go there, let us shine a light on social-cultural context of the gaijin casting such aspersion in an attempt to understand the behind-the-scenes "how" and "why".

First though, let me be clear about my terminology. I use gaijin as a mildly offensive insult. As you likely know, gaijin is an abbreviation of gaikokujin, "foreigner". Most urban Japanese understand that the contracted version is somewhat abrasive but still use it. In every day conversation, the word is not quite a "nigger", "gringo" or "beaner" but nor is it completely inoffensive. In the right/wrong hands, however, it does become a derogatory term.

My usage is somewhat more specific. In my context, gaijin refers to a stereotypical, willfully ignorant, Anglo-colonial steeped in internet lore on Japan, lacking Japanese language skills, Japanese peers, friends or community and who feels a strong sense of "us versus them". The gaijin is a type of cultural chauvanist, primarily though not exclusively in his early to mid twenties, s/he is always right, Japan is always wrong, his/her country is the epitome of democracy, human rights and social justice and Japan is a racist hotbed of extremism, thought control and repression.

Sigh. This would not be so depressing if it were not so common.

So gaijin hate salarymen. But why? To me, the salaryman represents everything that the gaijin cannot and will not ever be. As an outsider, suddenly injected into Japanese society the gaijin lacks the educational and social context that his same age peers share. Certainly that is a disadvantage but it is not unique. While the sane viewpoint might be for one to work hard at integrating into the community, establishing friendships and other meaningful relationships, the gaijin scorns these connections as merely obligatory, lacking the organic roots of his/her own experience of community building... 

Which took place in another country and to which s/he is no longer a part...

Irony much?

But for what other reasons does the gaijin hate those besuited office workers? The gaijin, frequently resentful as a result of ongoing culture shock, a lack of language and social skills and limited employment prospects finds him/herself positioned in a field with little prestige or vertical movement. This is not inherently negative, everyone has to earn a living and not everyone is ambitious. Some people just want to pay the rent, have enough food and have something to do everyday. But for the gaijin the salaryman's world is so foreign, governed by obscure sempai/kouhai (senior/junior) rules, mandatory parties, inefficiency, subservience and... sometimes... good pay and twice yearly bonuses. Politics of envy, perhaps?

Next comes the gaijin assertion that salarymen are uniform drones, they all dress the same, have the same haircut and abide by corporate dress policies. There are two problems with this: first, have you ever seen how gaijin dress?

Yeah, that's right, fish out of water, often over-sized, no-currency foreign brand names two years, too late. Have you seen the shoulder pads, mis-matched shirts and ties... have you seen the "hilarious" gag ties, tank tops in late Autumn and sunglasses on subways? I have. And so have the salarymen. Be careful to notice that the object of laughter may well be capable of subjecthood, in spite of being Japanese...

The second problem is that gaijin aside from lack of linguistic proficiency also tend to be context blind. A black suited salaryman is a black suited salaryman, right? Look again. Did you notice the angle of the cuts, the fabric type, thickness, durability? Did you have a close look at the stitching on the shirt, the weave, the pattern? Did you notice that all check is not created equal. Can you distinguish between this and last year's check? See overstated the entry level brand name watch on that guy? New to money. See the well made, understated, subtle elegance of the smart phone cover that guy is using? He has been at this a while. 

But the gaijin sees none of this. Even within salarymen there is more diversity than the black suit. Many smaller companies or specific branches of larger companies encourage more creative dress styles as they try to create an image of desirability a means of attracting new recruits. Gaijin frequently do not know how to intperpret such data and assume such salarymen are freaks, hosts or something else other than what they are.

Foreigners in Japan don't have to be gaijin. The first step to giving up gaijin sensibility starts with questioning not only stereotypes but the propensity toward adopting them as valid knowledges. Stay tuned, more on the way.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Gaijin Myths About Japan: An Introduction

A long time ago, scholars and students in “the West” studied East Asia and the Orient. Large quantities of important knowledge were produced by dedicated researchers well before the existence of the internet. The greatest blow to this body of knowledge - ironic since it was steeped in liberal tradition - was its democratization. This occurred in two steps.

First, rising levels of wealth in the west resulted in greater numbers of people began to travel, for pleasure, for new experiences, for commerce and further research. Newly made travelers began to write new narratives freed from the constraints of academia and more in tune with the self discovery spirit of the age. Autobiographical accounts trickled into mainstream media and began to shape the West’s image of “the East” with a speed and reach far exceeding that of traditional academe.

Next came two phases of what we call the internet. The first phase - still relatively obscure, its content limited to those with the money, infrastructure and skills to produce and publish content – developed into a fusion of scholarly knowledge and autobiography as an increasing volume of information became available. These early internet pioneers had a profound impact on the not only the quality of real and useful information but also in developing pseudo-legitimate mythologies.

Without peers, without a community to immediately be challenged by and answer to, such early virtual locales were invested with a weight of authenticity at times somewhat disproportionate to their veracity.

This phase (the Geocities Daze) gave way a common experience of the internet built on social networking technologies and eventually liberated from the desktop by smartphones. This new phase distributed information at a rate and breadth completely outstripping its now rather archaic ancestor. In the first phase, the creation of knowledges, however (im)perfect required a significant investment of time. So too did their acquisition and utilization. However, in the second phase (the Smartphone Daze) as a result of converging technologies (improved search engines, twitter, facebook, aggregate readers etc) new information can be widely disseminated in moments.

Given the capacity for instant feedback/critique it is possible to assume that quality of information may be guaranteed through crowd control. Not unlike Wikipedia. However, as is repeatedly seen, in multiple locations on a daily basis, the sheer volume and variety of information, coupled with an increased tendency toward laziness has resulted in a form of critical blindness. In other words, because of information overload, because of homogenized social communities built on superficial connections, confirmation bias is an all too common feature of contemporary public knowledge production processes.

So what does this have to do with Asia? And what does it have to do with Japan?

I recently read an article in the trash known as Japan Today. A news re-publisher with an extremely toxic and immature comment feature. The article in question can be found here: JT Trash About Teaching English.

A location in which commentators with little to no local language ability or formal/trained educational education experience reheated dated arguments about why “they can’t learn English”.

So why do I care?

I have been living in Japan for over ten years. I have said, read, heard and seen the same trash stereotypes over and over. And the thing is, with so many foreigners orking and living in Japan, you might think that these out of date, at times verging on unbelievable knowledges would have been thoroughly disproved. But as I wrote above, confirmation bias, lack of depth and failure to engage with local communities has seen not only the continuation of these knowledges but their amplification through contemporary internet technologies.

This little feature series is an attempt to address some of them from a long term resident’s perspective. Brace yourself because it is not going to be nice, feelings might be hurt and fantasies popped. Part One: The Salaryman coming soon.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Corrosion of Conformity - Deliverance

This review started out quite different to its current form. But it
read like something on Metal Archives or Angry Metal Guy so I had to
kill and reincarnate.

Take two...

It must have been the end of a southern-hemisphere, sub-tropical
winter in an insignificant rural town. I say "must have" because I
remember it being cool and comfortable as I lay on my bed, listening
to Deliverance. I know I was "comfortable" because I fell asleep and
had one of those precious dream sleeps influenced by music seeping in
without me being conscious.

Twenty years later, I am still listening.

I used to think I owned this album, however, truth be told,
Deliverance owns me. First on CD, later on cassette, mp3, CD again and
soon, in the trail of crackling energy of its just passed twentieth
anniversary of release... at long last... on deluxe vinyl reissue.

I have in quiet moments, fantasised about which albums crucial to the
development of my musical personality I would do a special vinyl
release for, should I ever win the lottery. Deliverance has been at
the top of that list.

More than almost any other album, I have puzzled over the lyrics,
unpicked the riffs, replayed the solos in my mind while riding through
dusty dusks. I simply can't wait to start doing it again.

Deliverance is available for pre-order at Prosthetic Records.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

The! Projuis-arrrghz!

Dunn gaht sumfin stuck in mah craw.

One day the metal internet woke up and discovered production. The next day it learned about mastering. Someone used the word "dynamics" and with an unnaturally intimate connection with wikipedia the modern armchair producer was born.

Make no mistake, I am appreciative of the technological leaps that occur year on year, the kind that make the prohibitvely expensive studio tools of yesterday, today's plugins and freeware. Cockos' Reaper DAW changed my life in all the right ways.

However, just as these innovations brought me joy, so too did they turn somewhat annoying audio-nerds into opinion belching internet annoyances. Their knowledge is kind of like a fart in an elevator or a sexist remark by a "friend" in the wrong/worst possible context - inappropriate and unwanted.

That is correct, dear reader - they hear a hard mastered album and scream "brick walled". They run it through their favourite audio editor to proove for once and for all that they are objectively right! They proclaim judgements of value, complain loudly and say how it should (have) been...

Yet languish at home without a single audio production credit to their names...

All the while listening to low-bitrate streams through cheap/laptop/smartphone speakers... somebody better be collecting my sighs because they could be making a lot of money.

A Southern Paradox.

I am from the south. Not that South, but a south. And not the "south of the world"that Sepultura sang about. Further south than The South but by fluke of geography and the British Empire, merely an oversized outpost in view of the Southern Cross. Though if that's not south enough, then being born in the year of the horse, the corresponding year of said annum being south (look it up - or check out the diagram below) surely qualifies me to some extent.

So where does all this come from? It is not about authenticity but it also is in part.

Ever since I played the Civil War computer game, North South at my friend's house as a child, I was enamoured of The South. As a child, I always cheered for the baddies. Not necessarily because I believed in their "causes" but because they always had the better colours, better uniforms, better tech and more interesting characters. In North South the south were the baddies but the game let you play as them.

It was not and is not the case that I am a proponent of slavery and other parochial, exploitative and unjust traditions embedded in the society and geography of the time. Rather it is that I am a country boy myself. I grew up surrounded by agriculture, I remember a time when rivers were not just dirty, polluted drains for industry. I remember a time before franchises and pride taken in local production.

It is the deeply felt connection with nature so critical to constructing images of the south that still resonates with me. The smell of warm mud after rain in the summer, cicadas, willow trees and endlessly blooming oleandar, crepe myrtle and local flora, the humidity... just as an agrarian lifestyle was wrenched away from the south at the conclusion of the civil war, so too was the torpid pace of my own historic homelands.

What most people tend to think about the American Civil War is that it was all about slavery. In reality, slavery as a condition of unification and motivation for the Union was a late (yet rational and necessary) addition to the cause. The American Civil war was first and foremost political and economic. It was a war over the right of secession and a war of (futile) resistance against the march of industrialisation as the new economic standard.

Of course, it would be ignorant to say that slavery as a custom and socio-economic system was somehow separate to secession and "way of life". It was not. Nevertheless, it was the last gasp, the rallying of resources on an American scale, the gall to resist that rings true with me.

I have no gilded view of the south in the United States. This little essay is not an attempt to mask or otherwise obscure the real and pernicious, ongoing legacy of deep racism, the psychological and intellectual mauling of people's hearts and minds by peculiar American interpretations of Christianity as well the crippling and far too common blight of poverty on numerous communities.

However, this troubling little writing is about the loss of connection between metropolitan, always connected human lives and nature. It is about generations of children born into a world in which the subjugation of nature is simply given. It is a lament (to follow a previous tearless lament) to an economy that existed before unsustainable, neurotic scales of economy. The civil war was won by the industrialists. The industrialists went on to rule the world.

Yet, a little version of the confederate flag waves within me. Sure, it is dirtied by wrong deeds and injustice, it is bloodied and often wrong headed. But it dares to stand proud and remember a past that for only concepts remains tangibly close.

I got both head and heart, both North and South.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Done got taken: a distant, tearless lament.

Before hope and desire could congeal around digital (semi) immortality there were quiet, inarticulable dream spaces. Nascent revelations, explorations clung to the extreme peripheries of consciousness. A kind of reverse nostalgia, a premonition of deja vu, a familiar echo from the futures. Bound concepts, so familiar yet too subtle, too fragile to be teased into the concrete.

When on past occasions, when extracted from cognitive-mystic space, a concept's initial reach was less than today but the price of restricted distance was balanced with an increase in depth relative to time in rumination.

Before the tools for forgery, for forging, exceptional will was required for the process of extraction and so many facets, possibilities received gentle nourishment in daydreams and in the spaces created by forgetfulness and the misremembered.

In-betweens and never-weres, such sad yet beautiful non-existences. Their form, their cling to the unique contours of inexpression, given passion through elision. Just when apprehension appears certain, they retreat, millions of filaments realigning with myriad other ideas.

So I am left with an explicable red man, cyberpunks who lost the war and friends who cannot but still return to familiar paths. We meet at these intersections and glimpse, just close enough to recognise? Question and cherish the tender squeeze on my heart.

Slight return but not to the same. Each and every flight and fancy, seeds both immature and premature are carelessly broadcast. Each one, on its own insignificant but with the grim weight of repetition become not monstrous in the sense of chaos but monstrous in its ordinariness.

So that which should have been left in dreams, left between cognitive interruptions, eruptions is born as a forever-incomplete chimera hardened into permancy through high frequency oscillating electric signals.

And so I lament what never was, and shed not a tear.