Monday, June 23, 2008

The "Juno Effect" Cause For Concern in Japan

In two different contexts yesterday people asked me about the movie Juno's effect on high school kids in America. You know, the cute Academy Award-nominated flick starring Ellen Page as a smart and funny teen who gets pregnant and throws everyone's lives into comic confusion by deciding to carry the child to full-term and then give it up for adoption.

Something to do with its having fingernails.

Juno is playing here in Japan, and I'm not sure what its impression is here. Some of the humor is pop culture oriented; for example, Juno claims at one point to be Morgan Freeman and asks her friend if she has any "bones that need collecting." Actually, it was Denzel Washington who was in the film The Bone Collector, but Juno's mistake is our boon... unless you're someone who's only vaguely aware of who either Freeman or Washington are, or that there ever was a movie called The Bone Collector. And why would Juno say that in the first place?

But I do know what the impression those 17 pregnant girls at Gloucester High School in Gloucester, Massachusetts and the media's inevitable (and stupid) linking of that phenomenon with what I consider a pretty innocuous and sweet little movie have made here... at least on a few people.

They have the impression that teen pregnancy is now a fashion in the United States.

You know the United States. That place where all the weird stuff happens. The gun murders; Santa Claus; the unceasing refering to a presidential candidate by his race (Black Obama?); a growing number of young comics-obsessed people who proudly refer to themselves as "otaku;" people eat enough food for three at each meal; Angelina Jolie adopting every kid in sight; the grotesquely weird and complex American football; monumentally large cars, streets and houses... and now the Juno Effect.

I didn't see it- and I wouldn't have understood much of it even if I had- but evidently some Japanese news program ran a segment on the Gloucester 17 and, if the questions I fielded yesterday (as one of the few representatives of America available to understandably curious people) are any indication, it must have used Jamie Lynn Spears and a few Juno clips to illustrate the kinds of stories and influences kids in America watch and internalize.

This is one of those common media dysfunctions. Of course local media only report on those bizarre or tragic international stories, giving the Americans Joe and Jane Lunchbox and their Japanese counterparts Hiro and Hiromi Bento some seriously skewed ideas about foreign cultures. Thus, in America, Japan is the land of sex robots and tentacle porn where salarymen never go home and their kids wear sailor suits to school; and in Japan, America is the land of never-ending gun crime, buffet dining, Beyonce songs and action flicks with steroidal monstrosities leaping in front of massive explosions.

And teen pregnancy crazes.

No one reports on the commonplace and who would watch it if they did? Even I tend to focus on things that are fun and esoteric, like the street fashions, the avant garde music and various subcultures. But you have to understand that these things aren't representative of anything but themselves and their participants. And that every culture has these undercurrents. It's a matter of perspective and normalcy is relative to familiarity.

When you think someone else is bizarre, chances are they're thinking the same thing about you. In fact, both Japan and America are pretty boring, workaday places most of the time. The vast majority of people in either country want basically the same banal, inane, comforting things. They go to work, come home, have dinner, watch TV, go to bed and do it all again the next day. We actually have a commonality of values- family, friends, law and order, doing the right thing at the right time, fitting in, being liked, being nice. Something to think about.

And while thinking about it, enjoy the tribal avant-sounds of "Umo" by OOIOO:

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