active maas

The blog of thriller writer Robert Maas

What’s the free world for, anyway?

Good question. Well, for a start, your leaders are no longer shoving you in airplanes to be used as human bombs, but I’ll let that pass. I guess it’s not something you were taught in school.

In my post Who are the fuck police? two months ago, I mentioned that a group of seemingly 15 year old kids calling themselves the “Rudy Boy’s” (sic) sprayed graffiti on a huge white wall just south of Hiroo in central Tokyo.

Far be it for me to perpetuate a cultural cliché, but we all know the Japanese won’t do anything unless somebody else does it first. All praise to the Rudy Boy’s for breaking the inhibition. In the past few weeks, just about every other graffiti artist and spray-can scribbler in town has suddenly discovered that long white wall and added their own messages to it.

Some, I guess, merely tagged it as a rebuke to the Rudy Boy’s. A message to you, ska fans: you’re not the only rebels in town. And if it’s a pissing content you wanted, you got it.

Others saw this as the perfect opportunity to degrade their local environment a little more, because Tokyo just ain’t urban enough. I mean, it’s hard to express ghetto cool when you’re pampered Pokemon-loving middle class kids in one of the economic wonderlands of the developed world.

And some — well, someone out there appears to have a sense of humor, given the example above. It’s almost as if they’re reacting to my earlier post, which of course is highly unlikely since my readership here is all but nonexistent.

At least, I won’t believe it until I see “Fuck the Robert Maas” on the wall. Lord knows he deserves it.

My initial suspicion was that this must also be the work of foreigners. Just look at those lovely letter forms. If only the Rudy Boy’s had such grace and classroom-approved style. Regardless of the strange arrangement of the words, the English seems to be spot on, complete with the all-important period. It’s so genteel it’s just missing the word “Please” at the end.

But I’m not going to prejudge. Here we have a delicious form of self-effacing satire: I’m sloganizing against the very thing I’m doing. I’d say it must have been sprayed by a university professor except the sentiment itself is painfully juvenile, the graffiti equivalent of going to a rally with a placard that says PLACARDS SUCK. You could have couched the joke more subtly, sir.

Unless I’m completely wrong, that is, and you’re actually complaining about a sanctimonious La Toya Jackson single from 2004. Honestly, it wasn’t that bad, especially compared to the sort of thing her brother performed in his later days.

If there’s thought behind this slogan at all (and way to overanalyze, Robert), I presume it’s a commentary on the state of the west after the democratic turmoil of 2016. Here it has some cultural relevance, given Japan’s uncomfortable position, in its own mind, as a little island of evolved western values perched on the edge of a continent full of uncultured Asian barbarians.

Japan has long thought itself to be in the wrong place. This is a feeling that goes deep — all the way to the genes. Though it’s self-evident that the Japanese people migrated over from the mainland, don’t let them hear you say it. They’re a separate species, superior in every way. And there’s a vast army of middle aged conservative men just itching to prove the point through the proxy of their own children. Again.

Better bodies, better minds. As the economy collapses and the Japanese mainland sinks into oblivion, you can still hear them shouting at the mainland: “We’re better than you!”

The brief economic miracle simply reinforced the disdain with which Japan views the rest of Asia. Why bother to build bridges under those conditions?

No, Japan is not a part of Asia. It would like nothing more than for a vast earthquake and tsunami to send it scooting over to the far side of the Pacific where it can cozy up to California.

Japan loves America. Adores it. Worships it. Despite the napalm and atom bombs. Despite the occupation and military bases. Despite American soldiers raping local girls. Despite American operatives having their hooks so deep in the Japanese government that prime ministers tumble the moment they breathe a word of complaint about American policy in the country. Even despite America having gotten rid of mixed public bathing.

I often see grown men in Tokyo sporting “USA” baseball caps. Because that’s the choice, when you come down to it: America or Asia. And Japan is so desperate not to be associated with those subhumans on the mainland that it can choose to ignore almost anything America throws at it. Ignoring unpleasant truths is a Japanese speciality.

Does that include Donald Trump? Well, maybe not. And that seems to me the point of this graffiti. The self-appointed bastion of the democratic free world has been thoroughly debunked in the past few months. If the concept of American freedom is shaky, it puts Japan in an awkward position.

What exactly are the values America brings to the shadowy corners of the world? What precisely is it offering, as a brand, to differentiate itself from, let’s say, missile-lobbing North Korea just across the water from here?

Democracy, by itself, is not enough. Democracy gave us Hitler, Mugabe, and Marcos. Democratic Kampuchea “liberated” its people. There is a very fine line between an empowered, voting population and the rule of the mob. What democracy does not do, as we’ve seen time and again, is protect countries from fringe candidates with ugly agendas.

I think Trump is irrelevant to this argument, as we’ve long known that American democracy is a circus. But Brexit hurts.

Britain voted with its eyes open. Nobody coerced it into the outcome. An intelligent population never believes what’s written on the sides of campaign buses. It wasn’t even following a charismatic leader. Nigel Farage was a clown. No, it was racist rabble-rousing, plain and simple, and it worked.

Trump didn’t prove anything more than the power of celebrity wedded to audience-baiting bluster. Brexit proved that democracy is a dangerous tool if the populace isn’t quite as level-headed as you think it ought to be.

I’m looking forward to the bright ray of hope that is Scotland extricating itself from this mess. About time too for a country that has consistently punched above its weight. But as a Brit, I can no longer wave my little flag and expect people to understand that it stands for a set of positive values that I share. I’m not sure what exactly I share with my home country anymore. Or, in fact, who I am at heart.

So yes, fuck the free world. Or at least those parts of it that have let us all down.

But instead of complaining about it on overpass walls, hidden away in the back streets of Tokyo, isn’t there something you could do about it, Mr. graffiti artist? Because if Japan no longer looks across the Pacific in admiration, where does it look?

Suddenly these small islands are adrift in a wide and empty ocean with no port to cling to. And right now, Japan desperately needs to find somebody willing to be its friend.


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