And now that stereotype has a face.
Meet Mr. James, gaijin clown is a rather detailed and well-written article about McDonalds Japan's newest mascot who pretty much embodies stereotypes and prejudices against foreigners. While I don't quite know if I fall in line with the idea of protesting Mr. James, I really can't put the gaijin predicament into better words. Here are some of the best excerpts in my opinion:
Put the shoe on the other foot. Imagine McDonald's, a multinational that has long promoted cultural diversity, launching a McAsia Menu in America featuring a deep-bowing, grimacing Asian in a bathrobe and platform sandals saying "Me likee McFlied Lice!" or "So solly, prease skosh honorable teriyaki sandrich?"
That explains the problem with Mr. James pretty well. Even better, the author describes the sensation of being a gaijin attempting to fit in with an astoundingly accurate metaphor:
When asked if the Japanese language is difficult, I say it isn't. What's difficult is talking to Japanese people. One has to overcome so much ingrained baggage — often instilled from childhood in approved textbooks — that foreigners, particularly the non-Asians, are "guests and outsiders" — illiterate, inscrutable and incomprehensible. Thanks to this, I dare say that in the majority of random interactions, foreigners who do not "look Japanese" have to prove every day to new listeners that they speak Japanese just fine.
It's like having to untangle your headphones before you listen to music. Every. Single. Time. And Mr. James just pulls the knots tighter.
When questioning the offensiveness of this gaijin character based on redeeming social value, the author makes another very good point.
For example, when we see stereotyped characters on the TV show "The Simpsons," fun is poked. But eventually the characters become humanized, part of the neighborhood in The Simpsons' universe. Is Mr. James similarly humanized and included?
Well, Mr. James has a back-story, but it's one of "bedazzled tourist and guest," not one of inclusiveness. No matter how hard he tries (especially since McDonald's rendered his every utterance in katakana), he'll never be Japanese. He is the perpetual "other."
(Note: katakana is the Japanese alphabet used to write words that have their origins in a foreign language.)
I am fond of a quote by Ansel Adams from his book "Born Free and Equal" in the year 1944. The book is a collection of his photos and an inspired essay from visiting a Japanese internment camp in New Mexico during WWII. It goes as such:
In times of war we sacrifice magnificently; in times of peace we prey upon one another with sincerity and determination. The world has seldom seen our superior in intellect and accomplishment, nor has it seen our inferior in many aspects of human relationships.
I have mixed feelings about this now, but it appears that in the 65 years since publication, this quote has become grossly inaccurate.