Terrace House, hate to say

Hana Kimura, a star on Terrace House, a Japanese docu-soap on Netflix, appears to have killed herself after facing online bullying for her participation on the show. Because of Terrace House’s popularity, her death has gone so far to lead the Japanese government into considering new legislation against cyberbullying. Maybe it’s a nice gesture, but given the ease of anonymity on the internet, I doubt that whatever legislation they produce will have much real effect.

Instead, I might also look to the structure of reality television itself and the rude style of criticism of participants in such series, extending even to professional critics at major newspapers, not just a minority of hateful trolls online. And despite plenty of commentators noting the ways Japanese shaming culture might have contributed to the bullying, this is not a problem unique to Japan either: cross-culturally, reality television stars kill themselves with surprising frequency. I want to say that this death might bring some change — for example, Netflix quickly cancelled the show — but audiences seem to want more and decades of indifference across the world suggests that reality television will make another comeback.

If I can’t change the genre though, I can change myself — I’m done. I gave Terrace House a reluctant go once for being ‘gentler’ reality TV. But it’s just an illusion. I am not going back.

Living in a glass house, ‘Terrace House’ is my nightmare

Via Netflix

[A friend recommended that I watch Terrace House: Boys and Girls in the City on Netflix to keep my Japanese listening in good practice with “real” conversation. Except despite that genre label “reality TV,” I doubt that anything I’m seeing is actually like… real. Nooo no no, it’s creepy instead!]

Terrace House: a plain record of six strangers – three men and three women — living together in a nice home with a nice car and no script! Hailed by critics as a gentler form of reality television without the exploitative excesses of American drama farms like The Real Housewives or The Bachelor, Netlfix’s Japanese docu-soap has won praise as unpretentious “real” reality television. Or, to paraphrase a friend, “Yeah, it’s reality TV, but it’s not stupid reality TV.”

Alright, sure, it’s not that stupid. It doesn’t have (much) contrived drama or forced romance or (thank god) any humiliating mini-games. Terrace House matches the blurb — six people just live together and get on with their lives. But oh man, how could anyone call it real either? And “wholesome?” No friend, it terrifies me! Big Brother is watching, the panopticon, living in a glass house… choose your strained metaphor. It’s my surveillance nightmare.

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Cruelty in print, vicarious regret

I wanted to write about the Japanese documentary / reality television show Terrace House (on Netflix) but the post has taken too long to complete. So instead, for now, how about a brief comment on an excerpt from this conversational review of the series via the New York Times of all places. In it, the reviewers discuss their least favorite subjects in the documentary:

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How ‘The End of the F***ing World’ cautions against the mental health medicalization of fiction

Alyssa looking a little distressed via the season 2 trailer. Netflix spells it with those *** so whatever, I will too. I also wish I had a brighter image, but it’s a dark show…

Netflix’s The End of the F***ing World got a sequel season! Who could have guessed after the ambiguous dead-end from the original series? And I liked the original for having the audacity to resist profit-seeking seasonitis and end…

But with that initial gripe out of the way, I liked the second season. Though it lost the unrelenting forward energy of the teenage-runaway road-trip from the first season, it still works well as a thoughtful examination of love and other adolescent delusions, this time from a more mature perspective now that James and Alyssa, the lead couple, have aged out of their aborted Romeo-and-Juliet fantasy. If nothing else, I enjoyed it for another chance to hear Alyssa say “fuck” and “shit” in her adorable Yorkshire accent (and beyond Alyssa, the whole cast imbues just one impassive word — “okay” — with so many meaningful, implicative tones that they could craft an entire language).

No, I don’t have any serious problems with the second season or even much to say.

Rather, I’ve been more interested in the way people have discussed the series after the fact. With few exceptions, most of the reviews I have read describe the characters in psychiatric terms: depression, PTSD, autism, social anxiety, borderline and antisocial personality disorders. To be fair, those professional writers do cover other varied themes like The End of the F***ing World’s unique trope-busting crush on teenage romance stories. But good luck finding a fan discussion on social media covering any thematic topic other than mental health while armchair psychiatrists on Quora and Reddit argue over where James falls on the autism or antisocial spectrums.

The experience reading through so many other’s thoughts on The End of the F***ing World left me wondering: when did fiction become so heavily medicalized? Why has it become a default impulse to diagnose characters, not with basic emotions like sadness or loneliness or more lofty literary problems like ennui or alienation, but with specific psychiatric pathologies like depression and PTSD?

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Alita: Battle Angel (2019): Good enough for a 12 hour flight, but what else?

Source: 20th Century Fox Film Corp, gotta keep the branding and socials because the movie felt like little more than an advertisement for potential sequels — and on that too, blue and orange? Even the poster feels uninspired. I love Christoph Waltz in that silly hat and Mahershala Ali in those kickin’ glasses though!

[Ohhh… slow on publishing this… jet-lagged and not really coping. I don’t have anything to say in this post that professional writers haven’t already argued months ago but again, I want to remain in the practice of saying anything at all. So, some edited notes I took on the plane.]

I want to start with a question: to anyone who has watched the live-action adaptation of Alita: Battle Angel, did it have a plot? Reviewing these notes now, I’m trying to remember what happened in the movie and can only come up with a few establishing vignettes strung along by a character thread — the amnesiac cyborg heroine Alita — instead of a narrative one.

Of course, I’m already being too harsh; a plot can be as simple as what a character does. Going to the corner store to buy a soda like I just did tonight could count as a plot and Alita certainly does… things. She falls in love and fights a bunch of underworld thugs and uncovers a conspiracy and discovers her true self and becomes roller-derby champion and whatever else.

But what I more mean is that the movie lacks the sort of recognizable narrative you might expect from a blockbuster cinematic experience — rising and falling action moving towards a climactic goal. Because — to spoil something that doesn’t happen  — Alita: Battle Angel doesn’t end. Or rather, like with the distinction between plot and narrative, it doesn’t conclude. When the movie finally seems ready to move into its climax — Alita will confront the true puppet-master antagonist lurking in the floating city above! — it abruptly stops. Having spent two hours establishing the universe and character motivations, a hype song plays, Alita looks up to the sky determined to face the ‘final boss,’ and the credits roll.

I blinked in disbelief. Ending? Now? Um, alright, 8 hours left in the flight, let’s try The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then Bigfoot. Ugh, well that was terrible. Let’s take a nap instead.

Continue reading “Alita: Battle Angel (2019): Good enough for a 12 hour flight, but what else?”