Sunday, August 29, 2010

the art of ignoring

SODCASTING This is the broadcasting of music in public through the loudspeaker on one's mobile phone. The result is not only often intensely annoying to bystanders but is also tinny, lacking in bass because of the small loudspeaker size. (Some music tracks are being rerecorded to transpose bass parts into a higher register so that they can be heard in such circumstances.) The term is a play on others ending in "--casting", particularly "podcasting" (downloading recordings from the net to a personal audio player). One wag said that SODCASTING is "podcasting for the grass roots" or, in British slang, for the sods, unpleasant or obnoxious people.
--Michael Quinion, World Wide Words

That's a new word to me. But, doesn't it also refer to the annoying sound leaking out of their headphones? It is the most annoying thing I experience in the crowded Tokyo subway (well, I also remember....I WAS once groped by a man or a woman....I was too polite to ask whether).
Wearing headphones or earphones in public and leaking the annoying tinny sound may mean many. There is a similarity between wearing headphones in streets and riding in a car. In either situation one may see as if the view of the street is screened. The headphones bring a soundtrack for the view. I'm not breathing in the same rhythm the street breathes. There is a well known joke in which a girl wearing headphones enters a hair salon. A hairdresser asks her to take the headphones off, but she refuses and orders to cut around them. The next month she, still wearing the headphones, again comes to the same salon, and the same hairdresser does the same. The next month she, still wearing the headphones, comes, but a new hairdresser, without asking her, takes them off by his own hand. The girl drops dead on the floor. He picks up the headphones and listens to them: "Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out...." There appears to be many variations of this joke, and the girl is often (unfairly, perhaps) described as a blonde. There may be a truth in this stupid joke: one needs such a device which creates another space in order to survive. It gives a kind of art of ignoring to one who needs it.


Did you see 'The Shining', based on Stephen King's novel? This is America at its worst. Three people, a family, in a big hotel and still the space is too small for them and they start killing each other. In Japan, even when it is very crowded, you don't feel the pressure, even if you are physically close. This art of ignoring. In the New York subway, even when it's half full, you would have this horrifying experience of the absolute proximity of the Other.
--Slavoj Zizek and Geert Lovink, Japan through a Slovenian Looking Glass, Reflection of Media and Politic and Cinema

It was Japanese company SONY who made Walkman, probably, out of a need of "this art of ignoring" in the late 1970s. It was also the time owning a car (with a car stereo, of course) became fashionable for Japanese college students. The boys felt they needed a car in order to get a girlfriend. The young people wanted more space. In my view, America and Japan are rather similar. Both peoples need something to help them have the art of ignoring. Both are hectic. And nowadays especially when I see some American cartoons, such as South Park, I feel as if Americans are becoming Japanese. The difference may be that the people in Japan virtually don't meet the Other in their everyday life, or at least that's the way they feel.
In my view, the art of ignoring is needed not because of "this horrifying experience of the absolute proximity of the Other," but because of a necessity of being somewhere else. I'm inevitably in a place wherever I go, so in reality there is no "somewhere else." Wanting to be in somewhere else is an excessive part of my drive, and I know it well. Wearing headphones may be a pragmatic way of dealing with this excessiveness.
And this necessity of space is not about individualism. I note that owning a car or wearing headphones functioned as a kind of artificial urban tribalism. In this tribalism, either owning a car or wearing headphones could have functioned for the boys to signal their having of drive: "I have balls."
And, what are they listening to? Zizek's reference to The Shining reminds me of the writer in the film who has already gotten mad and repeats to write down "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy:" an imperative of "enjoy!" Zizek often mentions.
Wearing headphones in the crowded subway is meant for those who yet don't have the art of ignoring. After all, the majority of Japanese people don't need headphones in the public transportation in order to keep their sanity. Most of them are pretty silent.

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1 comment:

  1. I agree with Zizek about this, and your comments. Somehow the atmosphere on the Yamonote line never feels threatening or obnoxious, no matter how crowded it gets, at the worst it becomes physically uncomfortable. I think this is a good thing; part of the social contract in Japan is to hide your identity from others, since it is realized that identity causes this sense of proximity.

    In Europe, in some indescribable way, it doesn't work this way. A crowded subway does indeed make one feel terribly anxious and invaded upon.

    I'm curious about what this was like in the 50's, when people here still dressed more or less alike and in nondescript fashion. I suspect it's something about the public personal aesthetic that enables this kind of physical proximity in Japan, but not elsewhere in the developed world.

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