Jewish World Review March 18, 2011 12 Adar II, 5771
Japan's Drama Plays Out on the Small Screen
By Roger Simon
The streamer at the bottom of the screen says: "Victoria Beckham expecting a girl ... Aerosmith, J-Lo both slated to appear on 'Idol' ... Tiger Woods to appear on 'Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.'"
There is footage of the tsunami ravaging the shoreline. Though it is traveling at enormous speed, it is so vast it appears to be oozing. It looks alive, like an enormous gray slug consuming a car here, a ship there, a house on that street, an apartment building on another.
Nothing is spared. Not schools, or hospitals, or places of worship. The monster wave seems the embodiment of evil, though rationally we know that nature is neither good nor bad. It is indifferent.
The stories from Japan all say the same thing about the Japanese people in the face of calamity: They are stoic, they are orderly, they are polite.
It is only in America where disorder is erupting.
I read on FishbowlDC that Greta Van Susteren of Fox News is furious at CNN for pushing the story that CNN's ratings have taken a significant jump during the crisis in Japan.
"There are times when it is indecent and tasteless to brag," Van Susteren sniffs. "This is one of them."
Van Susteren is also offended by CNN's promotion of its coverage on its own airwaves. "I was told that the other day CNN promoted a show about Japan calling it 'Countdown to Meltdown,' as if it were a sporting event," Van Susteren blogs. "If true, I just don't get it."
I do. Van Susteren may not have noticed, but all tragedy is promoted on television as if it were entertainment: the trial of O.J. Simpson for a grisly murder, the car-crash death of Princess Diana, Chilean miners trapped below ground and, yes, even the combination earthquake-tsunami-nuclear calamity in Japan. It is the nature of TV that everything is promoted the same way, no matter how ghastly the event.
There are rewards for doing so. According to FishbowlDC, "The Japan tragedy sets a new record for CNN.com with more than 60 million viewers watching."
Sixty million viewers is just shy of one out of every five Americans. If one out of every five Americans read my column, I think I'd brag, too.
In Japan, with cities and towns shattered, with houses reduced to the proverbial "matchsticks," and everyone waiting for the next radioactive cloud to pass by, Japanese citizens still dutifully put out their garbage in different bins for recycling.
According to The Washington Post, which has put together a terrific package of stories on Japan, "There has been virtually no evidence of looting or rising crime levels, and the Japanese have been showing stoicism while waiting in long lines."
Traffic is a nightmare, with huge backups, but "with no honking."
No honking? In many American cities, people honk as soon as the light changes. In New York, people honk before the light changes.
At a Japanese convenience store that was open only because the manager had a private generator, people lined up at the cash register with their food items. But when the power went out and the register stopped working, "customers in line returned items to the shelves."
My father was a combat veteran of World War II, fought in the Pacific and came home with a strong dislike of the Japanese. He eventually overcame this prejudice (just as many Japanese people overcame their prejudice against Americans for bombing them not just relentlessly but atomically), and he would teach his children it was wrong to hate in the plural.
I realize that being stoic and well-mannered in times of crisis may not paint a complete picture of the Japanese mindset and culture, but I cannot help but be impressed.
I think if my house were reduced to rubble and I were struggling to find food and water each day, I might not bother separating paper from plastic.
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