Friday, October 22, 2010

Freeter Buys a House/ フリータ、家を買う: Welcome to Ideology

In America, cultural critics have generally become used to having to really work to show how cultural products reinforce norms or bad habits.  Often enough, there's a real dialogue about whether something is 'good' or 'bad' for the culture, or for building a more just and egalitarian society.  With its extremely sophisticated and competitive media market, and a jaded populace that tends to look askance at any message that's too straightforward, America tends to produce a lot of stuff that winks, nods, and ultimately means something totally different than it initially seems to.

That's not how things seem to work in Japan, at least not in the very conservative world of television.  Even a semi-satirical show like Bengoushi no Kuzu literally ends each episode with a moral lesson. Next up in the ideology sweepstakes is Furiitaa, Ie wo Kau - "Freeter Buys a House." According to the synopsis, this is the story of a kid who gets a job out of college, but hates his boss and quits. He can't find a new one, but begins stringing together part-time jobs, becoming a freeter (a Japanese term meaning, more or less, full-time part-timer). This causes his family - particularly his father - mounting distress. His mother protects and cares for him, until one day his sister can't take it anymore and berates him about the stress he's so inconsiderately causing everyone around him.  He has a revelation and decides to dedicate himself fully not just to finding a full-time job, but to saving the 100 man yen (1 million) needed to buy himself a house and, presumably, become a grown-up.

The show's premise reflects a common, damaging trope of contemporary dialogues about Freeter - that the employment problems increasingly bedeviling Japan's youth are due to their own moodiness, laziness, and unwillingness to sacrifice. Look at the poster above - his loutish ways are literally tearing the family apart! I haven't read the book, and we'll see how the show itself develops, but don't be surprised if this becomes another forum for beating up young people as scapegoats for macroeconomic and institutional problems.

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