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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Edo Period Japan and the White Man: a lesson in closed empires.

This is a slight departure from my normal posts, which discuss things that are awesome. Today we are going to discuss (nerdily, with examples from my thesis-- you know you want a history lesson!) why a certain TV show (aimed at nerds) needs to pick up some of the (nerd) slack. Yeah, that's right Heroes, I'm looking at you.

Last season that show was all anyone could talk about (well that and Meredith's drowning on Grey's Anatomy, but we do not speak of that show) and as a Japanese major, I did find the fact that a good five minutes of any given episode was entirely in Japanese to be awesome. Granted, at times it was interesting Japanese (since apparently Masi Oka does all the translations of his lines? Which kind of just makes him even more adorable.) but Japanese nonetheless.
McWhitey attempts to convince Japanese that he is not blonde
The season season premiere was basically half spent in subtitles, and you know my little language loving heart LOVED IT. What it did not love was the fact that David Anders (SARK) was somehow inexplicably running around in Edo period Japan. Has no one on the show done their historical research?

Granted, I wrote a thesis dealing with Women's Travel in Edo Period Japan, so I may know a bit more about the time period than the average Heroes watcher. However, almost anyone who has taken some Japanese or World history should know the following information:

"In the Edo period, a culture of warriors and warfare found itself a country at peace due to the emergence of what was to become the Tokugawa bakufu, or military government. Not only was the country free from civil war for the first time in over a century, it was also almost free from outside influences, due to the isolationist policy implemented by the Shogunate in 1639. Foreign threats to the Tokugawa reign were thrown out of the country, with only a handful of traders from the Dutch East India Company allowed in a sectioned off area in Nagasaki. Any other foreigners who came to the country were contained and interrogated by the government, and not allowed into the country."

-ME, from my thesis: "Historical and Literary Representations of Women Travelers in Edo Period Japan."

While it may be a bit of an over-simplification of history to say that all foreigners weren't allowed into the country (in fact, the Dutch traders were expected to travel along the Tokaido to pay homage to the Emperor, just as the Daimyo (samurai landowners) did,) the vast majority were not. So how in the world is Sark, with his baby-blues and peroxide blonde hair and his British accent running around in 1671, 32 years after the isolationist period began? I mean, according to Wikipedia, "Other Europeans who landed on Japanese shores were put to death without trial." While we may have discovered that (SPOILER) this might not be a huge issue for David Anders, it still does not explain how the white guy is running around Edo Period Japan being a huge drunk, and no one thinks it is weird.

So, Heroes, can you throw a girl a bone and pretend that David Anders is Dutch, or working for the Dutch East India Company, or has magical superpowers (in addition to his actual superpower) that allow him to appear to be Japanese, horrible foreign accent aside? Also, did they even have peroxide back then? Surely on a show were everyone and their mom has superpowers, you can come up with some plausible explanation for a white dude to be running around a period in Japanese history where no white dudes were running around?

Also, stop making Masi Oka do all the heavy lifting on the Japanese culture front. Hire a translator and a history consultant. It is not like you don't have the budget. If you don't, just off one of the Petrellis and then you will.

And no, even your clever ruse of a shirtless Petrelli will not distract me from my quest to discover why David Anders is running around in Edo Period Japan, being all white. Please answer my questions/hire a history consultant before I have to write yet another blog entry bemoaning the fact that this otherwise enjoyable show is making me angry that I went to school and got an education and now I am too smart for TV. I don't want to be too smart for TV, Heroes! What would I blog about then? So please, sort out this problem asap so I can get back to enjoying my shirtless Petrellis and Japanese speaking David Anders in peace.

If anyone is curious to learn more about Edo Period Japan, I'd recommend watching the excellent, if poorly named, documentary from PBS: "Japan: Memoirs of a Secret Empire." or visiting their website here.

Image from NBC.com.


Karen said...


I had to stop watching that show because everybody speaking Japanese was getting on my nerves so, so badly. It ruined Christopher Eccleston for me, OH MY GOD.


Kati said...

I keep saying I'm not going to watch it anymore, but then they do things like make people (with excellent muscles) be shirtless and have David Anders speak Japanese adorably and hire Kristen Bell. aglkhaglhagjkag.

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