Tag Archives: television

Axe Cop vs. Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood

I wonder if Axe Cop is what Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood had in mind when they talk about creative play for children. If you haven’t read Axe Cop yet, go there now to right this injustice. I’ll wait. See, he’s a cop and he’s got an Axe, and he partners up with all these superheroes to fight the likes of Dr. Stinkyhead, King Evilfatsozon, and Vampire Man Baby Kid. The kicker is that it all comes from the head of a 5-year-old Malachai Nicolle and drawn by his 29-year old-brother Ethan.

This comic is just pure fun. Axe Cop runs into wish-granting unicorn-babies, robot zombie worlds, and rides a rocket-powered dinosaur dragon named Wexter (who has guns for arms). Best of all, he defeats bad guys with his axe. Although this is all springing from the mind of a small child, parents groups would be outraged if something like this ever made it to television. The main character is literally an axe-wielding maniac. He uses violence to solve his problems, not words.  His all-birthday cake diet sets a terrible example of healthy eating habits. Worst of all, he only has one girl on his team. Talk about gender stereotyping!

As long as I could remember, adults were always trying to impose their insecurities on kids’ playtime. I can distinctly remember as an eight year old finding out what the words “violence” and “influence” meant from a TV Guide column. GI Joe, Transformers and Robotech were supposed to influence me to commit violent acts. Even as a kid I could tell this was pure garbage. It’s a children’s cartoon, not mind control! In fact, I remember many episodes warning against the dangers of mind control.

The problem is we don’t recognize childhood for what it is. We’ve got this idea that childhood is an idyllic paradise free of problems where everyone plays nice and no one calls anyone names. Malachai is a nice, normal 5-year-old boy who did what any 5-year-old boy would do when presented with the opportunity of infinite possibility. He took the most extreme elements he could find in his world and mashed them up into a story that’s entertaining for him and everyone else on the internet. If we really want children grow up to be more creative and think for themselves, we need less social engineering and more Axe Cop!

You Do So Have a TV

You do so have  TV.

Yes, you!

You know who you are, but trust me, you’re not alone. That is why I’m writing.

So you say you don’t have TV?

Then why are you filling me in on Lost, Heroes or Doctor Who?

Those are television shows, of which you would have no knowledge unless you (gasp!) watched TV!

You start to stammer and sweat. A TV? N-no, no I would never let one of THOSE in my house.

Oh really? Then what is this strange device you are reading this post on? Is it capable of transmitting visions over great distances of time and space? Then you have what could be called a television.

Why do we still wear that derisive murmur of “I don’t watch TV” as some kind of intellectual badge of honor? How does being out of touch with one form of media make us smarter? Do we aspire to be like my wife’s English professor who walked into his lecture on September 11, 2001 and asked what was with all the long faces? That means we’ve bought into all those crazy myths our parents told about the “Boob Tube”, that it will make your eyes fall out or turn your imagination to cottage cheese. I know that TV has traditionally been a scary thing. It was a constant stream of lies pumped through colored lights, told by an arcane heirarchy of network executives that sacrifice animals to the FCC during their nightly meetings. To control what went on the TV screen required letter writing campaigns and petitions, most of which went un-noticed. Now that computers and DVRs are here, we seem to be determined to erase that unfortunate point in our media history. Just because we choose which show we want to watch doesn’t mean we get to project this facade of mental purity. Unless you are willing to completely unhook from the whole digital superhighway, call that AVI file or youtube video what it is and has been for the past 50 years. TELEVISION.

The Trip Part 9: Yatta! Yatterman!

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Now that I was in Japan, I would regret it if I didn’t take in some form of anime-themed entertainment that would take months to be released in Canada. Theo and Tarra invited Sara and I to the “Yatterman” movie, which had just come out the week before. It fit the bill perfectly. “Yatterman” was based off of the 1970s anime of the same name. It’s about  two mechanics, Gan-chan and his girlfriend, Ai-chan. They travel the world on a robot dog called the Yatterwan to recover the fantastic Dokuro stone from the clutches of the evil Doronbo gang. The gang consists of Tonzura, a pig-headed muscle-man, Boyakky, the lecherous evil genius, and the bossy Doronjo, who under all the bondage gear just wants to find a good man and settle down. Despite being in all Japanese, the movie was fun, campy and colorful. It made fun of the fact that it was based on a cartoon by showing how ridiculous all of the formulaic transformations would be if they were in real life. I won’t give away any spoilers, but it also teaches everyone about the evils of tea-bagging.

In addition to the lovely film, we were also treated to the little differences in Japanese theater-going. Every ticket was assigned a specific seat. There were detailed maps on the screen showing the way to the exits, which made the theater feel a bit like an airline flight. We saw previews for two American films, “Bolt” and “Marley”. I had only seen both films from their trailers, and the differences were striking. While the American previews played up the snarky humor of both films, the Japanese trailers focused more on the emotional parts of the films and, to my surprise, made me want to see them more. Are Western entertainment companies trying to hide the sad parts from the audience, or do Japanese audiences need to see more of a film before they make the decision to see it?

While we’re on the subject of Japanese entertainment, Sara and I had quite a bit of time to check out Japanese television. There is anime, although it’s not running constantly. If there is an anime cable channel, we weren’t getting it in the apartment. There was a documentary on NASA to commemorate Japan’s contribution to the International Space Station. It was interesting because they would show the stock footage, the narration, and the re-enactments (with Western actors, so this was a well-budgeted production) and then they would cut back to the studio with a couple of stalwart experts demonstrating the distance from the Earth to the Moon to a panel of celebrities. Occasionally, there would be an insert to the reactions of the celebrities to what they were seeing. For example, the actresses teared up on witnessing the funeral of the Apollo 1 astronauts. It turns out that Japanese television shows do this on a regular basis. They would show something, and have a panel of celebrities comment on it. In addition to the space program documentary, there was also a show where people would eat their dinner in a room full of puppies or pot-bellied pigs and the panel would watch what would happen. It seems almost crass to inject the opinions of celebrities into things like the space program, but do we sell ourselves short by keeping the idea of information separate from the guilty pleasures of VH1? We decry that Ashton Kutcher is getting more twitter followers than CNN, but instead of setting these two forces against each other, perhaps we should be getting them to work together.

Concerning Japanese game shows, there are many, and they are wackier than ever. My favorite of these was a show where these two guys dressed like Prince Valiant went to peoples houses offering them money if they could win a game of hide and seek.  The Prince Valiant guys would get clues on the contestants’ whereabouts via traps set near the hiding places. We watched a family win 1 million Yen (around $10,000) by hiding themselves in various places in their own house. The small daughter won by hiding in the bottom drawer of a china cabinet. The 100 million yen (million dollar) contest was much tougher. About 20 contestants hid in an electronics store, and when they were caught they would get mud, paint, and other substances thrown on them. One guy had tarantulas thrown on him, so subsequent prisoners would enter the losers circle saying stuff like, “Why is everyone stuck in the corner-OH GOD NO GET AWAY!” Suffice to say, nobody won the grand prize.

Seeing those people humiliated on national television reminded my why US shows often miss the point of Japanese game shows. They spend so much time trying to bare the souls of the contestants or checking the instant replay to realize that such shows are not about rewarding skill or knowledge, they are about hilariously punishing ignorance!

The Trip Part 8: Japan 101

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We met up with our friends Theo and Tarra, who were staying at the same apartment complex we were. We decided to go on a little whirlwind tour of the city via the Yamanote line, an elevated train that circles all of Tokyo. Since this was Theo’s third trip and Tarra’s second, they gave us some important pointers about getting by in Japan.

– When you go to pay for something, you place your money in a small cash dish which gives the salesperson time to wrap up your purchase or calculate your change.

-Don’t tip the wait staff at restaurants. The tip is worked into the meal price and the wait staff will go to great lengths to give you back your change. Restaurants do this to ensure you are a repeat customer rather than just a one-time big spender.

-When using the washroom, bring your own wash-cloth to dry your hands. Most public restrooms will have no toilet paper, a hold-over policy from when people would steal toilet paper in the early days after the war. It’s customary to use kleenex, which is commonly handed out at street corners to advertise pachinko parlors and other such things.

-If you are having trouble communicating with a Japanese person, write down what you want to say. Most Japanese took English in middle school and high school, and are more likely to understand English in written form rather than spoken.

We took a walk through Ueno park to look at some Cherry Blossoms, then took the subway to Asakusa to see the Senso-ji, the oldest temple site in Tokyo. After lunch, we headed to Akihabara and had tea at one of the first maid cafes in Tokyo. We ended off the trip with a hearty dinner of Shabu-Shabu in Shinjuku.

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Japan, like any other far off place, is surrounded by so much myth and hearsay in Canada. Some people will tell you that it’s full of nothing but buttoned-down salary-men and office ladies, and others would have you believe that it’s a saucer-eyed mecca of anime-themed insanity. I was glad to finally go there myself and get my own impressions of the country.

The first thing that I noticed about Japan was the signage. Everything and every place seemed to come with its own set of instructions. Trains, bathrooms and snack packaging are all designed to be fairly easy to use without any questions. This might strike people as kind of stuffy, but I look at it as the product of a people that just likes to know where to go in life. I think this attention paid to organization and instruction has created a very high penetration rate for advanced technology like cell phones and televisions. The Japanese can trade up cell phones every three months because NTT DocoMo is willing to hold a customer’s hand and facilitate the change over, rather than throwing a data cable and an Indian call center agent at them and say “get to it”.

On that note, salesmanship is considered real work in Japan. Over here, we have this image of salespeople as Willy Loman from “Death of A Salesman”, pathetic souls with no vocation besides hocking the work of other people. In Tokyo, there are people on megaphones and flashy signs everywhere. Once you’re in the store, you never get the feeling that you should buy something or get out. The salespeople are having fun selling to you and you in turn have fun shopping there.

Japan has a lot of things that we in the West would consider very libertarian in nature. Cigarette and beer vending machines are restricted by legislation here in Canada, but in Japan these things exist because of a strong sense of organization and community. It’s kind of a busy-body philosophy. Many businesses will not serve students during school hours and if a child decided he wanted to buy a pack of cigarettes, passersby would think nothing of interrupting him. It makes you think about the kinds of freedoms we could enjoy if people simply took an active interest in the lives of people around them.

The Trip Part 7: Welcome to Tokyo

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After another wonderful flight with the good people of Japan airlines, Sara and I faced the decidedly less escorted part of our trip. Our mission, which we had no choice but to accept, was to make it from Narita airport to a pay-phone in Shinjuku station on the other side of Tokyo. From there, we were to take the Chuoh line from Shinjuku station to Nakano, where we would meet Makoto, the care-taker of the apartment we were renting. The first part of the trip was rather easy. We were both armed with Japan rail passes that would take us anywhere in the country if we wanted to. We did hit a little snag in Shinjuku. The million or so people that travel through that station everyday made it a little difficult to find a phone. However, I was able to make use of some of the Japanese I learned in university and so we found the pay phone and all Makoto had to do was look out for the weary-looking foreigners exiting the station. He did, and led us to our rented Tokyo apartment.

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The Nakano broadway mall was very busy with shoppers and salespeople, but the buzz quickly died down as we passed through the winding streets behind it. You could see how safe everyone felt. There weren’t any of the hurried gaits you would see even in Vancouver’s West End. The apartment itself was like a large trailer. There were hardwood floors leading to a small bathroom, kitchen, and bedroom. As small as it was, it was still a house of the future in some ways. The heating and hot water were all computer controlled. The rice maker had a suction lid that could keep your rice going for days. The washing machine fit in a closet and was almost silent. The small television had a large kill switch at the top that would allow it to remain plugged in without using any power to maintain the remote control connection. The garbage can was divided into four categories: Kitchen waste/combustibles, PET bottles, Non-combustibles, and glass bottles/aluminum cans. Each category had a different pick-up day. Even with the steep learning curve, I liked the apartment much better than a hotel.  I’m never comfortable with the idea of hotel housekeeping, and when you are travelling to foreign country, going native can give you a true international experience.