Warning: tangents ahead
They kicked us out of the IES Center early today; they were setting up a farewell party for the IES students who've been here since January. So no pictures for now, though I may be able to sneak some in come Monday.
Anyway, last Thursday our class engaged in the final part of our three-part Go To Places It's Impossibly Hard To Get Tickets For Series: the Ghibli Museum. This museum, in the middle of a park on the far side of Tokyo, was the brainchild of Hayao Miyazaki. The legendary director of films such as Princess Mononoke, Kiki's Delivery Service, and Spirited Away, Miyazaki is (very oversimplistically) more or less the Walt Disney of Japan. He differs, among other ways, in his production style: instead of a warehouse with hundreds of animators, Miyazaki uses a small group of talented artists, each focusing on a different character. This ups the production time tremendously, of course, but brings a certain quality and intangible spirit to Miyazaki's work. (I wouldn't know; I seem to be the only person in the entire group who never saw a one of his movies before we came here.)
The Ghibli Museum seemed to exhibit these same qualities. Definitely on the small side (which is probably why there's a three-month waiting list for tickets) and intricately designed, this is one of the few buildings I've been in that actually managed to have a surprise around every corner. Certainly a fantastic museum for kids, which got me to thinking.
Thirty-odd years ago, the big focus in culture--American culture, at least, that being the only one I know much anything about--was on science fiction. Flash Gordon inspired George Lucas to make Star Wars, which brought the expansive vistas of Issac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke to life, which brought imagination to the practical science that America was shoving down its kids' throats in the wake of Sputnik. I've lost count of how many scientists/academics/programmers I've read about who first became interested in their field after reading I, Robot, or going to Disneyland's Tomorrowland, or even watching Star Trek for the first time. Some would have found these icons on their own, of course, but if the genre hadn't been given such a spotlight in its time countless others would have been lost.
Of course, absolutely none of that is true now. We won the Cold War, and if our new struggle requires an educational focus at all, it'll either be in military intelligence or linguistics. The former wouldn't gain much--it's popular enough as it is--and good luck constructing a culture on the latter. Sci-fi novels, while still decent-selling, no longer have any household names to their credit, and I'm pretty sure there hasn't been a popular original science fiction movie released in the last ten years.
So, where has all this cultural steam been piped to? Science fiction's fraternal twin, fantasy. I could expound on this for a few paragraphs, but I'm getting tired, so I'll just throw a bunch of names out to make my point: Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, World of Warcraft, Pixar, The Da Vinci Code (kidding), Pokemon, Narnia, Lost (not kidding). And don't forget Princess Mononoke, Kiki's Delivery Service, and Spirited Away.
The causes of this change would probably be interesting to research sometime, but I'll just take it as it is for now. The issue, then, is the effect that such a change may ultimately have on American culture as a whole. Forgive my brutal overgeneralizations again, but because of its prominent role, science fiction definitely contributed to the technophilia of the 1980s and 1990s, probably helped develop the concept of rationality in the public mindset, and may have even promoted a general efficiency in the processes of America as a whole.
Whither fantasy, then? You would think, at first glance, that such a genre catching the nation's eye would bring about nothing positive; it would have none of the pragmatic benefits of science fiction. That's exactly the point. The settings of fantasy, whether they be sprawling worlds of nature or ever-so-subtle tweaks of where we live today, require the reader to extend their imagination, keep an open mind and remember that anything is possible. Although science fiction does do this, it seems to do it in a much more limited sense. "You can build anything you want to, with enough hard work" is a breathtaking premise, but compare it to "you can do anything you want to, with enough hard work." Combine this optimism with a developed concern for the world around you (both in the environmental sense and in the care-for-our-fellow-man sense), and you begin to see a trend. The scientists of yesterday just may become the activists of tomorrow. And who knows; maybe it's time for a change. What do y'all think?
Anyway, the deer thing. I'm sure a lot of you have seen the picture of me surrounded by a bunch of deer by now. If you haven't, it'll be up first thing next week. Anyway, the last part of our trip to Nara last weekend (see below) was a visit to Nara Park, which has something upwards of 1,000 sacred deer roaming the grounds. Because these grounds also have several temples and a bunch of restaurants, these deer have become ridiculously tame, and are more than willing to approach random humans in search of something edible.
Especially when you just bought 150 yen worth of deer food and are holding it above your head. Now you know.