March 29, 2011

Nuclear Boy vs. Radioactive Man

A prayer ceremony meant to be both both "memorial and benefit event" for Japan was recently held in New York City that the New York Times celebrated as showing the city's diversity:

First came the Muslim imam, singing an Arabic prayer in an undulating melody. Next came the rabbi, chanting in Hebrew, followed by the Hindu leader praying in Sanskrit, the Christian in English, the Sikh in Punjabi and the Buddhist in Japanese.

One by one, they stood in the chancel of Riverside Church on the Upper West Side on Sunday evening and beseeched the heavens for support of the victims and survivors of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami.

For all the city’s ethnic diversity, there are surprisingly few occasions, outside of subway cars and rush-hour sidewalks, when the population truly blends in a common pursuit. The service on Sunday — called Interfaith Time of Reflection for Japan — was one of those moments.

(Does that "surprisingly few occasions" seem harsh? For all its diversity, New York City is the second-most segregated city in the country, according to this Salon article, though it's hard to see exactly why from the information given—and I take issue with their map of Brooklyn/Kings County, which includes occasional stretches of New York harbor and the Atlantic Ocean. Perhaps it has to do with sheer numbers.)

It's great that these cermonies are still happening to benefit Japan. A Tricycle co-worker recently alluded to the "disaster fatigue" that plagues fundraisers and its effect on the goodwill for those affected by the earthquake-tsunami-nuclear disaster in Japan. The media needs hot stories to get eyeballs on screens and the overall effect is so intense that people get burned out. But as Matt Alt points out in a blogpost for the New Yorker, the media in Japan has been much more temperate than in the US throughout these events:

The contrast between the local and foreign coverage of the crisis has been eye opening. Japanese news reports and government press conferences have had a measured, deliberate tone. Japan has its fair share of tabloid publications and conspiracy theorists. So why hasn’t the Japanese media sensationalized the situation as much as Western media outlets have? For one thing, the stakes are too high. It’s easy to play up the downside when you’re sitting pretty in a television studio an ocean away from the reactors; not so much when you’re sitting a couple of hundred kilometers downwind.

Nuclear BoyHe goes on to describe the belief in kotodama—the belief that words and objects can have magic powers—as having a moderating effect on people's speech.

A special featuring "Nuclear Boy" and his tummy troubles also aired on Japanese TV for children to understand the effects of the situtation at the nuclear plant in Fukushima. Though The Daily What calls it "the most terrifying Schoolhouse Rock! episode ever," it strikes me—as a child of the Reagan years, when nuclear hysteria was everywhere but the kids' world of TV was completely silent about it—as a pretty reasonable attempt to translate disaster into kidspeak without traumatizing them. In other words, I'll take Nuclear Boy over Radioactive Man any day. Check it out here.

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