Saturday, October 08, 2011

Self-silencing: Japanese and American tropes

I've noticed a particular trope in Japanese films: a character is silent and doesn't explain himself...but soon the character, backstory, emotional pain, of these people become known. Either because someone "tells" their story. Or someone accidentally discovers something about the person. The character is then seen and understood. After death, after all the sorrows, AFTER. Then (if the person is alive) love deepens. And (if the person is dead) understanding is made. True love is often achieved in these stories because one person sees the heart of the self-silenced (or culturally-silenced) person: the kind intelligent surmising heart of character B sees the hidden silent heart of character A.

Japan is a culture where humility (or seeming humility) is important. Humility is shown as silent.  The shy lover who can't speak up for himself. The quiet person who is secretly a great teacher, a great warrior, a great, artist.This humility shows up in so many stories that we westerners have to take it for granted. Of course as a westerner, I have to wonder. Sometimes the silencing looks like repression. Sometimes the silencing -- especially when it's a scientist/warrior/cop etc-- looks smug.  ("I'm really great but no one really knows it" kinda thing.)

The west also has its laconic heroes. For instance there are the silent gunmen in westerns. Power in restraint. This person has seen so much  of the evil in the world (and has had to respond in kind so many times) that life has left him somewhat speechless. (Think Clint Eastwood's no-name characters or John Wayne's Ethan in The Searchers). With them it's a kind of "Action speaks louder than words" thing. Plus it balances out the heroes: macho gunman who can't talk to a girl. Or, macho gunman who can only be healed by an understanding girl.

There is also the "Silent as a lamb to the slaughter" mode. This is often found in stories where the character is too noble or too out-numbered or too repressed to defend herself. We find this in Jane Austen's Persuasion and in Johnny Belinda. (of course if one is not really up to all that forgiving lamb thing, one ends up with major bitterness. So I do wonder about Japan and whether the Japanese, like many Christians, have this woundedness thing happening.

Thinking about this trope got me thinking about certain incidents in my own life. One of these occurred with the City Clerk. I used to be a voting clerk, a job I got whenever there was a general national voting. I (and other folks) was paid $150 for sitting in the voting place and signing in voters before they voted for president etc. This all went very well and I could pick up an extra $150 every couple of years for working all day at some election. BUT THEN

One November.

I was working with four ladies. We had worked all day in a  national election. After the polls closed, we were supposed to go home at 9:30 after counting the votes in the machines and reporting it. The other four ladies decided to do something shady. I forgot what exactly they decided to do. Either they didn't want to count the write-in-ballots or they didn't want to double-check the count or some such thing. But I thought the entire thing was unethical and I said so. So I said I wasn't going to do it. At 9:30 we all left the school where the voting had occurred.

The next morning decided to thank my friend, the City Clerk, for the gig and I called her. I dialled her secretary who put me on hold and then passed me on to my friend. My friend, the City Clerk, picked up the phone with the words, "Carole, you shouldn't have left before 9:30 and I won't accept your apology or excuses."

That was the first I heard of it. It was also the first time I saw that side of this friend. From what I could surmise after this verbal slap-down accusation, the ladies I had worked with had all agreed to this lie after I left them outside the school door. They had told my city clerk friend I left early because they wanted to cover their butts. And they had headed me off at the pass by telling her this thing about me. The funny thing was I had totally forgotten about the argument and I had no intention of telling on them, but they had decided to save their own asses by coming up with this story. And my friend had believed them. There was nothing I could say to convince her.

Some years later, I loaned a really expensive book to this friend. About $34.00. I called about three months later for it and she said, "I gave it to you." I waited another two years and asked for it again. She said, "Oh, yes, I have that. Why didn't you ask? All these years you could have asked." ::SIGH::  I said, "I'm sorry I didn't ask." She responded, "You can come and get it anytime."

Stuff like this stays on the mind a long time. So I understand that in a Japanese Culture where hierarchy and external communal peace is necessary, there should be this trope of the person who "becomes understood" after much trial. I also see that the repressed and beaten down person in the west, especially if that person is a Christian, would await the day when all secrets are known. When we ourselves are known.

Lord, help me to forgive those who thought they knew me. Help me to defend myself and to speak up if necessary. Don't let me ruin my stories by putting these incidents in them in a need to "finally have my say" or "finally speak up." Heal my heart, Lord Jesus. Amen.

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