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Kalau Almony Kia Afra Thursday, 1:00

On Japan: Robot Nation What we see in the program Japan: Robot Nation is the conflict of social excess. Adam Yamaguchi, the narrator and host, struggles to present a totalized picture of the Japanese, and stumbles along the way, discovering partial definitions. He finds single, Japanese women, Brazilian-Japanese, Korean-Japanese, overworked Japanese, but never does he find the Japanese. Yet Adam still proposes a uniquely Japanese solution to the impending population collapse. The goal of this paper is to analyze how Adam presents the excess of Angs theoretical realm of uncertainty. In Angs discussion of this realm of uncertainty, she writes that Not order, but chaos is the starting point. Variation does not come about as a result of the division of a given social entity into a fixed range of meaningful identities, but represents the infinite play of differences which makes all identities and all meanings precarious and unstable. It is this very infinitude of identity, and its conflict with the finite totality of traditional society which this show turns to address (Ang 172). Underpinning this conflict is the demographic time bomb which Adam warns us of. You might not notice it wandering the streets of Tokyo, he warns, but the population here is about to collapse. The program presents several problematic identities, and attempts to resolve their place in the totality of Japan. We then are faced with the exact problem that frames Angs discussion: totalizing individuals into demographics. In this case, taking the many faces of the Japanese, and coming up with a population. We also have this problems converse: presenting the population through these individuals. This urge for a totalized, homogenous Japan often foregrounded, even presented as a uniquely Japanese urge. One of the most obvious examples of this conflict of identity shows up when Adam asks a question in a shop designed for Japans Brazilian-Japanese. He asks the shops owner How do the Brazilian-Japanese and the Japanese dress? Here we have the creation of a compound identity: one that simultaneously emphasizes difference and homogeneity.

This linguistic complication illustrates the indeterminacy of meaning Ang emphasizes. As she writes since the social is the site of potentially infinite semiosis, it always exceeds the limits of any attempt to constitute society, to demarcate its boundaries. This is why, as we all know, a society can accomplish only a partial closure, a partial fixing of meanings and identities, a partial imposition of order in the face of chaos (Ang 172-3). What we are presented with is not the homogenous Japan Adam speaks of, but rather an infinite Japan, created out of compound identities. Brazilian-Japanese, Korean-Japanese and further groups delineated by social station, such as single, working women, make up this totalized Japan. It is a totality of difference. This discussion of Japanese identity frames the programs drama: what will Japan do in response to the impending population collapse. To discuss this within a conceptual framework centered around disaster, Ive turned to Doanes theorizing, specifically Information, Crisis, Catastrophe. I argue that crisis and catastrophe, taken together, drive this program. Crisis and catastrophe are inherently inseparable. Crisis and catastrophe, I propose, are the analogs of the two main problems of this television show: catastrophe is that attempt at totalizing the population, and crisis the problem of explaining that totality through individuals. The population collapse, the driving drama, spurring the attempt at totalization that is this program fits Doanes definition of catastrophe. It is removed from linear time. It has not happened yet, but cannot be prevented. It is presented in "terms of a simulated visibility". We see this with Adam's animations: the islands of Japan, speckled with grey-haired Japanese and robots. It is subject-less, at least to the extent that no individual can be targeted as the cause. Adams interviews with the single women supposedly responsible for the declining birth-rate only confirm that they are not at fault. Japanese women have sought new identities, accepted the paradigm of postmodern, consumer capitalism that constant transformation of identities (through consumption) is pleasurable and meaningful, and it keeps them too busy for children (Ang 177). This consumptive urge, of course, is not criticized by the program. The women, therefore, cannot be held responsible. In fact, the women use this axiom as a shield: as long as they are consumers, and therefore, producers, they are indispensible. Furthermore, the population collapse has no extended duration [. . . and] instead, happens all at once (Doane 223). It is simultaneously intractable, known and impending, thus it has an existence somewhat out of time. It has not yet happened, but we know it will.

However, the disavowal of agency involved in relegating this whole failure to catastrophe is inaccurate for two reasons. Firstly the population collapse was caused by declining birth rates, which did result from actions on the individual scale. While the consumptive urge is somehow acceptable as a disavowal of responsibility, it cannot fully obscure agency. Secondly, what is presented in this program is not the population collapse, but rather what the Japanese may do in response to it. What the program is actually underlining is human agency. This is why catastrophe cannot exist without crisis: catastrophe always emphasizes agency. Catastrophe produces the illusion that the spectator is in direct contact with the anchorperson, who interrupts regular programming to demonstrate that it can indeed be done when the referent is at stake (Doane 239). Even Doane brings out the crisis in the catastrophe, recognizing that the televisual catastrophe will always be a crisis, at least for the anchorperson. As it is in this program: Adam digs up the crisis. It is his agency that holds together this program. These two problems not only foreground the difficulty in distinguishing crisis and catastrophe, but color the general discussion of capitalist postmodernity. As Doane writes, what is [. . .] striking in relation to this inevitable taxonomic failure is that television tends to blur the differences between what seem to be absolutely incompatible temporal modes. Here referring to the punctuality of the catastrophe in contrast to condensation of temporality involved in a crisis (223). The same can be said of capitalist postmodernity. Constant consumption, too, creates the feelings of Urgency, enslavement to the instant and hence forgettability innate in the flow of television (Doane 223). If the flow of television is then comparable to constant recreation of identity, then the catastrophe/crisis of the postmodern consumer is constantly lingering outside of time. It is a question, something along the lines of How does one totalize difference? One too caught up in the flow wouldnt notice it, but it is always there. It is both crisis and catastrophe, because there is no one to blame for it, there is no cause in a linear sense, but it calls for agency. Specifically the postmodern indivdual's agency. We see Adam doing this, making Japan's catastrophe his crisis. The proposed solution of house-hold robots reinscribes the society of excess by developing a solution which fits into the ever-marching capitalist machine. Given enough time, personal robots will be no different than personal cars. Robots will be the new object of our limitless needs and wants, just another outlet for the very excess that drives the catastrophe (Ang 177). Similarly, the program presents the robot solution to the population crisis as within the bounds of the totalized Japan not because of the ease in which robots could be made consumer goods, but rather because of the

very Japanese essence that the consumer capitalist system probelmatizes. In the world of manga, and anime, we have robotic heroes such as Astro Boy and Gigantor who help humankind, so we are used to the idea that robots are helpful and friendly. We are turned to the cultural, the product of the social infinitude as evidence that people will accept robots. This circularity speaks to both the functioning of crisis and catastrophe on television, as well as Angs conception of capitalist postmodernity in general. I have already used television as a metaphor for the functioning of consumer capitalism, in reference to individual consumption, but this metaphor can be expanded to discuss the cycles of consumption as well. The catastrophe is crucial to television precisely because it functions as a denial of this process [of selling time to advertisers] and corroborates televisions access to the momentary, the discontinuous, the real (Doane 238). Similarly, the catastrophe of the consumptive individual, the search for meaning, is a necessary part of finding the real, the essence. The real seems to lay in these discontinuities, yet always lead back to the cycle, to the flow. Finding the real, after all, would disrupt the flow of the meaningless, the mundane.