I don’t have the right to consume the misfortune of people in Japan

(This post was originally written as a response to a friend of mine’s Facebook post. Minor modifications have been made.)

Japan tsunami and earthquake: 30 children sit silent in classroom after parents vanish | Mail Online.

Ok. I almost cried. I almost cried not because of the devastation that those people in those stories and photos are experiencing, but because they are now a target of the Western pornographic gaze. I mean, look at that picture of ‘an old Asian woman standing in the rain’ – how photographically well-crafted it is! Oh my god, it surely provokes some emotional, sympathetic, um, hard-on (figuratively).

Those things (stories and photos) may be authentic, but if we stumble upon this kind of article and spend a few minutes actually reading and looking at such photos, we need to ask, why do I ‘want’ to know? What is this desire that I have that drives me to look at these horrible photos?

Oh, and “the Japanese are too proud to ask” is just beyond laughable. There are numerous organizations and rescue teams, including those from outside Japan, working in evacuation centers and helping those stuck in places get out, etc. I’m sure there needs to be international cooperation, but people in Japan don’t need that Ken guy to speak for them.

And to assume that those affected by the disaster are all ‘Japanese’? The NGOs in Japan already started (and finished some) translating resources into Spanish, Korean, Chinese, Portuguese, etc. because they know that foreign-born residents are also facing the same tragedy and in need of resources and support. And some NGOs are affiliated with international organizations. Ethnocentric, Orientalist people like Ken and nationalist Japanese right-wingers are the only ones who don’t acknowledge/approve the diversity of people who live in Japan.

I want to say to those reporters, don’t sell photos and stories——what does that do anyway? it’ll just please the global audience who want to see ‘other’ peoples’ tragedies so much that they pay for the Western media. The only thing people outside of Japan who cannot physically go help them can do is to make donations and tell friends to do the same. I myself cannot afford to go back to Japan. So I made donations (here and here).

And I refrain from watching or looking at any kind of photography or videos that portray just how much ‘Japanese people’ have suffered because I don’t have the right to consume their misfortune.

*update*

When the first earthquakes hit, I also looked up info about how many people died, how massive the tsunami were, and even looked for videos of tsunami totally eating up the sea shore. And, to be perfectly honest with you, I was fascinated. And the moment I caught myself being fascinated by looking at those things, I realized I was part of the Western, pornographic gaze that consumes the Other. And I decided to distance myself from it, at least as much as I could.

It’s pretty much the same situation in Tokyo, actually. The mainstream media have been mostly focused on portraying the tragedies of ‘the local farmers, poor children, and hardcore survivors’ as something unreal and cinematic. Fascination seems to be the primary driving force of the mass media, wherever you go, I guess….

Masaki C. Matsumoto
Queer & feminist writer/YouTuber in Japan. To know more about Masaki, visit About.

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