Tuesday, March 05, 2013

A Note About Crichton’s “Rising Sun”

“... I did not read Crichton’s best sellers first, I read about his life in his own words, accounts of his intimate journey through life, his career changes, and his constant search for self while creating the masterpieces for the world. The “Rising Sun” is one such work of fiction. It is a book that proves yet again not just Crichton’s supreme skills at writing and imagination, but also his keen knowledge of the Japanese culture, customs, and society protocol.

“This acclaimed novel is set against the backdrop of Japanese-American tensions at the time of its writing – each side apprehensive, protective of their own territory and culture. The plot revolves around an American female’s murder in Nakomoto, a Japanese corporation on American soil - and that distinct setting sets the wheels of this novel in motion. The intricacies of etiquette, culture, duty that is inherent to Japan plays a key role as the investigation begins to unfold.”

One of my very most favorite things about doing this blog is that sometimes random little bits of business sort of conspire all by themselves without my involvement at all to make something happen that I never anticipated but, the unanticipated thing having happened, I find myself smiling in some unanticipated way.

That kind of happened today.

Today I had a little plan to do a quick post about Michael Crichton’s 1992 novel “Rising Sun.” I wanted to post not so much about the novel, but about something that happened to me online back in 1992 and compare it to the present online world. This post is meant to be a kind of sequel, a quiet and reasoned sequel, to my post, Like Before The Internet Went Psycho.

So to prepare for today’s post I did an image search for “Rising Sun” to grab a picture of the book. And there on the first page of the search results was a photograph of a glamorous woman stretched out on a couch reading the novel.

I couldn’t imagine what the photograph had to do with the novel.

So I clicked over to the page. It was a blog entry from 2007 at a blog called “Prolific Living.” I still have no idea, really, what goes on at the blog—apparently it is a guide for how to live like a rich person, or some such thing—but the blog post about “Rising Sun” made for a great introduction to this post.

Because the quote up there, about the novel being “acclaimed” and about Crichton having “keen knowledge” about Japan is all very, very dubious.

It makes me wonder what world the person who wrote that blog post lives in.

And that is part of what I wanted to post about today. The dubious correspondence between real reality and online reality.

First of all, I am a very big fan of Michael Crichton. I’ve quoted him many times here at the blog, and beyond just liking his books, I think his novel “The Terminal Man” someday will be regarded as a modern classic. And it has some cool writing in it, too, which I talked about in my post, Once There Were Other Worlds.

And that is part of what I wanted to post about today, too. Once there were other worlds. Once, not very long ago, the online world was a different world.

That having been said, “Rising Sun” rather than being “acclaimed” was a very controversial book and judging by its Wikipedia page it continues to be controversial. Crichton traveled a great deal, and I believe he was a reasonably good judge of people and cultures. But it is entirely unclear—at least to me—whether Crichton’s understanding of Japan and Japanese people is “keen” or, more likely, kooky. Or influenced by some strange personal bias.

The only personal involvement I have with Japan comes from meeting Japanese people involved with very specific fields of study—martial arts, amateur astronomy, ink drawing—and this may or may not have given me even a basic foundation from which to draw my own conclusions. I don’t know. My impressions of Japanese people and Japanese culture have been uniformly pleasant and positive.

In the Crichton novel, however, almost without exception every Japanese person is either a very unpleasant gangster or a reasonably unpleasant businessman, and one of the themes of the novel is that in Japanese culture—as presented by Crichton—there isn’t that clear of a distinction between businessmen and gangsters.

If there is any accuracy to that depiction of Japan, it is something I’ve never been exposed to at all.

But back in 1992 “Rising Sun” was generating a lot of discussion among people I knew about Crichton’s presentation of America and Japan confronting each other culturally and politically.

As it happens, not long after the novel came out a physicist I knew online was due to return to the US from a science conference in Japan. In an online science forum, I asked the physicist if he had read “Rising Sun” and if he had, what did he think?

In fact, he had started reading the book while he was in Japan and he had finished the book on the long flight back from Tokyo to Los Angeles.

He said he enjoyed the book and he said that Crichton’s presentations of America’s business and academic environments were consistent with things he had witnessed in real life. But he added that he had visited Japan frequently and he found Crichton’s presentation of Japan to be totally inconsistent with his interactions with Japanese people and Japanese culture.

This opinion was echoed by other people in the forum. People explained they enjoyed the book, but found the presentation of Japan to be odd, and not something they had personally experienced.

Now the point I want to make here—the reason I’m doing this post—is simply to observe that in 1992 I was able to ask a reasonably straightforward question online about a somewhat controversial topic and engage in a reasonable discussion about it.

Can anyone imagine such a thing happening today?

You just know today people would start calling people names, and people would put up endless comments based on random political beliefs or random cultural beliefs or just random whims and there would be no way to sort out what the hell was based on fact and what the hell was based on random craziness.

In just one generation, in something like twenty years, the entire online world has changed from a place where reasonable people could interact in a reasonable way to a lunatic asylum of endless bedlam, where corporate shills and political activists endlessly try to shout more loudly than each other, gesture more emphatically than each other, and insult anyone who disagrees with them more viciously than each other.

The change in the online environment over the last twenty years has been the biggest change in the world that I’ve ever observed in anything.

I wanted to post about my experience with “Rising Sun” because to my eyes it seems such a great illustration of the difference, the change. Back then, in 1992, nobody I talked to online insulted Crichton or dismissed his writing. People just explained whether or not Crichton’s presentation made any sense to them personally. And everyone just talked about it reasonably.

Now there is only madness. And advertising.

(If there is a difference.)

It’s bizarre. It is as if the internet itself is the tragic character Harry Benson from “The Terminal Man” moving sadly but inexorably towards hopeless wreckage.

I wonder: Did this have to happen this way? What will happen next?

And: Can things really get worse?!

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