madness in the metropolis 

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Note: The following post first appeared on [?]. Reproduced here in full but without original comments.

The Japanese need for context, the desire to have things explained to them in a precise, detailed manner, manifests itself in some odd ways sometimes. Few TV news features, for example, are complete without one of the presenters holding up a little placard bearing some important statistics, which they then have to hold steady as the camera zooms in on it.

It's not that they can't, or don't, use digital graphics, it's just that sometimes they feel the need to make the presentation of this information more personal, more involved; they'd rather hold the viewer's hand and talk them through something, pointing out the salient bits along the way. Hence the subtitles (yes, in Japanese) on every late-night variety show, making sure that no-one misses a single joke, that everyone shares the experience, that no-one is left behind.

I used to think it was odd; now I just think it's Japanese.

All the same, last week's mission on the part of the TV networks to explain the events of Tuesday to the masses left me a little shocked.

One of the networks on Wednesday used an intricate little desktop model of the World Trade Center complete with scale-model 767s on stalks, which they manoevered, by hand, up to the sides of the buildings. The aircraft nudged lamely to a stop and I noticed, with a mixture of approval and despair, that they'd set the heights of the stalks to correspond to the exact heights of the collisions. Christ, why not go the whole hog? If only they'd bothered to make the towers out of paper, they could have had the planes actually ripping into the interiors of the skyscrapers. Thank god, though, that they stopped short of rigging up pyrotechnics, or pushing scale-model people out of the windows of the immolated floors in their quest to elucidate.

Not to be outdone, one of the other networks followed that the next night with seven-foot-tall models of the towers on the studio floor, with the relevant scorched storeys painted black. Fair enough, they were detailing the respective locations of the many Japanese banks located in the building, a number of whom lost staff in the attack, but still - do you really need a walk-through model to accomplish that?

But the piece de resistance was the network which put a female "reporter" (one of the ones that don't do any actual reporting) in a flight training simulator, the kind that are mounted on massive hydraulic jacks (I'm talking about the simulator now, not the reporter), and had her fly a virtual 767 into a building. Twice. She hit the first one okay but fell short of the second one, grunting as she tugged at the controls and then giggling at her own ineptitude as the plane ploughed into the ground. I will admit that I started, briefly, thinking "Oh, that's a good idea", until I was suddenly overtaken by an angry desire to throw the fucking TV out of the fucking window.

Insensitive? Or just another example of cultural differences? Bit of both, I guess. Maybe I'm all wrong, and there's nothing odd in any of this, but I'm sure that kind of reporting would bring immediate outrage back home or in the States. Someone please tell me I'm mistaken, and that Channel 4 News had Jon Snow throwing airfix jumbo jets at a model of the Pentagon?

Posted by chris at September 16, 2001 06:47 PM | Permalink

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