Media Mix, Nov. 4, 2012

Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about the media response to Shintaro Ishihara’s resignation as governor of Tokyo. It’s interesting and fortunate that Eriko Arita’s article about the rise of online nationalism appears on the same page. I didn’t get into Ishihara’s right-wing tendencies since they’ve already been discussed widely, especially in the English-language press, and I mainly wanted to focus on his impulsiveness as a public figure and how the media doesn’t call him enough on it. Still, Arita’s piece complements the column well in that it provides some context for Ishihara’s own “reckless” brand of nationalism, to borrow an adjective from Makiko Tanaka. Coincidentally or not, there’s a similar article in the new issue of Aera about uyoku, or “right-wingers,” that also discusses at length the rise of online nationalism, which has its own nickname: nettou, combining the katakana abbreviation of “internet” (netto) with the first syllable of the word “uyoku.” As Arita points out, most of the members of Zaitokukai, an organization opposed to any special rights for foreigners, are “regular members of society,” meaning they aren’t dyed-in-the-wool idealogues like people who normally wear the uyoku label. And while some nettou may show up for the occasional public demonstration, like the people who targeted Fuji TV over its reliance on Korean dramas or the recent rally in Uguisudani where there were calls to deport all Korean nationals, the vast majority hide behind web anonymity. This distinction is the theme of the Aera article, which claims that nettou are “light on ideology,” thus making them quite different from “real right-wingers.” In fact, a real right-winger comments in the article that one of the reasons for the rise of nettou, which he regrets, is the lack of a viable left-wing. For all intents and purposes there is no liberal faction in the government as the term is understood in the West. Left wing ideals are championed by the Japan Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party, neither of which wields any sort of decisive power. Any power they have is symbolic. Some people have said the problem is simply one of nomenclature. Both parties might attract more interest if they just changed their names, since “socialist” and “communist” just carry too much baggage. But the problem is deeper, and one that exists in the U.S., too, where liberalism has a tradition but isn’t what it used to be. This week’s presidential election may seem to be a battle between a liberal and a conservative, but in terms of real policy, both candidates seem likely to temper whatever “extreme” positions they advocate once they are in office. If conservatives seem to rule it’s mainly because they are louder and liberals, true liberals, are too self-conscious about “ethics” to formulate an effective counter-attack. This situation is even more obvious in Japan; so much so that the right-winger interviewed in Aera says that he has nothing to fight against. In fact, in their rhetoric, the true right wing has to “compensate” for the lack of a true left wing (sayoku). Nettou developed in this vacuum, though it should also be pointed out that in Japan left wing elements, especially those associated with the student movement of the 1960s and 70s, are often indistinguishable from right wing elements in terms of tactics. That’s one reason why the JCP, regardless of its sensible liberal agenda, will never be a potent opposition party. People look at that name and all they can think about is crazed reds killing one another through internecine “purges.” Even Ishihara never went to those kinds of extremes.

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