Media Mix, July 7, 2013

Doing it Rola style

Doing it Rola style

Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about TV personality Rola. When the story of her father’s alleged crimes broke I noticed at least one person on Facebook question the Japanese media’s obsession with Rola’s mixed-blood heritage. For the record, her father is Bangladeshi and her Japanese mother one-fourth Russian, which technically makes her three-eighths Japanese, and thus not a hafu (half), as Japanese parlance has it. From what I understand, though Rola was born in Japan her parents were divorced when she was young and, in any case, she lived in Bangladesh from 3 to 9 years old. Her father remarried a woman of Chinese background and attended junior high school and high school in Japan. She doesn’t seem to have much, if any, contact with her birth mother; which makes that commercial she did for a certain online stock-trading company where she talks to her mother on the phone a strict violation of truth-in-advertising, but no matter. The point is that regardless of whether or not her on-air character is a put-on, her life experience qualifies as that of a non-Japanese as far as the media is concerned. Her tameguchi manner—the way she talks casually even to older persons and those who are supposed to be her social superiors—pegs her as a gaijin, who tend to be given a pass in such matters. There are plenty of NJ or hafu talent on TV who compensate for their birth situation by being overly polite in their language and over-solicitous in their manners. My feeling is that average Japanese viewers appreciate Rola not because of her cute tics, which tend to drive most non-Japanese crazy, but because she isn’t solicitous at all and doesn’t seem to care. In the Asahi Geino article I cited in the column, the reporter said that many of TV’s biggest comedian-hosts like Rola for this reason because it’s easier to make fun of her, and in the process they don’t look as cruel as they might look. Though people think she’s strange, they also typically refer to her as being nikumenai (“difficult to dislike”). The problem a lot of non-Japanese seem to have with Rola is that they think she’s setting the cause of non-Japanese acceptance back a generation or so with her airhead act, but I don’t really think so. First of all, most Japanese people don’t believe that the world represented by TV variety shows has anything to do with the real world, and second I think they envy Rola her dispensation for not being expected to suck up to her Japanese interlocutors. The matter of her father’s alleged crime has nothing to do with any of this, of course, but it probably made people think about it.

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