It's been ages since I last read a blog post by W. David Marx, but this examination of Japan's Visual Kei music business is a good reminder of why I used to be such an avid reader of Neomarxisme (and no, it's not because I have a fondness for "Das Kapital" ...). Anyway, getting back to the Visual Kei post, let's just say that all those kids who've latched on to "Dir en Grey", "X Japan" and co. as representative of some sort of "edgy", "alternative" counterculture are just as deluded as the millions who fail to realize that "Lady Gaga" is the product of the most soulless and calculating corporate focus-testing. Seeing young people express their "rebellion" and "individuality" against "The Man" by collectively blaring his music and wearing his clothes provides endless fodder for amusement to cynics such as myself; at least the "J Crew" and "Abercrombie" clones know that they're mindless conformists!
Seeing as I've been getting quite a lot of traffic of late from people looking for a "For Dummies"* version of Perelman's Poincare Conjecture proof, this seems an especially opportune time to mention that John Tate has just been awarded this year's Abel Prize.
If you've ever read a book on modern algebraic number theory or know what an elliptic curve is, you'll already know who I'm talking about; if not, let me point you in the direction of a very good book Tate co-authored with John Silverman - "Rational Points on Elliptic Curves". Yes, it's a textbook, and a math textbook at that, but as math textbooks go they don't get much more fun and readable than this one does, and unlike Terence Tao's Poincare conjecture outline, this is a book any reasonably intelligent person should be able to work through (I know as I did precisely that at the ripe old age of 17). There are good reasons why this book has been on my side panel for several years now, I assure you.
*By which I really meant " 'Dummies' smart enough to make it through mathematics graduate school" ... Sorry about that, folks.
And he's written a mega-rant explaining precisely why he doesn't like the country. I can't say I entirely agree with Tim Rogers' arguments (though on certain points, e.g. the rampant smoking, and the invariable "oishii/umai" uttered by talentless "talento" on variety shows, I think he hits the target dead center), but I'll give the guy credit for something very important: Rogers - unlike many an anime nerd disillusioned to discover that life in Japan isn't just an unending sequence of Dragon-Ball Z episodes - actually happens to know something about the country he's writing about.
PS: The (mostly negative) responses on Metafilter are also interesting to read. The gist of the criticism directed at Rogers is that he's a whiny b*st*rd who would obviously be unhappy anywhere, but while this is very probably true, and the guy also seems to be suffering from a severe case of delayed culture shock, not everything he complains about can be dismissed as mere whining: for instance, office life in Japan really is incredibly stifling and conformist, much of Japanese TV really is rubbish (though in my opinion British TV is even worse), and the impunity with which Yakuza affiliated types pollute people's eardrums with their loudspeakers really is infuriating. Japan does have plenty of good points which go entirely unmentioned in Tim Rogers' long rant - it is an extremely safe, clean and orderly society in which a keen appreciation for hard work and aesthetics plays a prominent role - but it doesn't hurt to have the occasional reminder that the Land of the Rising Sun is not some sort of paradise exempt from the usual foibles of human societies, a fact often overlooked in the breathless reporting done by uncritical Japanophiles.