Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Miseducation of Ratna, Ken and Kumi: A Textbook Investigation Pt. 2

Note: Every now and then I steal one of my school’s English textbooks and analyze a specific chapter/activity/page from it. For the first installment and some basic information on the New Crown English Textbook Series, please refer to my previous post.

Pt. 2: If You Build It, You’ll Still Probably Die Anyways
Chapter Title: “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes”
From: New Crown Series, Volume 3, page 30.
Chapter's Theme: Sadako is sick with a little thing called “Acute Radiation Syndrome.” She attempts to heal herself by folding a piece of paper into the shape of a bird.
Graphics: A hand-drawn girl sitting in her hospital bed, peeling a banana. Animated Gnomic-Ken standing at the foot of the girl’s bed, epitomizing the physical posture of: The World’s Littlest Biggest Douche. A photograph of a priapic statue with lots of colorful, unidentifiable stuff scattered around it.

Content and Analysis:

Sentence: “Have you heard about Sasaki Sadako?”
Analysis: OhmyfuckingGod. Again with the rhetorical questions, Ken? Who are you talking to? I know Sasaki Sadako, I don’t know Sasaki Sadako. It makes no difference to you. Nothing can stop you, Ken. Go on. Tell me all about Sasaki Sadako. Literally. Nothing. Can. Stop. You.
Sentence: “Sadako was two years old when the atomic bomb was dropped over Hiroshima.”
Analysis: Well, shit. This got depressing fast. Thankfully Ken eased us into yet another of his dismal dissertations with one of his patented rhetorical questions. But maybe it won’t be so bad this time. Was little adorable 2yr old Sadako even in Hiroshima when the bomb was dropped? Or was she somewhere else in the world? Maybe she was on a playground in suburban Michigan. Maybe her dad flew the plane that dropped the bomb, but Sadako had nothing to do with it. Maybe she was busy swinging on a cute little swing-set. Did she have pigtails? I bet she had pigtails. What an adorable, perfect 2yr old girl, that Sadako. But wait, what if she had pig-tails AND was in Hiroshima? OMG Did she die?? Why am I suddenly so invested in this Sadako girl??? And why do I already feel so guilty? Damn you, Ken. Damn you, atomic bombs.

Sentence: “She suddenly became sick at the age of twelve.”
Analysis: Woah now. Flash-forward much? While I’m still hoping that little Sadako merely contracted a bad case of suburban Michigan chicken-pox, I’ll just apply some logical reasoning and assume that she was really sick. Like terminally ill. From the atomic bomb America dropped on her when she was 2yrs old. So if that’s the case, Ken, could you maybe not just skip over the healthy ten year childhood that she was able to enjoy? You know, tell us about the rollicking games she played and the quixotic adventures she went on. Adorable, perfect Sadako and her pigtails. I mean, I already love her. She’s basically my baby niece by now. So let me imagine her blithe and spirited for just one goddamned minute. Wouldn’t that be the decent thing to do? I swear to God Ken, you’re a fucking sadist.

Sentence: “But she had hope.”
Analysis: Of course she did. She’s Sadako. She’s perfect. Look at her sitting there with her pig-tails. Eating that banana like a little angel.  I can hear her perfect, modest laugh right now. Shucks, now I’m smiling too. Sadako’s laugh has such a high hope-density that it’s contagious. Not even Ken can tarnish this moment. I’m so full of hope right now.

Sentence: “She believed, ‘It is possible for me to get well.’
Analysis: I believe, Sadako. I believe.

Sentence: “‘I’ll make a thousand paper cranes.’”
Analysis: So wait, let me get this straight. Sadako is sick with Acute Radiation Syndrome and her curative solution is to make origami birds? I can’t even handle this. What a silly thing to think!  COULD SHE BE MORE ADORABLE??? And does this mean that’s not a banana she’s holding? It’s a piece of colored paper that she’s fashioning into a little birdie? All by herself? She’s so perfect. Someone get her a banana. She deserves a banana. I bet she could turn a banana into and Worldwide Harmony Forever. Her strategy is so whimsically delightful. There’s no way it could fail. I BELIEVE, SADAKO.

Sentence: “Sadako died, but many people remember her.”
Analysis:  (Staring vacantly at the textbook page)
                 (Curled fetal under my desk)
                 (Cursing America)
                 (Eating a banana. Folding the peel into weird, sloppy shapes)
                 (Cursing Ken)
                 (Researching legal adoption of pig-tailed Japanese children)
                 (Composing a eulogy)
                 (Writing hate-mail addressed to all living descendants of Harry S Truman)
                 And I’m back. Wait, no, give me a second.
                 (Quick trip to post-office)
                 No. Not yet.  
                 (Cursing Ken)
                 Okay. Now I’m back. Deep breath. The paper cranes didn’t work. She died. Sadako died. And Ken won’t even let her rest in peace. He won’t let the beautiful angle lie. No. Death isn’t enough for Ken. He has to make her look like a simpleton, too. I can hear his goddamn voice right now, all didactic and cruel: ‘She believed paper cranes would save her life, hah! What an idiot!’ Go to hell, Ken. Your heart is rotten. If I had my own atomic bomb, I’d drop it on your face.
                Deep breath.
               No. Stop. This is not what Sadako would’ve wanted. She was better than this. She’s taught me so much.  I will always remember you, Sadako. And not for the twisted, hateful reasons Ken wants me to remember you. I will remember your pigtails and your swing-set. I will remember your banana and your little paper birdies. I will remember your hope. You immaculate little thing, you.

Sentence: “They make cranes for her and for peace.”
Analysis: Who does this? Why in God’s name would they do this? If it didn’t work for perfect little adorable Sadako, why would it work for someone else? Everyone stop making paper birdies. Sadako is dead. Peace is dead. There is no hope. Your work here is done, Ken.

"Am I Ken? Am I a dwarf? Did the owner of this textbook rip this page right through my body on purpose?"

Conclusion: There are two basic conclusions to take from this 1pg monologue.

1)   Ken will die alone. Everything he says is either a) moralizing or b) really fucking depressing. No wonder he asks so many rhetorical questions. Nobody wants to have an actual conversation with him.

2)      Japanese people are all about the execution of ritual. Efficaciousness be damned. Let’s recap: An atomic bomb gets dropped on a little girl’s pig-tails. She becomes terminally ill. She attempts to cure herself just by believing that she can. She expresses this faith by constructing paper birdies. But the radiation wins. Sadako dies. Yet, to this day, Japanese people continue making paper birdies. Except now they make them for World Peace.

I can’t figure out of if this is disturbing or honorable. Wouldn’t most people/cultures pick something else to immortalize? Don’t Japanese people realize that adorable, perfect Sadako DIED and her act of faith was totally futile? It didn’t work! So, hindsight being what it is, shouldn’t they wonder whether it was wise of Sadako to expend so much energy on the stupid paper birds? Maybe if the doctors had told her to quit folding paper, Sadako would’ve had time to eat her banana and, oh I dunno, get some potassium in her? Or maybe Japanese patriots should wonder what the hell the Japanese government has been doing for the past fifty-something years. Why haven’t they made their own atomic bomb and avenged the death of a NATIONAL TREASURE? These seem like logical responses to me.

But, as Ken’s dissertation demonstrates, the significance of a Japanese ritual is not a logically deduced thing. It’s not about cause and effect. Whether or not the origami birds actually helped Sadako is irrelevant. The act itself was pure and principled and admirable. So the reproduction of the act becomes honorable. Making ineffective paper birdies becomes a ritual for peace.  

What a weird, defeatist thought-process. It’s like saying: sure genocide will occur, rapists will rape, Ken will be obnoxious, you will die, and unfair misery will be suffered. But so it goes. All you can do is confront the gloom with childlike courage. It’s an attitude that contradicts the very Western philosophical tradition of lionizing human free-will and the belief that individual free-will can/should be imposed on others. But, clearly, that’s not the Japanese Way. I don’t know if subconsciously brainwashing inculcating little kids is the Right thing to do, but passages like this one guarantee that the children who read this specific textbook will grow up to be very Japanese adults.

And Japanese adults really do believe that making paper birds for peace is important. How do I know this? Because over Christmas I went to the 9/11 museum in lower Manhattan with my firefighter of a cousin. Displayed there was the original paper crane that Sadako crafted. The Japanese government donated it to the museum. Sadako’s actual crane now sits in a glass display case in New York City. It’s orange and diminutive and there are tons of handmade paper cranes hanging around it. Actually, a whole hallway of the 9/11 museum is festooned with miniature paper birdies, all of them handmade and donated by Japanese citizens hoping that anguished Americans can find Peace. Thousands of paper cranes at Ground Zero, USA. Perpetuating and confirming a ritual naively established by a 12yr old girl who was murdered by America.

This sense of surrender/fatalism/acceptance/transcendence is sort of scary and it’s sort of beautiful. And it’s 100% Japanese. 

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