Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Miseducation of Ratna, Ken and Kumi: A Textbook Investigation Pts. 3 & 4

Note: When I left Japan, I brought three of my school’s English textbooks with me. Every now and then I analyze a specific chapter/activity/page from them. For the first two installments of this running segment and some basic information on the New Crown English Textbook Series, please refer to my previous posts. In this entry I’ll examine two short pages from two separate volumes.

Pt. 3: Lutwidge Dodgson Should Have Seen This Coming
Chapter Title: “Alice and Humpty”
From: New Crown Series, Volume 1, page 95.
Chapter’s Theme: This story narrates how Alice goes to Wonderland and then meets/torments Humpty Dumpty. Yep. That’s the plot. It’s like an acid trip that makes you confront all sorts of latent sexual issues. I will assay the first page of this three-page story.
Graphics: A rabbit is wearing a plaid pea coat and holding an umbrella and he’s staring at his pocket watch and hotfooting it through some lemongrass. He must be a British rabbit. A puerile, redheaded maid/child slave hovers midair in a kitchen. She seems like a negligent maid/child slave because, again, she's hovering. A group portrait of: a fat-faced cat sitting on a tree, the same redheaded maid/child slave dancing by herself, A dwarf with a Christmas scarf and a top hat offering the maid/child slave some tea, a concussed bunny holding a tea pot, Humpty Dumpty looking down malevolently from his perch on a wall.

Japanese Textbooks: where nightmares happen

Content and Analysis:

Sentence: “Alice saw a rabbit.”
Analysis: Okay. I’m with you. Solid start. There’s a story here.
Sentence: “The White Rabbit said, ‘I’m late. I’m late.’”
Analysis: Why is The White Rabbit capitalized? Is that his legal name? It must be a nickname. That’s an awful nickname. Offensive, even. No guy calls himself The Black Human. God. Animals are so racist. Go fuck yourself, racist rabbit. Don’t tell me that you’re late. I’m not taking you to Planned Parenthood. I’m not that guy. Go tell The Baby Daddy.
Sentence: “She followed him into a hole and disappeared.”
Analysis: Oh. It’s a him. And he has a pocket watch. Right. This is a story about an adolescent girl following an anxious British bunny into a hole. It’s not some sort of sexualized allegory. That’s my bad. I’m totally with you.

Sentence: “Down, down, down!”
Analysis: What?? Ohmygod, chill out.
Sentence: “Alice went down the hole.”
Analysis: We get it. Alice went into a hole. If you keep repeating it, I’m gonna start hearing everything in a drawn-out baritone Leonard Cohen voice. Down. Down. Alice went down the hole. God. Listen to that. Leonard Cohen really was blessed with a golden voice. But now this is inappropriate because Alice is very young and if she’s a child slave then it’s pretty much the worst thing ever.

Sentence: “Did she go to the center of the earth?”
Analysis: Seriously, quit all this thinly veiled erotic jargon. Going into holes. Down, down into holes. All the way to the center. Stop it. Stop asking extraneous, weird questions. Tell the goddamn story.
Sentence: “No, she didn’t.”
Analysis: Great. Moving on.
Sentence: “She went to a strange place.”
Analysis: Oh yeah? Where did she go? Where did preteen Alice go when she went into the hole? If it’s a strange place, that means it’s a new place full of things Alice has never touched and feelings she has never felt. What has she gone down down down into? What’s it like?
Sentence: “She went to Wonderland.”
Analysis: Of course she did. I’m going to take a shower.

Conclusion: Japanese textbook writers are creepy. That’s the big takeaway here. Sure they don’t know how to tell stories and they’ve clearly never read Alice in Wonderland. But that’s cool. Neither have I. And these shortcomings are rendered moot anyway by the fact that THIS PAGE IS ABOUT A LITTLE GIRL EITHER MASTURBATING OR GETTING RAPED FOR THE FIRST TIME AND OH BY THE WAY SHE MIGHT BE A CHILD SLAVE. The thing is, I know the guys who wrote this. They are middle-aged Japanese men nurtured by sexualized manga comics. They are twitchy and quiet. They transform pleasant daily conversations and interactions into a series of awkward moments. I feel bad for them because they never had a chance. But still, they should not be writing school textbooks. Kids do not need to wade through someone else’s disturbed sexual catharsis. Christ. Japan is going to have tons of weirdoes forever.

Pt. 4: Ratna Learns A Lesson
Chapter Title: “Do It Talk”
From: New Crown Series, Volume 2, page 18.
Chapter’s Theme: Ratna meets a man and learns what a furoshiki is.
Graphics: A man in a sweater-vest offering Ratna a mysterious parcel. Ratna standing over him, holding a small, red blanket. Next to the man, a box full of folded blankets. All this set in a public park.

Despite what it looks like, Ratna is the innocent one.

Content and Analysis:

Sentence: “Man: Can I help you?”
Analysis: Man? He’s just called Man? That’s weird. Starting a dialogue with Can I help you? is also weird unless you’re in a store. But this guy is in a park by himself. He has a box full of folded blankets and a single pre-wrapped present. Weird, weird, weird. I don’t like this Man one bit.
Sentence: “Ratna: Yes. What’s this?”
Analysis: Are you fucking kidding me, Ratna? You see this guy talking to himself with tons of blankets around him and a mysterious package and you think you should interact with him? Look at him! He’s the archetypal white guy. So why isn’t he at work? Or with a girl? Or at his sister’s or walking a dog or playing cricket or something? Anything! But no. You, Ratna, cannot be bothered with all that noise. You want to know about those blankets. They are super adorable. What could they be for? You absolutely must find out!
Sentence: “Man: It’s a furoshiki.”
Analysis: Very sneaky, Man. Bring a bunch of oddly-proportioned objects to a park then wait until an inquisitive little girl comes around. And dropping a foreign word in there. You’re good. Of course darling Ratna wants to learn about everything.
Sentence: “Ratna: How do you use it?”
Analysis: There are two ways to understand this sentence. 1) How does a person utilize this foreign object? 2) How do you, weird man, utilize all these miniature blankets you have? I can only hope Ratna means #2 because #2 is a very good question.
Sentence: “Man: We carry things in it. Like this.”
Analysis: Dear God, no. This is so dark. Man has tons of those blankets and zero objects to carry. A single furoshiki is too small to bear Ratna’s whole body. What is he about to do? Is this when he proffers the package? What’s in there that he packed before he came to the park? And who the fuck is WE?! I hate this.
Sentence: "Ratna: Wonderful. And it’s pretty too.”
Analysis: Goddamnit, Ratna. Yes, it’s pretty. And Lollipops are delicious. You’re going to die.

Conclusion: So let’s go over this again. A middle-aged white man accosts a dark skinned girl in a public place. He is kind and fatherly and relentless. He doesn’t introduce himself, which makes sense because he doesn’t even have a name. He’s just called Man. And Man has with him a box full of blankets “to carry things.” But the illustration reveals that he doesn’t have anything to transport. He piques Ratna’s interest and then gives her a strange box. That’s what happens.

Quick reminder: the title here is “Do It Talk.” It is a grammatically defective title that makes no sense. But at least now we know what It refers to. The nutcase in the puke-colored sweater vest has made it obvious. It = kidnapping + whatever comes after kidnapping. So in summary, this dialogue teaches students how to talk to someone they are about to kidnap. I guess that’s my only conclusion. And also, Ratna is an idiot. She was asking for it. 

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