Lets Play Word Association

Posted on by thestage and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

What did you think when you heard there had been an enormous earthquake in Japan?

If we are to believe Viceland, you thought “Pearl Harbor.” Unless you are a reader of Viceland, at which point you likely thought “I bet other people are going to think of Pearl Harbor.”

The latter case is what strikes me as more interesting. I get that some people are going to think about Pearl Harbor. Some people think car accidents happen because God hates fags. Some people think global warming is a myth propagated by alien lizards implanted in the federal government. But what explains the cottage industry orbiting these people and their opinions?

It should be obvious that things like “an earthquake in Japan”–that is, instances of reality–are of no concern to either Group A or Group B. Group A’s concern is Group B, and Group B’s is Group A, because everything is an excuse for branding and identity politics. Incidents are rendered unreal because they are given to us by our TV and our computer. What can I do with an image of a wave of flaming garbage demolishing an entire Japanese prefecture? The same thing I can do with a movie that depicts the same image–register sensations and go to the bathroom when my soda content reaches critical levels. I can’t own that. It can say nothing about me. The decision of which channel (or other outlet) I view the fallout on is of much greater personal consequence than the watching itself.

What can I gain from discussing something like an earthquake? “Well, Bob, sure was a big one, wasn’t it? I hope those people are all right.” That’s linguistically dead. We may say it anyway as a kind of social grace, as the expected reaction, just like we mow our lawn and push our chairs in after dinner–but what we really have to do is make a claim. Here’s betting the majority of the people screaming about Pearl Harbor don’t actually believe what they are saying anymore than the person that mows his lawn believes in the uniformity of grass length–but just as mowing the lawn initiates you into the club of communal homeowners concerned with upkeep and social togetherness, sneering about Pearl Harbor initiates you into the club of independent, non politically correct, socially aware, outraged American constituents that just aren’t going to take it anymore.

Group B, though–they are Group Not A. They’re not mad at Group A for saying what they said. They’re not genuinely affected by the destruction in Japan, or interested in doing something about it, “showing solidarity,” or any of that. They are interested in condemnation, because their social identity demands it. It is not a coincidence that the Viceland reader base is the exact opposite of the identifies we might associated with the Pear Harbor thumpers; the one is Republican, emotional, angry, independent; the other is Democratic, affected apathetic, comedic, independent.



One cannot respond to an earthquake. But we can always assert our individuality, brand our ourselves, express our views, vote for the winner of American Idol, click that “like” button. Because it’s not just that reality is harsh, confusing, indifferent, pointless–it’s homogenizing. The earthquake does not care who you are, but by god the internet and CBS sure do; because they need you. They need you in a way not even your own life does.

And here’s Group C, condemning the fake condemners. What else do we all have in common? We’re not talking about an earthquake, silly. 

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47 Responses to Lets Play Word Association

  1. someone says:

    Telling the Pearl Harbor yahoos to fuck off is simple common decency and does not in any way indicate a lack of interest in the catastrophe. You’re overthinking this to an epic degree.

    • AdamSaleh1987 says:

      There is not a single person in Japan right now that had anything to do with Pearl Harbor. This article makes little sense to me.

      • DataShade says:

        Are you sure they’re all dead? The USA just lost its last WWI vet, I’m sure we still have some WWII guys hanging around. I understand what you’re saying though, but the article’s point is that it’s not supposed to make sense, it’s supposed to be shocking, it’s about building yourself a brand. I mean, you’ve heard the phrase “shock jock” before, right? Or about the artists who put little portraits of Jesus in jars of urine, things like that?

        So I think it makes sense; I don’t think it makes a point worth making, I don’t think it contributes anything.

  2. thestage says:

    telling them to fuck off if they were in front of you telling you that the earthquake was payback for pear harbor may represent “common decency.” telling the internet that you are telling these people–whom you don’t know outside of knowing that they are going to do this–to fuck of is nothing of the sort.

  3. Comments deleted — let’s drop the hostility and macho posturing. Disagree adamantly, but be respectful. This isn’t Facebook or Digg.

    • someone says:

      How interesting that it’s suddenly completely off-limits (not to mention “macho posturing”) to tell the Pearl Harbot nutjobs to fuck off.

      So what you’re telling me is that the Pearl Harbor crowd is correct (since opposing them is forbidden). Nice one! Is there more idiocy coming, or can this be considered rock bottom? Can you also explain why today’s Japanese people should be held accountable for Pearl Harbor?

      • DataShade says:

        How interesting that it’s suddenly completely off-limits (not to mention “macho posturing”) to tell the Pearl Harbot nutjobs to fuck off.

        “Suddenly?” Suddenly.


        The rules are simple. Think before you hit “Submit”. Be courteous and respectful. Make an argument, state an opinion, have a point. Use snark and sarcasm sparingly. Criticize the argument, not the user. We reserve the right to suspend or ban users for spam, hostility, excessive rudeness, and general naughtiness. Play nice or don’t play at all.

        That’s on the top of the front page and came through the RSS feed. Did you … not see it? I can’t get away from the damned thing, every time a cookie expires, I change machines, or change access points the site makes me sign back in, and after I log in it sends me back to the front page and the red “read this!” text.

        • someone says:

          Oh, I get it. Everyone’s opinion is a precious, unique snowflake demanding the highest possible levels of respect. Especially if it’s a really dumb and offensive opinion that doesn’t even merit a counter-argument.


          • DataShade says:

            I’m not really sure what your point is. You don’t have to praise someone for making a poor interpretation of facts, or for taking lazy shortcuts leading to a poorly formed opinion, but do you think “get a brain morans” is going to work? I mean: part and parcel with the idea of thinking that a tsunami is divine vengeance for an event that occurred 70 years ago is the concept that you (or the group you’re currently identifying with) were – not just wronged – persecuted. When you “lol get a brain morans” someone with a persecution complex, anyone who doesn’t just ignore you is going to find a reaffirmation of their identity. And if your chosen method of delivery is so offensive it’s ignored, aren’t you just left with two possibilities: stroking the ego of the people you despise, or playing by yourself?

            Besides, if these people are so contemptible, isn’t that a bigger reason to stick to your own convictions? Assuming that you have principles along the lines of “Be courteous and respectful. Make an argument, state an opinion, have a point,” why would you violate those principles for some “snowflake” stuffed full of dumb and offensive opinions? Is there something else at stake, something much more important to you?

  4. MarcusB says:

    I may be completely wrong but what I think thestage is saying is the Pearl Harbor has given some people a chance to make the whole situation about themselves. No one will really notice a Red Cross donation but standing up to a b igot gives you a chance to jump into action.

    Maybe this analogy will help.

    When people get into fights, and I mean fist fights, it’s almost always at aparty. In other words, it’s almost always in a situation where people can see you. Those punches don’t actually hurt, because when people are watching you, it feels almost cathartic.

    Maybe I’m completely off.

  5. penultimatepsychiatrist says:

    This article is offensive. If you all aren’t careful, this blog will turn into just what you hope it doesn’t– just another blog using knee-jerk shock techniques to draw readers and not offering anything of substance. God, could this be worse than twitter? Here I wanted to read something longer than 140 characters and still didn’t get any substance. Be careful, you have so much going for you, this will come to a halt rather quickly if you all allow it to sound like everything’s been written by a college freshman who just learned what “posstructuralism” means. When I think “Partial Objects” my mind is starting to think …well, I’ve already spent too much time thinking about it. It’s almost a waste.

    • GhostSpider says:

      I disagree with you and want you to shut up. If you continue to disagree with me, I will think that you’re uncool and insubstantial. Rimshot! about twitter. Isn’t that what those worthless college freshmen are using these days to write essays? About “posstructuralism”? When I think “Partial Objects” my mind is starting to think… things that I don’t want it to think. Which is a waste.c

  6. Lauri says:

    I don’t know what Viceland is (and still don’t, since I didn’t click on the link), can honestly say the words “Pearl Harbor” didn’t cross my mind until just now when I read this, and likewise didn’t think for one second that other people would think “Pearl Harbor.” My housemate, who used to live in Japan, didn’t mention Pearl Harbor. The 20 people in our house last night didn’t mention Pearl Harbor. I don’t recall anyone taking the opportunity to “brand” themselves in the various discussions about the earthquake I’ve heard since it occurred.

    So I guess this means Viceland is not to be believed. Among a number of other things alluded to in this post.

    This whole approach seems unrooted in reality to me. Enormous earthquakes and tsunamis tend to capture the human imagination for reasons that have little to do with political history. When we see the images, in that first instant we’re thinking, “How would I survive such a thing? If I were in that house, would I try to swim? Climb onto something? Who would I try to save?” So yeah, to that extent, we’re “making it about ourselves.” But that quickly transmutes into horror, sympathy, and identification with others. That’s the process by which we bring ourselves to help other people.

    Or maybe I’m just wildly out of touch and so is everyone I know or speak to.

    (A side thought: Isn’t this kind of world-class cynicism and media-theory reductionism another insidious kind of branding in itself?)

    • thestage says:

      While I obviously don’t think everyone thought about Pearl Harbor or other people that might think about Pearl Harbor (we call this rhetoric), the “debate” here has permeated enough corners of the internet to pop into the social consciousness. That’s important.

      And I think it’s safe to say I don’t buy your altruism bit.

      “(A side thought: Isn’t this kind of world-class cynicism and media-theory reductionism another insidious kind of branding in itself?)”

      Absolutely. Hence my last paragraph. Though maybe I’d drop the “insidious” bit.

    • philtrum says:

      That was my thought too. I didn’t read the words “Pearl Harbor” in connection with this event until I clicked on the link here. It’s not because we’re out of touch; it’s because it’s a totally outlandish thing to think. Refuting it is like posting an impassioned screed against the Westboro Baptist Church, or participating in one of those Facebook memes where you talk about your undergarments for “breast cancer awareness”.

  7. Sfon says:

    “If we are to believe Viceland, you thought “Pearl Harbor.” Unless you are a reader of Viceland, at which point you likely thought “I bet other people are going to think of Pearl Harbor.””

    YOU thought “Pearl Harbor” according to Viceland? YOU?

    So offensive and weird to suggest that it is so common that the reader must have thought it, that it tempted me to feel superior to everyone else and/or Viceland. Unlike what Viceland actually did, which was simply point out what some crazies said.

  8. AdamSaleh1987 says:

    I just don’t see how modern Japan has anything to do with Pearl Harbor the Japanese society of that era is very different from the present era

    • thestage says:

      Clearly modern Japan has nothing to do with Pearl Harbor. Just like the discussion surrounding Pearl Harbor and the earthquake has nothing to do with the earthquake. That’s the point.

  9. obbieuth says:

    What did I first think when I heard there had been an enormous earthquake in Japan? That would probably be “jesus christ is it really 5 am” followed quickly by “I wonder if this will halt the anime and manga flowing out of the area” and more slowly by wondering if there was anything I could do to help that wouldn’t just immediately be swallowed in a mire of lies and scam accounts. When I actually started watching some of the news about the topic, the thing that struck me most of all was the incongruity between reported facts and the images I was seeing. Only 50 dead, only 100 dead, no no the nuclear reactor hasn’t melted down. Don’t get me wrong I’m not hoping any of the above are false, I’d love for few people to be injured and the nuclear facilities to be intact. But having had the majority of several cities flash submerged and being able to detect Cesium-137 in the air are not reports that lend themselves to optimism.

    To address the issue of Pearl Harbor I’d say it seems like quite the fallacy of a conclusion. Most of the people who took part in that attack are long dead. From what I can piece together about the Japanese view of Americans I don’t think they hold a generally negative opinion of Americans. I think they realize our culture is substantially different from ours but most of the Japanese media I’ve seen depict Americans as well intentioned curiosities. Every American is always blond, blue eyed, and has an outgoing extroverted personality. They seem to have gotten the narcissism part right at any rate.

    Rather than using the Pearl Harbor issue as a way of branding themselves, as a way of expressing a form of identity, perhaps people are using it as a way of disconnecting from the issue. One of the fears I heard tossed around initially was what the wave would look like when it hit Hawaii and then the west coast. After those fears had subsided perhaps this is just another cognitive kill switch people came up with as a way of clearing the issue from their news feeds. Ok… now that we’ve decided the karma is balanced, lets move on to other disasters.

  10. merope says:

    Funny. First thing I thought about when I heard the news was Godzilla. Go figure;.

    • thestage says:

      “godzilla” and “I wonder if the anime valve will be turned off” are the exact same response as “that’s what you get for Pearl Harbor,” they’re just routed in different directions.

  11. Dan Dravot says:

    I wish you’d taken the trouble to explain who’s saying what about Pearl Harbor. I read a good number of mostly libertarian-leaning right-wingish blogs, and this is the first I’ve heard of it. So it can’t be as widespread as you think, because if folks like Tamara K. had heard of it, they’d be pointing at it and howling with laughter, because that’s what they invariably do with exactly that kind of thing from exactly that kind of source. It’s free material.

    So you think this Terrible Idea is widespread, but you can’t even seem to tell us what exactly it is, or who exactly is saying it. And people who’ve been online all weekend are asking you what the hell you’re talking about. No, I think what we’re observing here is something else, though very closely related to what you’re complaining about: One or two people identified (perhaps wrongly) as \(right|left)\ says something dumb, and anybody on the other side who hears it says \OMFG, this is what THE (RIGHT|LEFT) THINKS!!1!\ and all their readers believe it.

    the “debate” here has permeated enough corners of the internet to pop into the social consciousness. That’s important.

    It’s on Viceland and maybe somebody who read it there wrote about it on his blog, and it upset you, so you wrote about it here. That’s not important. If feels important to you because if you build it up a bit, it makes you feel justified in hating people you’re afraid of. God knows why you’re afraid of them, but you are. Presumably some psychological thing to do with establishing your identity. I can’t tell you exactly what; if I were the Last Psychiatrist, I wouldn’t have to write this in the comments.

    Maybe this meme will gain traction; obviously you want it to. You’re presenting yourself as a disinterested observer, but if you’re the guy saying \OMFG, this is what THE (RIGHT|LEFT) THINKS!!1!\, you’re on the left. So you’re pretending it’s widespread, and you probably even believe that. Kind of like some people see a news story about guy with a Muslim-sounding name decapitating his wife (no srsly there was one in NY), and they say \OMFG ALL MUSLIMS DECAPITATE THEIR WIVES!!1!\.

    I’ve had absolutely no impact on your thinking. I’m wasting my time. At most, you’ll retreat to a \dog whistle\-style theory which has me obsessed with visions of Pearl Harbor subconsciously, without being aware of it. Either that, or you think I’m lying to trick you, because by definition all rightwingers (for some reason, it makes you more righteous in hating them if you run the two words together — btw why is that?) compulsively start yelling about Pearl Harbor every time you mention the Japanese. And if they don’t yell out loud, they’re hiding it, which is even tricksier and just proves how crazy they are. And if they don’t even know they’re hiding it, they’re even tricking themselves, which just proves how dumb they are! Or something.

    So now I’ll do a Last Psychiatrist surprise ending:

    Meanwhile, the protesters in Wisconsin are all fat white people with misspelled signs, so they must be racists. Bet you didn’t think THAT was what this is all really about!

    Ha ha, neither did I!

    • Dan Dravot says:

      Why does this thing replace my non-nested quotation marks with backslashes? That’s annoying.

    • thestage says:

      can I avoid your bizarre political diatribe if I replace “pearl harbor” (really now, use your imagination; I think you can figure out how these people–who apparently don’t exist for you because they are not pundits–are phrasing the pearl harbor comments) with “payback for the whales” or “godzilla lol” or “I wonder if this will affect my anime consumption?” or “I wonder what this means for my stocks?” or “see, I told you the world was going to end in 2012″ or “these things are bound to happen because of global warming” or any number of other possible reactions that have little to nothing to do with an earthquake in Japan?

      the political angle is pertinent and transparent, but it’s also not explicitly the point. perhaps I’d have been better served widening it so as not to be hemmed in by polemical opposition.

      this binary thinking that most of the comments here are expressing wherein what I said is literally supposed to mean that I think everyone in the entire world either thought this was payback for pearl harbor or else got their rocks off on calling those people out is a little weird.

  12. Guy Fox says:

    Great post. (That’s ‘Like’ as in props/recognition. You can extrapolate as you please to my identity, ’cause I’m just a figment of my own identity anyway.)

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  14. lockstep says:

    You’d think most Americans, when thinking about Japan and destruction think about the USA nuking the fuck out of hundreds of thousands of Japanese people – NOT Pearl fucking Harbor.

    Not to be too in line with those self righteous schadenfreude junkies, though, I was hoping that the Cove got destroyed. That would have been one good thing.

  15. lockstep says:

    Given the horrors the Japanese people are suffering right now – anything else seems insignificant. I regret my above glib comment.

    This is a test for all economic superpowers (G8-G20) to come together and show the rest of the world why we feel we should be allowed to operate untold numbers of Nuclear reactors that we rely on for our standard of living. If we are so civilized, it’s time to buck and and help this country in every way possible.

    I am going to shut up and donate now.

    • thestage says:

      because the nuclear reactors are cleaner and safer than all viable alternatives. when it’s bad, it’s bad, but as of right now living in Japan under the radiation levels emitted by these reactors is still healthier than living in, say, any city in China.

  16. hcartaxo says:

    There’s a compilation of twitter and facebook updates that make this post make a lot of sense, even though sounds unthinkable that anyone would associate the earthquakes to pearl harbor. It’s Here.

    But like the post says, these people don’t even agree with themselves. I wish.

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