Letters to the Editor

Why Japan doesn't get the Internet (yet); Neil LaBute's violence is shocking, but not surprising.

Published July 6, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

Clueless in Tokyo



To categorize Japan's entire Internet industry as
"not getting it" based on a few interviews with foreign techies and a
superficial cultural examination seems unprofessional. Granted, access fees and telecom charges are prohibitive, many managers don't yet understand the technology or its implications,
and the Internet is still primarily the realm of otaku (geeks). Except for the
bit about telecom charges, though, is this not a picture of the Web in the U.S.
just a few years ago, when avatar chat was cool and when geeks were
anything but?

Based on the cultural cohesiveness, consumerism and love of
techno-gadgets in Japan, it's quite possible to argue that once a few
trusted companies clear some rather large hurdles -- such as swaying
consumer opinion on e-commerce, nurturing the adoption of some form of
online payment and working with the government to continue to deregulate
all types of industry, including telecom -- that the rate of Internet
adoption in Japan could overtake that in the United States. The fact that
consumers will have a corner store pick-up option for goods purchased on
the Web, in addition to a home or work delivery option, means only that
Japan's unique brand of e-commerce will be more convenient than its
Western counterpart.

-- Jay Ashton


David Lazarus misses one key reason for the lack of penetration into the daily lives of computer users. Most adult
computer users in the West were first exposed to the Internet, and computers
in general, through work or school. They gained a good understanding
of the computer as a tool before bringing the box into their homes. But given the peripheral functions that computer networks serve in Japanese business, few Japanese really know what computer
can and cannot do.

The marketing campaigns provide a false image of both computer and internet use.
Every TV commercial I have seen sells the computer as a fun toy. Trendy
young people at a party are shown gathered around the screen, oohing and
aahing over pretty Web pages, or spending a romantic evening with their
lover looking at images of Paris. When Japanese consumers buy into this image, fork over several hundred
thousand yen for a computer system and Internet access, and get their
systems up and running, they find nothing of
interest in Japanese, nothing useful, nothing but corporate wank sites and
home pages of people who have nothing to say. It's hardly surprising
that after an initial surge, PC sales have tailed off dramatically. Until computer use penetrates corporate and educational
institutions as a tool for increasing individual efficiency and
productivity, the Internet is never going to be anything but a trendy
plaything, soon tossed aside for the next toy.

-- Ruskyle Howser

I lived and worked in Japan from 1974 until 1979 and
formed similar impressions about the Japanese approach to
technology. If it was "sexy" and exportable, full steam ahead! If it
promoted individuality, forget it. The Net in Japan will grow only in
proportion to how it maintains conformity and the status quo. When they
figure out how to achieve consensus by electronic signature, every Japanese
business man will have a remote, pocket-sized Web-access unit.

-- Robert B. Shaw

Pebble Beach, Calif.

I can't reconcile Lazarus' conclusions about e-commerce in Japan with our direct
experience over the past four years -- monitoring millions of dollars of
online orders being placed by thousands of Japanese customers with our
clients (companies such as Amazon.com, Dell Computer Japan and
Outpost.com), and paid for with credit cards.
To get the real story, just ask any leading U.S. e-tailer which country accounts for the largest portion of sales after the United States.

-- Tim Clark

I am everyday evil



I couldn't agree more with your piece on Neil LaBute. I swore off seeing any film with the "disturbing" tag years ago. As the wave of '90s indie film ground on and on, this idea that normal people were fucked up, too, seemed like such a one-trick pony.

Aren't movies supposed to be entertaining? Aren't
movies supposed to provide escape into a somewhat better world, where if
we're lucky, we can learn something about ourselves and at the very least
walk away with a smile? Who wants to go to LaBute's world -- or for that matter, Todd Solondz's
or Harmony Korrine's?

Last month, I rented "Your Friends and Neighbors." After the movie, I was affected, but not in any way that could effect change in my life. I can't say I was entertained. The feeling
overall was that of mental rape. LaBute is one of a bunch of film
school bores who threaten to ruin film for normal people forever.

-- Joey Sweeney


Mormonism, as a religion, has for a long time been very concerned with
image, with public relations, with How We're Perceived. And often enough,
those outside our faith either get it hopelessly wrong, or get it
obnoxiously right. We're either portrayed as some sort of
wacko Amish-like farmers, only with several wives each (which is at least
entertaining) or, worse, as clean-cut, middle-class cultural conservatives.

In part, what's shocking about Neil's work is that he is a Mormon, and yet
his work shows such a horrifying picture of humanity, and the capacity of
all people (including Mormons) to commit dreadful acts of ultimate evil.
He's right, of course. But it's not a truth most of us want to face,
especially Mormons. But I, for one, am delighted that he's doing it.

Mormonism is a rich and
wonderful culture, and right now is producing some superb writers, people
like Levi Peterson, Margaret Young, Tim Slover and Doug Thayer. And Neil
LaBute. If you want to get to know us, ignore the glossy media campaigns.
Read our best writers.

-- Eric Samuelsen

LaBute certainly makes many Mormons uncomfortable, and many church members will likely
never see any of his work, simply because of the R-ratings his movies
receive. Since previews for "Bash" opened, though, there has been a
noticeable ripple of excitement and anxiety among the young New York
ward (congregation) members, which includes many theater and
entertainment professionals as well as fans.

I personally found the stories in "Bash" actually affirm, albeit
through staggeringly negative examples, a major tenet of Mormon
doctrine, and one that is shared in various forms by many belief
systems -- namely that of individual accountability. In each of the works
in "Bash," it was precisely these characters we find to be evil who make
insincere and (according to Mormon teaching specifically
and Christian belief in general) implausible appeals for justification for their
actions, calling on the name of fate.

My feeling watching "Bash" was that LaBute singled out the sin of
evasion of personal responsibility for special
condemnation. This is
the message LaBute drills home, only after manipulating his audience
into identifying with his characters.

-- Greg Allen

It's impossible to exaggerate the depths of depravity in the underbelly of
the Mormon religion.
Pull up the Salt Lake Tribune, throw in the keyword polygamy, and read volumes
of gross true crime stories for a look at the dark side of Mormonism. Half-sibling and full-sibling marriages, children born with previously unseen genetic defects, a 15-year-old girl forced into a marriage with her uncle as his 15th wife, belt-whipped for wanting to finish high school. In Arizona an upstanding Mormon High Priest recently "blood atoned" his
wife by stabbing her 44 times, then drowning her because she wasn't dead
yet -- an early Mormon murder practice. Her crime was not wanting any more children; his defense, supported by his priesthood brothers, was sleepwalking. The miracle in all of this is how they are able to maintain the image of the family-oriented church -- because it spends a fortune on an
army of attorneys to protect their false public image.

-- Linda Walker

Director, Child Protection Project

Silicon bachelors



I live in the Silicon Valley, and I know these guys. They have their
computers and other nifty toys, they have their stocks and what seem to
be high salaries, but they also have rent that probably chews up a quarter to a half of their income. Sadly enough, many of these guys who want a girlfriend can't afford one. And the ones who can afford a girlfriend are more interested in computers than girls. Maybe that truly is the revenge of
the nerds: Girls? Who needs them?

-- Rosemary Picado-Corral

Kahlza, we get it: You want to suckle us with sweet
love offerings



The characterization of Pauline Hanson as
right wing, although also repeated often in the Australian press, is
probably granting her a more sophisticated political stance than she
holds. As distinct from a conservative, she is a knee-jerk nationalist.

Her opposition to free trade, privatization of utilities and reduced
industry subsidies aligns her (on economic issues, at least) with the
left-wing Australian Labor Party. On welfare issues she has the apparent
support of some senior Aboriginal figures, one of whom (the left-leaning
lawyer Noel Pearson) recently spoke in favor of large-scale cutbacks in
Aboriginal welfare. He echoed, albeit in a rather more articulate
fashion, various Hanson comments on the subject.

So, where to place her in the right/left spectrum? Your guess is as good
as mine. Luckily, Australians have largely given up trying. Hanson was
voted out in last year's federal election, and the chances of her making
a comeback are minimal.

-- Tim Blair

Hard boiled


It's difficult to take seriously an article about modern noir that does
not mention Elmore Leonard, the best of the lot. Granted he's gotten
cuter over the years, but there is a raft of stuff from the old days,
and books like "Maximum Bob" still pack a wallop. Leonard is every bit
as pulp, literate, and un-self-conscious as Chandler, if not infinitely
more so.

-- Tim Jennings

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