Through the three year old gaze: Gaga in Wonderland.

If I ever thought I’d be referring to Lady Gaga while living in Japan I always assumed that what with there being no shortage of bejewelled and bedazzled young fashion around, it would be in the ‘some Japanese girls dress gaga’ context.

I didn’t think that I’d be referring to a three year old girl.

A few weeks ago I began babysitting a little girl whose parents appear to be sailing through global economic chaos in the privileged and contained ship of a shiny twenty first floor penthouse. They are wealthy- really wealthy. I am not, per se, opposed to the well-carpeted rich, even if they do buy their gourmet meals in every night, have guitars as ornaments rather than instruments, and give their three year old daughter a room large enough, and stuffed enough with toys and wares to be termed ‘her house’, next door to ‘our house’. It doesn’t scare me that she will be brought up as a little princess, that she is allowed to eat microwavable macaroni cheese which has a salt content that could dissolve the contents of a blocked drain; it doesn’t scare me that she is still not potty trained to the point where she regularly has number two incidents indoors, or that when we watch Tom and Jerry together the ole’ Southern maid with the broom sadly reminds me of their ‘help’, Bessy (for the record, Southeast Asian).

What really scares me is her three year old relationship with Disneyland and Gaga-land.

Naturally (why this is natural would require another explanation entirely), she has an infatuation with Disney princesses, Belle, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty. The glitter, the glitz, the glamour. It might make me cringe with guilt as I notice more and more my own penchant for believing that someday my prince will come – and where that came from… but it doesn’t exactly fire me up with indignation. Last week however, as I struggled to get to grips with her refusal to do anything I told her to do, her father showed me his method for getting her to sit in her highchair for dinner: she will sit still if she is watching Lady Gaga music videos online. It makes her almost mute, apart from the tiny hurumphs of ‘papa, papa, paparassi’ and ‘pokeher face’. It makes her saucer eyes almost saucepan-like as she fixates on Gaga’s sparkling and frequently naked writhing body. ‘Oh no she has no panties on’ she lamented at one point with a Sponge Bob spoon half-heartedly dangling from her infant hand. This fired me up. As did the moment, all three of us watched ‘California girlz’ because her father ‘wanted to see if she liked Katie Perry too.’ He later muttered, ‘I don’t know why, but You Tube won’t play Lady Gaga’s videos, so I have to go on a different site for that…’ Because it is X-RATED man, what world are you living in?!

My dilemma as anyone who’s ever watched a music video with me is that I want to dance… Oh goodness I’ll be the first to sing all the lyrics to Bad Romance and usually have to stand up ready to bounce if Rihanna’s on MTV. And I’m also the first to worry, fret over, overthink maybe, the significance that these music videos are having on teenage girls today. It was bad enough when we were eighteen… But it seems that in the last few years music videos have become even more licentious – what happened to sexual innuendo and suggestion? Surely there is less and less fun in portraying sex if it is simply served up on our plates like a generic burger made from nondescript meat.

What I hadn’t even prepared myself for, in worrying over the signals that this is sending to teenage girls, was the impact it might be having on toddler-age girls… who love the pink coloured Disney castle, the little biscuits and tea sets of Alice in Wonderland, the shine and perfection of diamond chandeliers, tiaras and jewellery – who do not know the difference between that and the sheen and sparkle of Katie Perry’s sequin festooned hotpants and ice cream bra. Again, I cannot go down the gender debate road of why a three year old girl likes ‘pretty things’, but she does, just like I do; what she doesn’t have is the experience that comes with years, to discern between genres, messages, meanings. The swearing and the lyrics don’t matter as much; a three year old will forget them before it makes an impact on her understanding. What made me immensely uncomfortable were the obvious and easy parallels that she was drawing with this and her normal, girly, three year old Disney sensitivities. With the current trend for candy floss colours, butter icing, the revival of haribo for grown-up women, I fear that unless adults remember now that there is more to being female than sugared Disney-esque sex, the next generation of women are going to acquire a retrogressive mish-mash of gaga role models.




‘Between’ friends

Two blogs down and I zoned out for a couple of weeks. A non-acquaintance might assume that Immaterial Me escaped blog-land sharpish having let loose too hastily on the summer riots and subsequently lost the momentum. Not out of the question considering the mighty belittlement induced by the vastness of the internet and my comparative lack of readers. Actually, I moved to Japan.

Japan is not new to me, we go way back. The emotion between us is akin to that of a great love story- full of longing, tortured indecision, excessive emotion and really tragic. I thought that I would arrive and immediately want to write about the things that always fire me up here, national paradoxes that alternately bemuse and amuse me. For example the fact that women still continuously flush the toilet as they go, so that others can’t hear them weeing- washing some of the world’s dwindling water supply down pristine Tokyo pipes; in a city that has recently demonstrated an intelligent understanding of global resource shortages by reducing electricity consumption even more than was officially stipulated after the nuclear disaster. I thought I would want to debunk the overused and un-developed store of Western stereotypes that we all enjoy trudging over: the fast-pace, the population density, the gadgets, eccentric design, musical jingle mayhem and all-round bizarreness. I thought more than anything that I would want to comment immediately on the changes this country is undergoing after the shocking trio of catastrophes it suffered in March.

Instead what I found myself thinking about is friendship. To come here I had to leave behind (again) the people who have come to know me better than I know myself; people who knew it was worth cajoling me into moving back to Japan because they could see straight through the socks on my cold feet. I spent the countdown to departure wondering whether I could do it again, too flighty, too erratic, too hot-headed; I need them to keep those well-socked feet on the ground. What would I do without them? – a sadly insincere sounding cliché that I mean and wish I could convey the truth of.

One full re-packing of my suitcase ten minutes before I left the house, a hangover-jetlag cordial, 11 hours sitting beside an OCD stranger, and the most horrendous flight food I’ve ever had later (it included heavy spicing and chickpeas – not a combination for a comfortable night in a contained space with scores of inert bodies) and I arrived in Japan. In a bizarre time-lapse, one year in London receded and I arrived at Narita airport feeling like a woozy homing pigeon, glad to be nearing the nest. But my original fears over practicalities remained, as did the stresses of re-starting life in a country which can be bewildering even to those like me, timeworn by its eccentricities. Not to mention that feeling of being ‘between friends’. Not quite knowing when you will make friends, not quite sure if you will make friends and hoping it will happen soon. In those first three days, however, I discovered the overwhelming sense of gratitude inspired by being the recipient of kindness from ‘in-between friends’.

I spent my first day at work internalising a housing crisis, the crisis being that I had no housing. My colleagues –soon to be classified as friends, but not quite there yet, adamantly stood with me after work outside the building as I struggled to work out if I had a roof over my head that night. Adamant that I was not going to be left alone and that regardless of the situation I would have a bed to sleep in, they insisted on staying with me (I had clearly betrayed the core frenzy which I thought I was hiding rather well), and then helped me with my bags through the dull sludge of humidity that layers it on thick in the Tokyo air and makes walking hard enough at the best of times, let alone with 30kg of luggage. It may not seem like much now, and as we become better friends will probably be outnumbered by weightier acts of friendship; however at the time, no-where to live, no money for a hotel, sweltering heat and huge bags in tow, such insistence on seeing me home and dry was not what I expected in a theoretically ‘friendless’ status.

Then there is my Japanese ‘in-between friend’, a coffee and a chat type of friend. So worried was she about my debilitating lack of funds to do an unpaid internship in the world’s second most expensive city, that despite having just moved back to this country after two years abroad, she offered to put me up with her and her husband in their first home together in Japan- and then apologised profusely for the lack of amenities and the ‘shabby’ state of her little flat. (For the record, not shabby). To allow anyone to move in, while you yourself are unpacking two years of a life lived in a foreign country, to finally settling down to married life, acclimatizing to ‘reverse culture shock’ and going straight back to a job that requires you to work hours the Brits would refuse to do and the French would start a revolution over, is astounding. She has shown more kindness than some people might show to their ‘real’ friends and it is not reflective of her financial freedom to provide such hospitality.

And what of her husband, not even an ‘in-between friend’, he was presumably looking forward to some peace outside of working hours – that feeling of complete unaccountability when you get home and close the door on the world after spending the midnight train home sardined against  other officer workers, businessmen and women. He now shares his flat with me and has made me feel so welcome I feel a bit like I’m doing him a favour.

These are a few of the people who have propped me up emotionally in the last 10 days, reminded me of how vital my friends are in London for doing the same thing, and shown me that even when you’re ‘between’ friends someone, temporarily or long-term, is going to care about you in the same capacity.