Monday, February 12, 2007

It's Just Beer

I recently posted a Japanese television ad for Asahi Super Dry Beer at Matsuzaka Watch. The Super Dry ad campaigns are very popular in Japan, and it's not unusual for celebrities, athletes, and people from all walks of life to appear in tv ads downing beer. It's just beer. The Japanese do not come from a culture of Judeo-Christian moral values, and as such are not even remotely wary of the "evils of drink". It's just beer.

Apparently, the ads are creating something of a furor with moralists, and those in government protecting their little private kingdoms of regulation. Mind you these ads never air in the US. They air in a foreign country where it is normal to see people drinking beer. After all, it's just beer. For Americans to become so provincial and highly sensitive about this issue is beyond ridiculous to me. Forgive me for being a moralist myself, and I don't intend to sound holier-than-thou about this story, but I have to ask myself, "How is it that a group of people can become so horrified over something they will never see?"

The argument by the moralists is that athletes should not promote the consumption of alcohol, as it will have a bad effect on the children that look up to them. I wonder how this affects American kids who will never see the ads. Yes, maybe they can see them on YouTube, but they can also see provocative music videos, R-rated snippets from NBC television outtakes, and all manner of other bizarre offerings. Are these people worried about the well-being of little Japanese children everywhere? Well, I'd say that's an issue for Japanese parents and the Japanese government to work out. In Japan, there isn't the threat of a vengeful God looming over the people, forcing them to repent and toss aside their wicked ways. In fact, you'll be surprised to hear that this wasn't the case in the United States either until the 1800s. The Puritans arrived on American soil, a people we've come to know as historically famous for self-denial, and this idea from Wikipedia illustrated the false perception we have of our national Christian heritage, and the consumption of alcohol:

The English Puritans were temperate partakers of "God's good gifts," including wine and ale.

In fact, the same Wikipedia discussion of alcohol and Christianity tells us that the Pilgrims landed in the New World with an abundance of alcohol and immediately began brewing to uphold their local community rituals and customs. Even the Puritans and the Pilgrims knew that it's just beer. It wasn't until the urbanization movement that was brought about as a result of the Industrial Revolution that we saw moves to ban the use of alcohol to curb public drunkenness and somehow become a solitary beacon of Christian perfection on Earth. We can see the roots of our current moral relativism in this era of social change.

Back to Matsuzaka. Alcohol consumption in Japan is very high. I don't have figures to compare the US and Japan in terms of alcohol consumed, and frankly it's not necessary to get that specific here. There is also a form of legalized gambling in Japan. Sex is also a part of life that is not regarded as particularly "sinful". The Japanese may have the reputation for being a repressed people, but it's a completely false idea. The type of repression that exists in Japan is more a kind of self-regulated behavioral repression tied to maintaining the common peace. If one's behavior is somehow so outrageous as to upset the delicate social balance, they are shamed. Alcohol is not part of this equation. Alcohol is a release from that very rigid code of behavior, and while Japanese are famous for indulging in alcohol to the point of extreme inebriation, it is controlled in a very reasonable and balanced way. For the most part, work and family life are not adversely affected by the consumption of alcohol. Working long, hard hours and staying away from the home is more an issue that drinking.

Children growing up in Japan are not subjected to the sexualization of alcohol on television the way we are in the US. There are no bikini-clad pitch women "cat-fighting" in public and plunging into a public fountain. (I recall that was a controversial ad in the US some years ago.) Japanese beer ads feature hearty consumption of the product, a la Daisuke's commercial, but almost always attach the drinking to healthy social behavior like delicious meals with friends, and such. The attachment of beer consumption to American football broadcasts are just as strong a message that beer and sports are married, as anything we see from Japan. Beer sales at American stadiums are responsible for almost ever major problem in the stands that we see every year, and also play an important role in the riots that we see post-championship celebration. In my opinion, the portrayal of beer consumption in the Japanese ad is not only more honest, but also less attached to subtle cultural messages about sex....if you want to get moralistic about it. I don't because I believe it's just beer.

The last point here is about America growing up. I love my country. I love my country more now that I've been away for several years than I ever realized. I am proud to be American. I am proud to have been born in a country which has been responsible for some of the greatest innovations in social and technological science over the last 200 years. One of our greatest flaws as a people is our cultural myopia. What goes on in other nations, and in other cultures, is part of the fabric of the human experience. It may or may not be good for us as a nation, but it most certainly can't be judged by our own biases and via our particular cultural lens. Baseball is a microcosm of society, and as such is a fascinating case study filled with historical benchmarks on things like integration, dealing with the death of cultural icons like Roberto Clemente and Thurman Munson, and the healing of post-September 11th society.

Now, more than ever, we are integrating the sport as a part of the globalization phenomenon of the modern world. Part of that trend is the realization of America that we are but one part of a larger world. Athletes coming to our shores to play, make a living, and participate in our national culture must adjust to the way we do things, but that is not to say that we shouldn't do likewise. As Americans, we are lucky to attract the brightest and best talent from around the world. Our greatest gift to the people of the Earth is our openness to providing opportunity to those with great potential. If we hope to benefit from their genius, we need to be equally open to the opportunity they bring to push our culture to evolve. Part of that evolution is a new openness to accepting and understanding ideas which are different from our own. In this case, Matsuzaka's beer ad adds a new wrinkle to something we've only known from our own narrow perspective. While we may decide that it may not be good for Americans to see ads of this nature, and particularly our children, it is not for us to say that the ads shouldn't run in Japan. It is our unique opportunity, as we get to know this player, to see things from a different perspective and ask questions about our own ideas and beliefs. We may find them reinforced, but we must at least ask the questions. That is the gift of a more international perspective.

But, in the end, it's just beer. That's only my opinion. I may be wrong. If you'd like to judge for yourself, you can head to the Asahi Super Dry webpage and view the ads yourself. Just follow the link and look for the following icon in the middle of the page, on the left.

Click and you'll be able to view both the Matsuzaka ad, and the Matsui version. You'll also note that the tea-totalers are a rather powerful force in baseball, as they've long fielded an entire team of Bugs Bunnies. I believe you can even see the earliest recorded appearance of the gyroball if you follow this link.


At 3:17 PM, Anonymous mouse said...

Very well said. I don't understand what all the fuss is about, IS just beer. I'd rather see Matsuzaka chug a cold one than a bunch of scantily clad women pitching the product. The former might actually make me want to try the beer; the latter is just degrading sexism.

Also, both a Red Sox fan and as a person with a curiosity about Japanese life and culture, I really appreciate your blog(s). It's wonderful to get insights into the country from a baseball fan who actually lives there. Even if you do root for the Yankees. ;)

At 4:46 PM, Blogger brant said...

What an awesome link.... thanks very much... this should keep me busy/amused for a while...

At 9:11 PM, Blogger Mike Plugh said...

Thanks very much. I just realized that I had "comment moderation" on for months, and I'm happy to have the comments feature back in full swing. Stop back and leave a message more often!!

Long live Daisuke.

At 7:53 AM, Blogger Wayne said...

I know Butch Stearns was complaining about the beer ad on WEEI last week, but I don't think he's someone representative of the general public. I think that whatever surprise the Red Sox organization may have expressed over the ad regarding the use of the Red Sox jersey should be considered separately from Butch's whining. Unfortunately I think many of the media lumped both things together and made the story into a small brewhaha.

At 12:15 PM, Blogger Mike Edelman said...

I don't see what the issue is either. I thought it was great to see Matsuzaka chug the bear. I only wish more Red Sox did it on television.

You're right on the hypocrisy of American's obsession with alcohol. We have some of the most strict alcohol laws on the world. I think it's these attitudes towards alcohol that cause the levels of alcoholism you see in our country. It's like telling kids that if they don't want to get pregnant they just shouldn't have sex.

Mike Edelman

At 12:16 PM, Blogger Mike Edelman said...

Uh yeah, that's supposed to be beer there. I'm glad it wasn't a bear.


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