August 13, 2010

Trauma Tourism

This is a diversion from the usual blog topic I typically plan to write about, but I feel the need to vent about something that just happened, and something that`s happened to me before. This isn`t only a Japan thing, but it seems to happen more regularly in Japan than in other places, and I`m not sure if it`s a culture shock thing or a `You Know What, This Ain`t Cool` thing.

I`m talking about 9/11. Which, of course, was not cool.

Actually, I`m talking about the weird obsession people in Japan seem to have with asking me about 9/11 as soon as they find out I`m from New York. It`s only happened twice so far this time, but the last time I was in Japan it happened frequently, and I expect the subject to come up plenty of times while I`m here.

This is usually how the conversation goes:

Japanese person: You`re from New York. Were you there on 9/11?
Me: Yes, I lived close by.
Japanese person: Wow!! Tell me EVERYTHING.
Me: Um... It was pretty rough...
Japanese person: Did you see it were you scared how much did you see what happened did anyone die it must have been really scary wow that`s amazing we saw it on TV it was so shocking was it shocking???

This is what I think of as trauma tourism, and I feel like it`s self-evident that it bothers the hell out of me. I don`t walk up to other people and say, `Hello, almost-stranger, let`s talk about one of the most horrible moments in my life, in depth! And sometimes you`ll laugh while I`m talking about it!` (Really, they do this. `Oh my God, you thought you and everyone you love were going to die, that`s hilarious.`)

I`m not sure why 9/11 gets a free pass on this, really. If you found out someone was raped or their parents were murdered, you wouldn`t go over to them and demand explicit details on their experience and exclaim over them like a circus act. I mean, maybe you would, but I hope not. I think the impression is that because it was a `global event,` a shared experience, it`s something people feel more involved in, even thousands of miles away. Or maybe it`s just that it`s something important about New York, something they want to use to make a connection with me. Really, I`d rather they use Times Square or pigeons or something.

You`d think they`d realize, nine years later, that it`s not really something anyone who was actually there wants to keep talking about. But hell--if the yokels in Montana and Ohio and Tennessee and the jerks in our own government still keep trying to exploit 9/11 for their own purposes, why not the Japanese, too?

I guess I`m not any angrier about trauma tourism than I am about the mosque protesters or anything Rudy Giuliani has ever said. I`m just not looking forward to dealing with it again. And again. And again.

But maybe I`ll just start lying about it. `Did I say New York? No, no, I meant Newark. Actually, I meant Nome, Alaska. Must have misspoken.`

Blerg. A weary Gaijinesse, signing out.

1 comment:

  1. Regarding the laughing, I've heard that that's something Japanese people do when they feel uncomfortable/awkward/unsure what to say. So they don't necessarily think it's funny... but on the other hand, if it's something they don't feel comfortable talking about, why bring it up in the first place?

    Anyway, that's definitely not cool, and I'm sorry you've had to put up with it.