Soft scenarios & hard truths

Opinions - March 17th, 2000
Robert J. Collins

by Robert J. Collins

You see, the way to write satire is to select a mundane subject—one that is somewhat current—and create a scenario wherein events and circum­stances are exaggerated beyond normal limits to a sublimely ri­diculous conclusion. The only rule is that steps leading to the conclusion be believable. Swift’s hero in Gulliver’s Trav­els didn’t start out tied to the ground by Lilliputians; he got there as a result of logical events recognized by all involved in strong country/weak country affairs at the time.

One might ponder the little slips and errors that occur as we go about doing our own thing. If we are able to transcend the pin of our mistakes along the way, there remains considerable fodder for later satirical exposition with ourselves as examples. Or if tran­scending that personal pain is too difficult, we can look else­where. Life’s great that way.

Looking elsewhere, take the subject of law and order and the role of police in the whole process. A couple months ago, I planned a column on the Key­stone Kop quality of behavior one observes around here.

The column (“On the Mean Streets of Yokohama”) ended up being a story about police­men in Kanagawa Prefecture “scoring” free baseball tickets while all around them authori­ties were investigating, in the fashion we’ve come to expect, various forms of serious corrup­tion on the force. It was humor­ous, not over the top, and mildly satirical.

Keeping in mind the “rule” that steps to the con­clusion be logical and believable, I had earlier rejected a scenario in which I had police superi­ors up in a hot springs spa fooling around, drinking their weight in booze and play­ing Mah-jongg (!). All this would be happening, in my sce­nario, in the midsts of major catastrophes and while their de­partments were falling to pieces behind them. Over the top, I thought, and too ridiculous to be believed.

Well, here we are. The real life Niigata cop and the real-life investigator from the Na­tional Police Agency just went beyond what I considered to be too much for a satirical piece. Wow.

And who could have imag­ined that the problem back home involved first a girl and now a young woman kid­napped and held captive for nine years. Even Jonathon Swift wouldn’t have touched it. (“At least she was rescued by the police. No she wasn’t. Yes she was. No she wasn’t.”)

Of perhaps more interest in the inanity department—an ab­surdity making the steps even less believable—is the mother of the kidnapper (“I can’t seem to control him”) saying she didn’t know the victim was up­stairs. This despite the fact she made extra meals in the house­hold for nearly a decade. (And she wasn’t living in Tara, folks, or Blenheim Palace. She was liv­ing in a Japanese house with all its inherent coziness.)

Yes, we’ve just seen another example of life outstripping art, of truth being stranger than fic­tion. Hmmm. The verities still apply. It’s comforting.

But now my real thoughts on police, law and order, and satire. If I could arrange to have the following printed real small, I would. I’ll type this lightly, but move closer to the paper anyway.

At least the way it is in Japan, sssshhhh, the shenanigans of the law enforcement folks can still be parodied. Their ac­tions, inactions, mis­takes, goofy procedures and right-wing tendencies are there— just waiting to be satirized.

Mind you, I feel sorry for the young lady in Niigata who apparently languished in cap­tivity for extra weeks or per­haps even an extra year because of police ineptitude, but (make certain no one is looking over your shoulder) this whole thing is typical in Japan—a comic op­era rehearsing and rearranging itself for each day’s opening night. The young lady wasn’t in a cave in Siberia. She was upstairs in somebody’s house. And then the curtain went up.

The tragedy is this (typing even more lightly). The time is long gone when we can satirize many aspects of life in other parts of the world—including attempts to maintain law and order—as we can in Japan.

It took 41 bullets to bring down an unarmed man in New York. (Okay, the men in blue made a mistake—according to the jury.) Where’s the satire? Eighty-two bullets?

In Los Angeles, at least 99 criminal defendants have been framed in recent years and sent to prison. (Forty convictions have already been overturned and 20 police officers have been fired, suspended or have quit.) It will cost taxpayers more than $125 million before all settle­ments and restitutions have been made. How about a sit­com? Wrongly incarcerated in­mates fight off buggery as they struggle to stay alive?

And so on.

So here we are (back to big print and normal typing) with the head of the National Po­lice Agency promising to “im­prove the friendliness and cooperation” of his minions. How about handing out stuffed animals and cartoon decals to all civilians with whom they come in contact? Hello Kitty, maybe?

(Wait. They’ve already con­sidered that.)