Friday, August 1, 2014

As I Truly Am

I was at a Japanese café when I heard what is likely the most popular song in the world right now, “Let It Go.” I have heard Japanese school children sing the song in Japanese and, when I belt it out in English, they instantly recognize it. I have even carried on conversations with my adult students about the movie. It seems that everyone knows this movie, especially the song.
I wondered, though, why is it so popular in Japan. I can understand why it is in America. It’s catchy, up-beat, and un-apologetically individualistic. With lyrics like, “I don’t care what they’re going to say” and “No right, no wrong, no rules for me,” it is the perfect song to express one’s disregard of social and moral norms. It’s the kind of song that just about anyone can sing; atheists railing against religion, proponents of homosexuality who wish to see love break free of its millenia-long oppression, or your average teenager who feels alienated at school. It’s the battle anthem for an army of ones.
So, what could possibly be the attraction for Japanese people? To answer that question, I went to the lyrics and what I found surprised me, because it wasn’t very surprising. In Japan, the self is pushed down and individualistic behavior is discouraged all for the sake of homogeny, of sameness. One’s emotions are turned inward to the point that what a person is feeling and what a person says can be completely different. Is it any wonder that the Japanese version of “Let It Go” has lyrics like, “I’ll show you how I truly am” and “I’ll become my true self?”
In the American version, Elsa “turns away and slams the door” on the pressures that being a “perfect girl” puts on her. She is shedding her “good” girl veneer. She will begin to do explore what she can do without “car[ing] what [others] are going to say.” She no longer lives with rules. She’s free.
On the other hand, the Japanese Elsa wishes to be understood by others. She feels “confusion, hurt” and is “troubled” and “worried” because individual emotions are seen as wrong and it makes sense for her to lament that she’s “unable to open up to anyone.” So, she decides that she will become her “true self” by drawing her “feelings soaring up into the sky.” It’s a song born of a desire to be known, not simply free.
              These two songs speak volumes of their respective cultures of origin. American culture opposes all things collective. No one should ever be forced to feel obligated to someone else. That should remain a decision from themselves. That’s why things like organized religion and old institutions are seen as such backward things. They are understood to be intrusions into our personal lives from people who either have nothing to do with us or are dead. And rightly so. That’s exactly what they are. Organized religion, usually defined as Christianity, is an invasion of privacy, because Christianity understands that there is no such thing as a private life, just like there is no such thing as a private crime. What is done in private affects our public lives. Americans hate that fact and try everything they can do to lessen those consequences, but it remains that anything done in the dark will be brought to the light, because everything we do affects us and we affect everyone else.
              And we see exactly that in “Frozen.” Elsa thinks that she’s free because she’s alone, but even then her actions and attitudes affect everyone. She tried to live her life as an island, but no one is an island. No one can be. Just as real islands are connected in deep ways, so are we all.
              And that’s why Christianity has always been a religion of interconnected relationships. In the Old Testament, large groups of people were often punished for the actions of one, because the actions of one can have profound impacts upon others. Even in the New Testament, living in community is essential, but the trick is that the individual was never lost. Jesus dealt with large groups of people as individuals, without losing sight of either. He saw the forest and the trees.

How can we do this? We keep in mind John 3:16. It tells us that God loved the collective world so much that He sent His only Son to die in order to say every individual on Earth.