Friday, November 21, 2014

Welcome to the NHK

"Stroke of luck or a gift from God?
Hand of fate or devil's claws?
From below or saints above
You come to me now"

Garbage - A Stroke of Luck

I have seen this series then bought the original book several years ago. I have never wanted to talk about it. I did not even really want to watch it. I just had to.

For many shut-ins around the world, Welcome to the N.H.K. has probably been one of the hardest things to watch - and the most important. The novella was good, setting the harsh merciless tone of an insider spilling the beans about a closed system. The series however, expanded with more and more dirty secrets of would-be information-age Boo Radleys, hit so many weak points in the conceit of the maladjusted that it grew into something fascinatingly painful. It is a niche product. Most will find it only a parade of seemingly disconnected grotesqueries and ludicrous behavior. However, it's much more for those of us who live through our reflections in the darkened windows of our safe apartments, for those of us who flinch at the sound of laughter and for whom escapism has ceased to be an -ism and simply become the only option.

It's brutal stuff. Given that many of its target audience especially around the turn of the millennium believed themselves to have discovered or invented online games or pornography or living off takeout until your parents' money runs out, I'm willing to bet the sheer shock of seeing their secrets aired made many of the series' viewers cringe... episode after shamingly understanding episode. In many ways it would have been much better if the show had been only another cavalcade of mockery directed at nerds living in their mothers' basements. We have made a cilice of The Second Kind of Loneliness and welcome each new stab of condemnation as confirmation that the universe is pushing us into the first kind. But understanding... compassion... worst of all, hope? No.

I wanted to stop watching the series several times during each episode. As it carried on I consoled myself that it would devolve into some predictable cliche and finally I might discount it, dismiss it, detach myself from any uncomfortable traces of empathy. Ah, the coup de grace. That the series would take even the grand gesture from me, that the deus ex machina comes not from the world of freaks and losers, of cat ladies and dog men but from the hated mundane world, that not literature or visual arts or science trivia or dreamy roleplaying but crass chicken-wire occupies the climax - this was a stroke of genius.

And it doesn't end. It never ends. No-one knows this better than those counting the midnight hours listening to footsteps outside their doors. People like us don't get grand gestures and we don't get happily ever afters. Here is the cruelest insult to insult the story throws at you: not a sappy delusion that finding a kindred spirit will fix a sick world, but the image of the gradual, trudging grind of something which might be called personal progress.

Derision, I was used to. Delusion, I waded through. Plausible hope, though, that was a low blow.

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