I actually agree with Debito, the famed activist for foreigners in Japan, on a lot of things – and I think while his ego can be overwhelming at times, it’s that same quality that allows him to have the big personality and conviction that allows him to do what he does best. However! I really can’t agree with his latest defense of the “Charisma Man” stereotype in the recent Japan Times.
“First featured in a Nagoya newsmagazine and later collated into a book, “Charisma Man” tells the story of a scrawny Caucasian nebbish who escapes his job serving fast food in Canada, comes to Japan, and instantly transforms into a buff, lantern-jawed lothario, able to seduce Japanese women in a single bound.
He can defy all Japanese rules, coming out on top of any situation through charisma alone. His nemesis is Western Woman, who sees through the facade and reduces him back to nebbish status with a single glare…
…Charisma Man is initially a tragic figure. He’s stuck in a dead-end job “back home” and derided for being a dud. His predicament might be his fault (due to a lack of education or motivation) or might not be (due to a lack of economic opportunity in his neighborhood). But either way, he’s depicted as a loser.
So he comes to Japan and is again stuck in a dead-end job. But this time he winds up being a “winner” in some respects. He is finally getting something always denied: a modicum of respect. Earned or not, respect can be transformational in a person’s development. Charisma Man remakes his identity.
However, then come the Identity Police, be it the reader or the (rather offensive stereotype of) Western Woman. They’re trying to force Charisma Man back to the predestination of failure.”
I agree with the point of when other people define you it’s pretty painful; you should be allowed to define yourself. For me, the single largest factor in me growing up and getting over some issues I had in school was getting to come to Japan and redefine myself. Getting outside of your borders can give you a new perspective, and it gives people a chance to respect the new you. I think everyone deserves that chance, and nobody should be allowed to redefine what you have created for yourself. So in that sense, I agree with him that it can be troubling when the “same” people (or at least, same type of people) try to fit you back into that box you tried so hard to fight your way out of.
But I don’t think “Charisma Man” is mocking every single white dude that grew into himself while in Japan. It’s just mocking the ones that didn’t really grow anything but a big effing head because of constant praise and adoration. Charisma Man is a man who hasn’t developed at all, and who thinks that the problem was his home (and snobby Western Women) as opposed to any flaws within himself. He’s the same guy that acts like he understands everything about Japan without being fluent in the language. He’s the same guy who says Japanese women are far better than bossy, fat Western women, because of a few rejections he suffered at home, as if he was the only man to ever be rejected, as if men are the only people rejected in America. It’s an obnoxious white guy that never learned to socialize, and stunted his growth by coming to Japan where it became okay to reject any criticism coming his way, since he could count on superficial encouragement from the Japanese women around him (it’s a hallmark of Charisma Men that they do not have any Japanese male friends, because they don’t want them).
I just feel like Debito is massively overshooting this “stereotype,” if that’s even what is is. I think what sealed it for me was this:
“…As some people disparagingly say, these people need to go out and get laid.
Well, that’s exactly what Charisma Man did. He got out of his “burger-flipping class” and found himself on the sweeter side of society here.
Point is, why should anyone be stuck somewhere they’re not able to make a better life for themselves?
That is the very essence of the immigrant: Someone who was dealt a bad hand in their birthplace emigrates and gets a fresh cut of the cards. If they move and provide a valued, profitable service to their new society, bully for them.”
Anyone who thinks that white men in America are EVER dealt a bad hand needs to get their head examined. You have all the advantages in the world. There is little to no danger of you being raped or sexually assaulted. You likely come from a middle- to upper-class home and have never had to worry about racism, sexism, classism, ableism. You had food on your table and opportunities at every turn. Newsflash – in order to get a visa to teach English, you need a college degree, which means you certainly aren’t flipping burgers for a living. And if Debito meant a nerdy high schooler who would grow up to be an English teacher, well, then, the whole average white boy high schooler who had a summer job at McDonalds is the American Dream. You are the goddamn DEFAULT setting. And you want to tell me that because you were awkward in high school and couldn’t date pretty girls, you were “dealt a bad hand?” I don’t want to deny people’s suffering, but try to get a new perspective here, please. Even Debito remarks that the goal for these Charisma Men was to finally “get laid.”
You know which immigrant groups I feel bad for? Chinese, Korean, Filipino women who are lured here into marriage with poor farmers, because even those poor Japanese farmers have better living conditions than they do. And you know what? They get to come to a land where they don’t know the language and where they can get beaten by their husbands and nobody gives a shit. And you know how they get stereotyped? As greedy, money-hungry bitches who deserve what they get. And you know what else? I don’t see any white guys volunteering in international outreach – all I see is hard-working Asian women that just want to make conditions better for themselves and other women like them. So yeah, let’s talk about immigrants here and how they are trying to make their lives better, and how jerks try to redefine them. Let’s do that.
Listen, I fall into the whole “charisma” person way of thinking myself. It’s nice to imagine I am a goddess of some sort because the color of my skin is exotic and people tell me my (stilted, awkward) Japanese is perfect. It’s easy to do that. I’m sure I can be obnoxious to other English speakers. But it’s not some oppressive stereotype and I really wish Debito hadn’t framed it that way. If anything, the Charisma Man phenomenon is relatively unknown – and only really known within other English teacher circles. If the problem is you think you’re going to be teased by your fellow ex-patriates, or, gasp, WHITE WOMEN, then I think you need to take a hard look at yourself. If you don’t think that the Charisma Man stereotype applies to you, then it’s not about you. Sometimes it’s as simple as that. Take pride in yourself, strive to be better, and quit letting other people influence your self-image.
And if you’re so defensive because you think it does apply, well maybe you should reflect on just why you feel so defensive? I feel like I’ve been backed into a corner every time someone points out my flaws too, but in the end, if I think about it and if what they say makes sense, it can only make me better. I don’t want this criticism of Debito to turn into “Amanda is such a hypocrite, don’t deny that white guys are oppressed in Japan too, she hates all men, etc” because that’s not what I’m trying to say. I’m just saying that sometimes a white man will come to Japan, experience being a minority for the first time, and immediately think that he gets it. He gets oppression. When really, he’s still seeing things from his own experience, his own life, and his own pain, and rarely thinks about the pain of others who might be oppressed. And he doesn’t see how that could be a result from his lifetime of growing up privileged to be number one. So he complains about the one thing that negatively affects him, to the extent that it seems like he is ignoring the pain of all the others who might be affected by this same system. What surprises me is that usually Debito is a lot more even-handed and inclusive in his activism – I think with his recent focus being on writing a new book about Japanese child abductions, which is a worthy and important issue, perhaps this particular column was phoned in. It happens.
Then again, if I say, “random white dude, your pain doesn’t matter,” I’m just opening myself up to the wolves. Because, after all, I have a whole blog dedicated to “my pain.” I think this means I have a lot more to learn as well!