After a weekend of back-breaking labor (I think moving a washing machine up a narrow staircase is akin to moving the last giant stone to the top of the pyramid), it was time to relax and watch a movie. Like any movie-loving patriot, I have some DVD’s on the shelf that remain unopened and unwatched for many years, and on that particular night, my hand found its way to Memoirs of a Geisha, which Ape also hadn’t seen.
It’s a well-presented movie, with visual appeal, lascivious geishas and even a (world) war! The only problem: you often can’t tell whether the characters are speaking in English or Japanese (Godzilla is the only Japanese word I know). What does one call English heavily inflected with Asian speech? It isn’t a drawl, nor a lilt, nor a brogue; is there some other nonsense-word that deals with these sounds?
Aural discomfort aside, Memoirs rekindled my thoughts on social mobility.
–The story (if you’re not already familiar with it) recounts the life of a country girl, sold to a quasi-boarding school for girls (not the same concept, but similarly executed). If the girls are deemed worthy, they are sent to geisha school. If not, they pretty much end up a servants to the geisha. The protagonist is accepted into geisha school, and has a pretty miserable life for awhile. Then she grabs the bull by the horns (so to speak) and becomes the most sought after women in the country. Shortly thereafter she realizes that geisha were never meant to pursue their own goals; rather they live to entertain other (presumably more successful) persons. Plus, all of the other geisha, especially the ones she trusts, end up trying to deceive/screw/kill each other.
Are geisha on a shorter leash than we are? Would our own memoirs be any different? Probably only insofar as we don’t wear crazy make-up and dresses (generally). People are still yoked to their careers, still trying to screw each other over, still relying on the few whose motivations are selfless to make their lives worthwhile. The geisha are a peculiar lot, but I don’t think these concepts belong to any single time or place; they’re rather endemic to humanity, arising in every society, sub-culture, and group, right down to the very last soul. It’s the outward manifestation of our inner struggle against the most primitive urges: eat, poop, and dominate.
On the bright side, there is (and probably always was) a huge gray/black market to exploit, for those who don’t fancy a traditional 9-5 yoking. I could probably make serious coin smuggling arms/hooch/maple syrup out of Canada, but would it be any more satisfying than the liberry?
It is tempting to think that, with time, we gain more freedom as individuals. There are lots of examples (both true and made-up) of people in this country climbing the ladder of success, starting from their low-born beginnings as a cockney boot-black and then becoming 16th president of the United States. Indeed, the protagonist geisha was once sentenced to become a slave, and against all odds, became not just any geisha, but the geisha.
Quotable Axiom: The only barriers we can’t overcome are those we set for ourselves.