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Killing things is cute

September 25, 2007

I just went down to my local supermarket (and I love how I can say that now) to hunt for something to kill cockroaches. For the second time since I arrived, I saw one of the sleek little monsters run through my apartment here. I only saw one in my year in Goma, but here in the city, I’ve seen two in one month. I hate the things.

It’s funny how hatred of cockroaches is a universal thing. I don’t have much of a problem with most bugs and insects (or whatever weird classification cockroaches might fall into). If there’s a spider or something in my house (provided it’s not one of those terrifying black-and-gold behemoths all over the countryside of Japan), I tend to just let it be, unless it’s near my bed or food. Because no matter how lenient I am, I’m still not at the level where I want them in my mouth. In that case, I’ll try to gently catch it and let it outside. And I’ve never understood people’s fear of praying mantises. I once had a flatmate who went postal trying to destroy a moth with a vacuum cleaner, while the rest of us just watched.

But cockroaches are one of those things that no matter who you are or where you’re from, the sight of one fills you with bloodlust. Nobody’s happy to let them be. People will tear rooms apart, and spend hours trying to hunt one down. Like I did earlier tonight. But, as they usually do, it disappeared into thin air. They’re irritatingly well-developed to avoid capture. So, that probably explains why there’s a wealth of things at our disposal to try and eradicate them. I wandered through the aisle at the supermarket, and ended up deciding on a box of trap-things to try and finish it off. The box had a picture of a cute wee cockroach, complete with big eyes and happy smile, taking a chunk off the trap and munching away on it delightedly. He then makes his way home, and his cute face begins to look a little sick. Then, according to the pictures, for some reason he apparently melts. Then once he gets home, he dies a cute little death, and emits cute death waves which kill off his entire cute family.

I can just imagine the reaction my kids at school would have on seeing these pictures. They would all scream and croon over the cute wee cockroach. Dying. In the Western world that I’m used to, when you’re trying to kill something, it’s more normal to demonise it. Our cockroach products are covered in pictures of evil-looking bugs, probably silhouetted against a red explosion, with sharp, narrow little eyes deviously trying to plot an escape. That kind of thing would never go down here. The alternate annihaltion product I nearly bought tonight was the same one I saw at the school – a colourful little playhouse. The walls are covered in climbing flowers, and happy little cockroaches smiling and waving out the windows. But when you look in the doorway, you see the carcasses of dead and very un-cute cockroaches, who have died after becoming trapped and unable to escape from a sticky floor while trying to reach some sweet-smelling bait in the middle of the room. It’s actually kind of jarring. As an aside, I heard that the reason they got that trap was because one day they opened the hot-water kettle and found some dead cockroaches floating in it. I wonder how many people had filled their cups of coffee from it that day?

But the cuteness doesn’t stop with cockroaches. I have a shirt which I bought in Harajuku, and which I love. It’s a cutesy cartoon picture of Ronald McDonald getting his face gorily sliced off by a smiling teddy bear wearing an Enter-the-Dragon-style metal gauntlet. For no reason at all. Blood’s going everywhere. I wore it to school a few times last year, and the kids loved it. I also have a fluffy pink teddy bear. It’s paws have claws sticking out. And there’s blood on them. There’s also blood dripping from its mouth. It’s name is “Gloomy”. The tag attached to its ear says that he’s been well trained, but somehow it seems he can’t remember not to kill people. There’s a picture of him being embarrasingly caught over the body of a small girl. I do have to admit it’s the coolest pink fluffy teddy bear I’ve ever seen.

But the most worrying thing about Japan’s association between violence and death and cuteness is when it manifests itself in reality. A few years ago, an 11-year old girl stabbed her 10-year old classmate to death in their primary school classroom. The girl obviously got all kinds of identity suppression, but somehow photos of her, with blurred face, were leaked onto the internet. In the photo, she’s wearing a hoodie with the name “Nevada” on it, like the ones University alumni get. She became a huge hit. “Nevada-tan” (a play on “chan”, a suffix used to express cutesy adoration) became an internet pin-up. Cartoons of her, looking all cute, and shyly brandishing a dripping knife, were everywhere. And still are, if you look. Japan wasn’t appalled or abhorred by her actions, they found her cute. And that, in the words of some kid who had his mother killed in a car crash in a road-safety ad on NZ TV, is something i just never understand.

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