I was cleaning my apartment and I found a copy of the first year students’ post-summer vacation English proficiency test. It included a passage that left me scratching my head:
“In Japanese television programs, we see a commentator at one side of the small screen and an assistant at the other. The commentator is usually male and middle-aged. The assistant is usually female, young and often pretty. He comments on various topics, and she assists. However, she assists so little that, to our eyes, she might as well not be there at all. She only nods at the camera when he makes various statements, and says So desu ne when he makes an important point. She never presents an idea of her own. To many Americans watching these two, the situation might seem strange indeed. We are certainly used to double commentators, but usually each commentator really comments and both are equals. In this common style of Japanese television, the pretty girl seems absolutely unnecessary. We fail to understand her role. Yet she has a very important one.
A commentator is, by definition, giving his opinion. In the West, this is quite enough. In Japan, however, giving an opinion in public makes him appear too self-centered, and this is a fault in a society where unity of opinion is an important value. The attractive, nearly silent, young assistant emphasizes this value. Her nods and expressions of agreement indicate that he is not alone in his opinion and that therefore he is not just self-centered. Rather, he is saying a truth, because at least one person agrees with what he says. At the same time she introduces harmony by indicating that we all agree – after all, she is nodding to us – and the unity of opinion has already been reached.”
By the end of the first paragraph I thought the text was going to focus on why the assistant was usually a pretty young woman, as opposed to another older man, an older woman, or a not so pretty young one. The older man-attractive young woman combo is certainly not unique to Japan; while not as blatant on modern American television, any Hispanic person who has watched the news or infotainment shows on Univision would find the pattern familiar. But instead, the second paragraph focused on how the girl was there to preserve harmony.
I can understand that, but it didn’t erase the question from my mind: why did the author of this passage emphasize so many times that the assistant was a pretty young girl and then completely ignore that point? After all, if the assistant’s role is just to preserve harmony, the assistant’s physical appearance and sex shouldn’t matter; all that’s needed is a nodding head.
Of course, if this is an excerpt from a much longer passage, it’s possible the point was addressed. This passage certainly isn’t from the Reading textbook, so I don’t know where it came from. If the point wasn’t addressed, I’d like to think that the point was at least not lost on the author, and that they were just writing what they could without making waves.