Timeshift

Fascinated by the ending of Lost, not for the story (on which I gave up years ago, somewhere around episode two) but for the decision to broadcast the finale to the UK at the same time it airs in the US. Part event television, part anti-piracy measure, the simulcast won’t stop bit-torrenting, but it will presumably please advertisers, sure that at least some consumers will watch in real-time, and have to sit through the commercial breaks like mere mortals.

For modern youths, who find it so achingly difficult to wait a few days to see a TV show, this might be a welcome measure, but if I may make a modest proposal, why not broadcast *all* American television as it happens, direct to the UK? Primetime will come for Britain in the small hours of the morning, but why should that bother those of us who want to live on US time?

If 20% of the British population starts living their lives on US time, we can lose 20% of our morning rush-hour to one in the afternoon. Companies will get better use of their plant and machinery, running 24 hours a day like Japanese dubbing studios. Meanwhile, students who pour themselves out of bed “late” can be reassigned to a schedule that means their leisurely shamble into class can put them in the lecture hall bang on 9am.

The idea of a citizenry divided between night and day isn’t new. Chuck Palahniuk posited a near future scenario in Rant (2007) wherein Daytimers and Nighttimers take the strain off contemporary urban infrastructures by staggering their schedules. Don’t we do this already? If someone wants to go to bed at 6am and wake up in the early afternoon, wouldn’t this make them an ideal recruit for all those new night-shift jobs this idea will generate?

Meanwhile, everyone gets their TV as soon as it happens in the US, cutting out the middle men of bit torrenting in favour of old fashioned timeshifting and home-taping. And because nobody will know who will be awake when, we can make mobile phones illegal and force all communication to be by email.

People of Great Britain, why not write to your new coalition MP, eager for something to make his or her name, and suggest it? If you do, please suggest that we hold the London Olympics at midnight, officially “for the sake of foreign broadcasters”, but actually so I don’t have to watch any of it.

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If Shakespeare Wrote Japanese TV

As an exercise, imagine a familiar storyline, after 15 minutes with a Japanese TV script editor:

Romeo Tanaka is a young business executive at Montague, a prominent Tokyo trading house. He sneaks into the latest product-launch by rival company Capulet Inc, only to fall in love with Juliet Nakamoto, a pretty marketing executive. After an initial set of misunderstandings, the two begin a clandestine affair, aided by Romeo’s comedy sidekick Mercutio, who is secretly in love with Juliet’s personnel manager Nurse. Meanwhile, sneaky Capulet manager Tybalt has taken an undercover job at Montague. Things appear to settle down, until Romeo’s ex-girlfriend Rosalind reappears and tries to lure him back.

Juliet wrongly believes that Romeo loves Rosalind, and gives in to her father, the chairman of Capulet, who wants her to go on a date with Hong Kong business associate Paris Wong. Meanwhile, scheming Capulet manager Tybalt plots to get Romeo thrown out of the company.

Discredited at head office, Romeo is offered a foreign business placement, but turns it down, not realising that Juliet has taken a similar post in order to be with him. Romeo’s friend Mercutio finds Tybalt doctoring company documents, and is injured in a fall when he tries to stop him. Reunited at Mercutio’s bedside at Apothecary Hospital, the cast realise that Romeo is innocent. Romeo is exonerated of all accusations, but Juliet slips away, to prepare to fly abroad for her posting in Taiwan. Romeo rushes to the airport, where he stops her just before she gets on her plane.

In a surprise twist, Rosalind meets Mercutio as he is discharged from hospital, and confesses that she has fallen in love with him. At the double-wedding that follows, Juliet and Rosalind both throw their bouquets, which are caught by Nurse and Doctor Apothecary, who smile shyly at each other.

(Originally printed in the Dorama Encyclopedia: A Guide to Japanese TV Drama Since 1953, by Jonathan Clements and Motoko Tamamuro, 2003).

Licence to Thrill

I love my job. But it is my job. I write for money. Copyright and its enforcement makes it possible for me to earn a living as an author and, hopefully, not die penniless like Sir Walter Scott.

Because I blogged earlier about the PLR, it’s only fair that I should also mention the sterling work done by the ALCS, the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society, which collects royalties from institutional photocopying of magazine articles, broadcasts of scripts, and sundry other bits and bobs, including monies from any foreign library schemes that have signed a deal with the UK. So if you take one of my books out of a library in the Netherlands, or Germany, or God knows where else, the ALCS collects the money accruing and passes it on to me.

I actually earn twice as much from the ALCS as I do from British library loans, largely thanks to the meticulous care of teachers and lecturers all over the world. On my ALCS statement this February, for example, I see that someone in Australia has been teaching lessons with the aid of photocopies from my children’s book Chinese Life. Bits of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis and articles from Newtype USA and NEO are turning up in lectures all around the world, and when they are photocopied, I often get a modest stipend.

Meanwhile, for the first time, authors in Britain are receiving royalties through the ALCS from the Irish Public Lending Right scheme. So if you took one of  my books out of an Irish library last year, you were inadvertently contributing towards the GuinnessI shall be drinking tonight in your honour. Which will keep me alive for another day of ranting and spite, for your entertainment in another book.

However, if you stole one of my books this year,  no love. PLR, the ALCS and bodies like them are fighting constantly to defend authors’ interests in an indifferent world. They’re doing a great job, and their existence is something I greatly appreciate, particularly when bookshops themselves are dwindling. As a sometime historian, I am all too aware that authors today have a better deal than authors at any time previously in history, and that modern media, including the oft-derided Internet, is one of the prime factors that make this so. However, it also means that we must contend with the self-entitlement issues of thieves who can apparently afford a laptop computer, but not the book they read on it.

Next Season's Japanese TV

The Japanese TV world moves fast; there are approximately 30 new series each season, of which perhaps a dozen will go out in prime time, and only a handful will comprise remakes or sequels to earlier shows. In order to help you guess what the storylines might be for as-yet unmade series like Hairdresser Detective, My Boyfriend is an Alien, Get Away From My Husband You Bitch, and who knows, perhaps Undertaker Cop, we offer this handy plot generator. Delete as applicable, or add your own variables:

Janet is a (reporter / photographer / traffic cop / nurse / princess / florist / teacher / stewardess / designer) who finds herself falling for John, who is a (detective / bail jumper / salaryman / architect / doctor / samurai / pilot / musician / student/ undercover alien / terrorist). After first meeting during a (wedding / crime investigation / blind date / robbery / swordfight), they initially fail to get on with each other, but are miraculously thrown back together by their (interfering parents / shared interest in an unlikely hobby / unexpected relocation to shared lodgings).

However, their burgeoning relationship is threatened by (old flames / intrigues at their workplace / the fact they’ve switched bodies / their removal to a different time period), and by the fact that Janet is (already married / a celebrity / impersonating someone else / on the run from the police / diagnosed with only three months to live / on an undercover mission / pick one from the next list) and that John is (leaving the country / in love with someone else / supposed to defend the world from attacking aliens / pick one from the previous list).

Nor is anyone expecting the sudden mid-season appearance of (an old flame / a long-lost relative / an ultimatum that could ruin their careers). They must also deal with a dark secret, because one of them is (also married / still getting over the death of a loved one / a parent / suppressing the memories of a terrible trauma / actually a ghost / hell-bent on revenge against the other’s father). Luckily, they grow closer thanks to an incident involving (zany friends / a talking dog / someone’s parent / a wacky DJ) and the fact that they are forced to cooperate on (rearing a child or children / chasing a story / an arrest / saving the planet).

Though the story appears to resolve itself, a surprise twist involving (another murder / a revelation about the boss / a sudden hospitalisation) leads to a last-minute reunion at (Narita airport / a wedding / a sports meet / the hospital). And everybody lives happily ever after, including two supporting cast members who have unexpectedly fallen in love, unless there is a second season, in which case at least one of the leads will (turn up with an unexpected spouse / change jobs / lose their memory).

(Originally printed in the Dorama Encyclopedia: A Guide to Japanese TV Drama Since 1953, by Jonathan Clements and Motoko Tamamuro, 2003).

Death March on Wulai

For reasons not worth going into right now, I once had to climb a mountain with a group of Taiwanese special forces. I was assured that I would be in perfectly safe hands, as I was accompanied by some of the toughest men in the world, whose final examination supposedly comprised being dumped naked into the Taipei sewers and forced to subsist for three days on whatever came to hand. They were the ultimate survivalists, able to stay alive with hardly anything. It was only later I realised that this wasn’t good news for me.

They couldn’t light a fire. Nobody had brought matches or a lighter. None of the commandos knew how to rub wood together or use flint and steel, because… well, they had never needed to. Far from preparing them for the world at large, the Taipei sewer experience had left them utterly cavalier in their attitude towards survival. Nobody thought to bring a tent; they could just sleep under the stars. Food, they had decided, was an item only suitable for lazy schoolgirls. Instead, they planned on munching on any bugs that were unlucky enough to wander into their path, or possibly strangling an incautious squirrel and eating it raw.

This wasn’t much help to me. Two hours into our journey, we were hit by a typhoon. It then rained continuously for seven hours, in a relentless, pelting storm that caused mudslides and rock falls. It cut off the road back into town. The river also flooded, somewhat to the detriment of the camp site we had pitched on the bank. I was wearing shorts, a T-shirt and a pair of flip-flops. Somebody finally managed to get a fire going in a cave, and, during my ten minute shift in the dry before I had to stand outside again, I ate something in the dark that later turned out to be a pig’s small intestine.

And that’s why I don’t like camping.