My Year of Meats: Turning Reality TV Into a Piece of Fiction

Ruth Ozeki’s novel, My Year of Meats uses a unique, documentary-like writing style allows the reader to peer into the minds on both sides of the camera.  By allowing the reader to see both into the minds of the American producers of My American Wife! as well as the Japanese viewers of the program, Ozeki portrays some of the negative effects that Western stereotypes have had on Japanese culture.  She uses different mediums of writing (memos, narration and behind the scenes interactions) to portray the way that Japanese viewers are deceived by American made “documentary” television shows.

Ozeki uses her portrayal of the producers of My American Wife! to show that many of the American made “reality shows” are in fact meticulously created with the Japanese viewer in mind.  The memos listing an “attractive, wholesome lifestyle” as desirable and obesity as undesirable is used by Ozeki to show that many of the shows created specifically for Japanese audiences are done so with the goal of putting the “American way of life” in a favorable light in the minds of the Japanese. The Japanese are led to believe that the American way is the model of success, even though it may lead them away from the culture and traditional beliefs that make them Japanese.

Ozeki’s portrayal of Jane, one of the people helping to produce the show, demonstrates the way in which the American filmmakers “bend the truth” in an attempt to manipulate their Japanese viewers.  Jane struggles with the fact that she is pouring Pepsi onto the rump roast rather than Coke, which they specifically tell viewers to use.  While she understands that they are purposely deceiving their audience, she is powerless to do anything about it.

This change from being fundamentally Japanese to “Americanized” is exemplified in Akiko’s husband, as he transforms from Joichi into John.  As he works more on the My American Wife! documentary, Joichi acts noticeably more American, drinking Remy Martins and using phrases like “Kill two birds with one stone.”  He becomes very adamant about Akiko cooking each of the meals prepared on the show, partially because he is proud of his show, but mainly because he wants his wife to become like the American women portrayed on the show.  He expresses this to Jane at a strip club in Texas:

“We Japanese get weak genes through many centuries’ process of straight breeding…My wife, never mind her.  We try for having baby many, many years, but she is no good.  Me, I need mate like Texas Dawn to make a vigor baby.”  

Joichi, like many other Japanese, has forgotten the value of his own heritage and culture, and has become obsessed with becoming the ideal Western man.  Even though he works closely with the producers of the show, he has fallen victim to the American stereotypes created by the show.  It not only leads to a loss of his own cultural identity, but it also leads to a deteriorating relationship between he and Akiko.  By forcing her to only consume American meals consisting of meats, she has become even unhealthier, and is unable to conceive a child.

Ozeki’s portrayal of the characters in her novel, particularly Joichi, is used to reveal the vulnerability of the Japanese, as they are fed an image of America is a piece of fiction.



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