Thursday, November 15, 2012

M. Todd Bennett

M. Todd Bennett is assistant professor of history at East Carolina University.  His new book is One World, Big Screen: Hollywood, the Allies, and World War II.

Earlier this month I asked Bennett about what he was reading.  His reply:
My wife and I recently travelled to Japan for the first time, and we have been semi-obsessed with all things Japanese ever since. Dining at our neighborhood izakaya. Keeping an eye on the Nippon Professional Baseball league standings. (Go Ham Fighters!) And reading as much as we can about Japanese culture, history, and politics. As you may already have guessed, we are baseball fans – attending five, yes, five, NPB games in Tokyo, Hiroshima and suburban Osaka – and so our reading regimen included Robert Whiting’s You Gotta Have Wa, a journalistic account of the culture clash that has all too often occurred between the American athletes who play in the NPB and their Japanese hosts. Using baseball as a prism, Whiting writes that the game reveals a great deal about broader Japanese as well as American values, and he argues that those values have typically collided because whereas Japanese players, managers, and journalists emphasize collective well-being – wa, or team spirit – American expatriates value individual success. A good illustration of Whiting’s thesis occurred during our trip when Yomiuri Giants hurler Toshiya Sugiuchi, who was one strike away from pitching the first NPB perfect game since 1994, threw a borderline pitch that resulted in a walk because Sugiuchi felt, as he said afterward, that grooving one over the middle of the plate would have jeopardized his team’s chance of winning the close game. While the Japanese media praised Sugiuchi for sacrificing his own glory for the greater good of the team, for the Giants’ wa, such an act would be unthinkable in the United States. (Can you imagine the American media reaction had the San Francisco Giants’ Matt Cain, who two weeks later pitched just the twenty-third perfect game in Major League history, similarly risked his shot at baseball immortality?) My partner and I had an amazing, even life-changing, experience in Japan. We tried to be good guests, and our hosts could not have been more welcoming. But Whiting’s book, though its story of cross-cultural collision may be overdrawn (the work was first published in the 1980s, when Japanese-American relations were at a low point), serves as a useful reminder to those of us who study international cultural affairs. We assume that cross-cultural contact breeds better international understanding, and often that is the case; You Gotta Have Wa clearly demonstrates that the opposite can also be true, however. I reached a similar conclusion in my new book, One World, Big Screen: Hollywood, the Allies, and World War II, which shows that both attraction and repulsion occurred when the cinematic cultures of the war’s great Allied powers met on the world’s stage.
Learn more about One World, Big Screen at the the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue