Saturday, January 22, 2011

We need sunshine, not the bomb: The QI incident.

An episode of QI, BBC's popular comedy quiz show hosted by Mr. Stephen Fry has caused an uproar in Japan. In this particular episode, Mr. Tsutomu Yamaguchi, who survived both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs, was introduced as "the unluckiest man in the world". As it was reported that the Japanese embassy made a protest to the BBC and the production company, indignation and anger spread in Japan, as was apparent from television shows, newspaper editorials, and tweets and blogs that followed.

It might be difficult for someone outside Japan to understand the sheer horror and anger associated with the atomic bombs. After all, other nations just imagine how damaging it is. Japanese people, by the turns and twists of history, have actually experienced it. It is not just a fiction or a movie scene. It is a hard reality. In this respect, the BBC and the production company clearly lacked imagination and respect to one of the most traumatic human experiences in the 20th century.

Having said that, I would also like to point out that the outrage came perhaps from a miscommunication rather than an intentional malice. As someone who spent two years of happy and stimulating postdoc days in University of Cambridge, and who have been visiting the U.K. almost annually ever since, I deeply love and respect the British sense of humor. I know Mr. Stephen Fry to be an intelligent, loving, and liberal man. I adore the QI show, just as I admire other Stephen Fry legends like the Blackadder series. How sad that this particular episode of QI caused anger and sadness in my native land.

The British sense of humor means that you confront difficult social issues, sometimes verging on the outrageous. It is like an act of walking on a tight rope. When I met with Mr. David Walliams in Tokyo several years ago, he said that it is always difficult to strike the right code. In creating Little Britain, Mr. Walliams, together with Mr. Matt Lucas, had to seek a difficult balance between being enjoyably provocative and saddening innocent people.

Trying to be courageous in comedy making is laudable and reserves all the respect. I know Mr. Stephen Fry has been very
courageous and inspiring. Being a pioneer, however, sometimes comes with a price, a point all of us should perhaps appreciate.

I hope that this incident will start a much needed in-depth communication process between Japan and the U.K. I sincerely wish that what started with a dark cloud of anger would end in a peal of laughs.

We need sunshine, not the bomb.