Thursday, December 29, 2011
Japanese in the mirror of language: Flaming and the 2ch Cat
Japanese in the mirror of language: Flaming and the 2ch Cat, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
Nowhere do posters go as wild as on "2 channel," the massive Japanese anonymous online forum. The mascot of the forum is the cat (shown above) called "Mona," or fully "Omae Mona" which, as well as being a proper noun, means "same to you too." But posters do not stop at that. Normally polite Japanese become frank. They occasionally engage in extremely hostile interaction called "flaming," even telling each other to "die" (the nastiest thing you can say in Japanese).
Flaming occurs all over the world but nowhere with such abandon as in the anonymous forums serving the Japanese. The "festivities" sometimes reach a such a peak that numerous contributors will act in unison to do something like...vote a child pornographer one of Time magazine's most influence people of the decade. But users of 2ch by no means necessarily act in unison. At times everyone will be disagreeing with everyone else, sometimes, as noted above, to the point of gross insult.
So why is it that hostile interaction occurs with such vigor in Japan? Is it because the Japanese are usually so repressed that given the chance to lash out, they do so with all the more force?
Research on self disclosure (Matheson & Zanna,1988 see Sugimoto,2009) in online communication has suggested that the reason for greater self-disclosure on internet forums is due to a decrease in public self awareness (less awareness of the censure of others) and a greater private self awareness. Joinson (2001, again in Sugimoto, 2009) found that only when private self-awareness was high did anonymity, lack of public self-awareness, lack of censure result in increased self disclosure. In other words it is not enough to be be free to insult people. People have to be encouraged to feel their own attitudes and emotions more strongly for them to want to lash out.
So returning to the question, why do the Japanese especially go wild on internet forums? As per the previous research I think that it is because not only does the anonymity free them from the eyes of others, but also because the experience of typing on an Internet forum is especially likely to encourage them to have increased private self awareness, of their attitudes, values and feelings on a particular topic.
In Joinson's research above, private self awareness of the American subjects had to be manipulated visually. Those in a high private self awareness condition were presented with a picture of themselves. Since of course the Japanese are not sitting infront of pictures of themselves at their computers (and my research has shown that they are always in front of a mirror, because they have simulated a mirror in their heads), it must be the experience of typing their thoughts that increases their private self-awareness. Posting to 2ch is like standing in front of a linguistic mirror, a big sound box where ones thoughts echo around and bounce back to you. It is in this situation, combined with the anonymity, that the Japanese really go dylan, off the wall, and radical because usually they do not have a linguistic mirror in their head (unlike the Other found in most anglophones).
Incidentellly, the method used to decrease private self-awareness was to display a cartoon character on the screen. Perhaps this is why Japanese people are so fond of carrying chartoon characters around with themselves -- to decrease their private self awareness. I think that the "same to you too" cat of 2ch may have a calming (private-self-awareness decreasing) influence upon its viewers. Let us look upon Mona and feel calm:-)
The above thanks to Goto Hayabusa's graduation thesis (2011) and the research of Sugitani (2009) as referenced below in Japanese.
This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.