In the middle of a town square, there sat a gigantic piece of electronic equipment giving off a dull light. I cast my eye in the direction of the light and saw a huge television monitor. At first there was something humorous about it. It felt like I was peeping into the home of a giant. But I felt uneasy.
In every city throughout Japan, such squares are beginning to increase in number. Originally, there was no such thing in Japan as a public square in the Western sense. But in modern times, the term “square” has been applied to places where various functional objects are kept or, shall we say, displayed. Three types of object symbolize public squares in Japan: the bench for resting, playground equipment for the children, and things representing nature such as trees and fountains. As people have become mature in their acceptance and use of these attributes, they are gradually being replaced by new ones: the clean restroom, the fancy telephone booth and, now, the giant TV receiver.
Efforts are being made to construct public spaces as if they were pushing some consumer electric or electronic product. Public space is being regarded with the same sense of values as private space, the only difference being its scale. Also, people are beginning to demand in public spaces the same high quality they demand in their private ones. Part of the problem lies in the fact that businesses and administrative bodies are going out of their way to satisfy this unreasonable demand. People are simply being pampered, with the result that they now take it for granted that even when they step outdoors, they should be surrounded with “background music” and “background video” images, just like at home.
In addition, people mistakenly believe that the things around us ought to take our existence into account. For example, satellite-based automatic navigation systems, beepers and mobile telephones are constantly chasing us. We are forever moving about carrying devices for receiving and transmitting information. It’s as if we were in a mobile living room. The equipment necessary to meet our demands is even set in place in the surrounding environment. This is the height of excessive self-consciousness.
This gigantic monitor also obediently directs its screen in the direction where people have gathered. Shouldn’t the onlookers harbor more critical judgment of their surroundings? The gigantic TV monitor made me feel increasingly uneasy. The source of my unease may have been the sense of impending crisis I felt regarding the ever-weakening feeling of humanity amid the ever-advancing maturity of our highly developed industrial society.
Today even the myth that television is a mirror that correctly reflects the age we live in has faded. However, this gigantic TV monitor, which stands firmly there on its own, exudes an outstanding sense of existence. Its enormous size suggests television has now simply become an idol, a target of innumerable blank stares. There is something both allegorical and ironic about this sight.
Text by Hiroshi Innami 1995/2