In the Aftermath of Newtown: Moral Panics Over Children and Violence in America and Japan

January 20, 2013

Revolutionary Suicide and Other Desperate Measures: Narratives of Youth and Violence from Japan and the United States

By Adrienne Carey Hurley


It pains me that more people won’t read this book because they may never hear of it. It is richly suggestive and descriptive of the way that frustrated psychological need is disavowed and blown back from generation to generation among Japanese and American youth and their parents. It is an astute and deeply felt text that ties political, literary, psychological narratives together to create a compelling and convincing case that education systems, media regimes, inherited, repetitious ideologies that force victims to author their own oppression can and must be subjected to critique, as we and our children are paying heavily for the poor regard in which children are held, unbeknownst to ourselves. 

 I cite the case of Japanese international parental child abduction and the lack of any law supporting, enforcing, or even legally sanctioning joint custody of children in divorced or separating families in Japan. That is a significant current battle ground of the phenomenon Professor Hurley is evoking in this text: lack of authentic protection of children’s right to full, subjective interaction with both of their parents; lack of authentic institutional defense of family relationships against an onslaught of education system life-management, discipline and control of children; excessive time-controlling workplace wage (and salary)  slavery; and media habituation to empty, often violent control of children’s inner lives. Couple these with  – and use them to inculcate and enforce – rigid gender identities on children, and you have a recipe for the disastrous loss of human feeling and narcissistic damage that characterizes the relations described in Professor Hurley’s book.

This text provides an important antidote to the reductionist arguments about guns and gun violence today, and forms part of just the sort of conversation that ought to be going on instead. Her discussion makes many of the very arguments I most want to make, linking structural rigidity, political repression, corruption, problems attributable to or related with the Japan-U.S. military relationship, controlling and numbing education systems, incarceration of youth, and lack of any real opportunity for children and adolescents to develop an analysis of “what’s wrong,” that is, of what is perpetuating inter-generational cycles of psychological and social death, such that they can acquire enough agency to offer some self-preserving resistance.

The conditions producing parental abduction and the absence of joint parental custody in Japan fit neatly into this argument, lack of attention to which produces deep misrecognition that  lack of time for and investment in subjective interaction of parent and child on a mass scale has fatal consequences.

 From the concluding sections of the book:

 “If the state, as a parent, harms, how are individual parents, victims of poor parenting themselves, in any position to provide or create spaces in which their own children can thrive? They cannot unless they create corrective opportunities for intersubjective connection.” p. 214

“This book has addressed the desperate measures to which we, adults in the U.S. and Japan (as well as in other places) , make our youth resort. We bombard them with mixed messages that aggravate and exacerbate alienation, oppression, exploitation, and abuse. Their ability to identify and respond to what actually grieves them is severely compromised because we blame them for their struggles and, simultaneously, limit their available means of expression. We then call their occasionally violent attempts to express something “inexplicable”… We do not prevent violence when we deny youth the opportunity to identify why they are angry and organize relevant strategies to challenge the conditions that fuel their anger; we only guarantee further rage and violence. We do not prevent violence when we tell youth to shape up and get their acts together. Yet it remains acceptable to blame youth for our own failings, to blame them when they poke holes in the screen on which we project a distorted picture of their lives and experiences.” p. 216

This is not a book, despite the title, about suicides. The title is adapted from Huey Newton, who conceived of the idea and practice of “revolutionary suicide” to express the level of commitment before far greater, more destructive forces required of those engaged to bring love, respect and change to those in need, including themselves. The ideas in this text can help to bring some light into the dark corners of the rooms of left behind parents and abducted children. As Professor Hurley wrote here, only by “lingering for a while in even the most uncomfortable and awful speculations can we begin to identify the messages (about “personal responsibility” for example) we send that make youths and parents [forced apart by workplace enslavement, and by family court exclusion of parents] want to die.” p. 220.

Here is a link to an interview with the author, discussing her book on the Pacifica program, Against the Grain. An appropriate name for a program discussing this much maligned and misunderstood group of people, our kids.

Tues 3.06.12 | Youth Violence, Violence Against Youth
Against the Grain –  Interview

Adrienne Carey Hurley is an academic, activist, translator, and youth advocate. She holds a Ph.D. in East Asian Languages and Literatures from the University of California, Irvine . She served as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) in Orange County. She was awarded a Japan Foundation fellowship for her research on child abuse and youth violence in contemporary Japan. She held a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Japan Studies at the Institute for International Studies at Stanford . She was also the founder and director of the University of Iowa Youth Empowerment Academy. She organized the 2006 “New Nationalisms” symposium with Tomoyuki Hoshino, Chizuko Naito, and Su Tong. She currently teaches East Asian Studies and Integrated Studies in Education at McGill University.

Hurley’s translation of Tomoyuki Hoshino’s novel Lonely Hearts Killer was published by PM Press in 2009 and is the first book-length work by Hoshino to be translated into English.

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