I began my research from a starting point of : “Mitchell Heisman’s Suicide Note is really elaborate and pretentious (is it bad that I think that?)”
So, to get the ball rolling I just Googled “Mitchell Heisman Suicide Note”. I figured that a good place to start would be where I had left off in my Nugget. I was surprised and amused to see that the work had actually been reviewed on Goodreads, and it was generally well-received. Most reviewers admitted that the work was repetitive (wholeheartedly agree), but what I found intriguing was that many reviewers at one point or another within their statements mentioned the tragedy and how sad the purpose of the work was.
From here, the first significant portion of my research was when I began to probe into the cultural associations with the act of suicide. Of course, prior to this subject there were a couple of tangential paths that I perused. I found this article on The Onion about poorly-written suicide notes, statistics and the reasoning behind suicide notes and suicide poetry, and a search that led me to a generic suicide note generator, but the collective psyche’s opinion of self-destruction (or sacrifice) is where things got interesting.
Especially interesting to me was the chasm between Western and Non-Western thought in regard to suicide. Within the context of Christianity, suicide has been a well-established and explicitly outlined sin. In fact, it’s one of the biggest no-nos a christian can commit. The reason behind this being that only God has the power to give or to revoke life, and to assume this power over one’s life is to reeeaallly overstep your bounds.
By contrast, in Non-Western religions suicide is either addressed ambiguously, or even embraced. Examples of suicide as a selfless act of heroism (opposed to the Western view of it as selfish/cowardice) are abound: from the monks that burned themselves alive in protest of the Vietnam War, to Kamikaze pilots in WWii, to the infamous and gruesome act of seppuku (essentially gutting oneself with a small sword) committed by defeated samurai in the past. In these acts, there exists honor. Kamikaze pilots were respected for their eagerness to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country, samurai for their unyielding loyalty to their masters, for whom they would rather die than pledge allegiance to a new shogun. Certainly, there is a romanticism about suicide in other cultures that is rooted in collectivist social structure and non-Christian religious teachings.
As I was looking this stuff up, I was also looking up sites of suicidal pilgrimage, because I noticed that some of the most popular sites of suicide (the Golden Gate Bridge, Niagara Falls) are superbly beautiful sites. One that really stood out to me was Aokigahara, the “Suicide Forest” of Japan. Within this forest, the 2nd most popular suicide site on Earth, there have been an average of 100 suicides a year since the mid 1980s (with a record of 247 attempts in 2010). So many lives have been lost in this forest that the local government has installed signs in both Japanese and English encouraging people to reconsider.
Let me preface my next thought by saying that of course, the context of these suicides are varied immensely from one another, and it is highly unlikely that any of them have much (if anything) to do with acts of patriotism, nationalism, or protest as my previous examples of culturally acceptable suicides did. But of course some of these individuals may have been operating in such a way to save face, or to prevent embarrassment or shame on behalf of themselves or their loved ones. What I mean to get at is that I couldn’t help but find it a wee bit odd that the forest is riddled with anti-suicide messages when it is in a country that traditionally has not looked down upon it as Western societies do. I’m not saying that the Japanese love suicide, just that it isn’t viewed within the Western paradigm.
So, naturally from here I went digging through the history of cultural imperialism, and of course, Walt Disney.
Side note: in 1958 Disney won an academy award for White Wilderness, a nature documentary wherein the crew chased lemmings off of a cliff and later gained infamy for perpetuating the lie that lemmings casually commit mass-suicide.
Ah, Disney. Disney is the very idea of America, it is the transcendental peddling of values such as individualism and virtue, racism and romantic love, all wrapped up in a guise of lush animation and catchy songs that kids LUUUHHHVVVE. Disney is universal, having been exported to, and generally well-received, by most countries. Of course there was that one time that critics called Eurodisney a “cultural Chernobyl”, but that was pretty uncalled for, right?
So maybe Disney isn’t as perfect as they’d like us to all think. In fact, maybe some of the countries to which Disney has been imported have experienced both great joy at the perceived modernity and value that American commodities hold, and also anger and bitterness at the cultural homogeneity that these characters, films, and products bring. In many countries native film and animation industries are decimated before they could even begin to develop, traditional arts and crafts become neglected, and into this cultural vacuum Mickey Mouse and other icons of Americana flow endlessly and forcefully.
Japan, in particular, has had arms open wide for American culture, since the Meiji Period of the early 1900s, wherein it imported anything and everything “Modern”. Which, in most cases, modernity was synonymous with “American”.
Japan has gorged on American culture for years, and this is one of the primary reasons that artists such as Takashi Murakami have gained superstardom in the international art world. According to Murakami, who has collaborated with the likes of Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, Louis Vuitton, and Marc Jacobs amongst others, authentic japanese culture is now “a culture of subcutures”. His work, which shoves Japanese popular culture into a high-art context with a feverish vitality that would make even Andy Warhol nervous, is a product of arguably the most bonafide and authentically Japanese culture to be seen in over 100 years.
His work, just like contemporary Japanese culture, is the product of intermingling long-established cultural genetics and vapid american consumerism. Murakami and the pop culture of Japan are a rarity in that they have absorbed the blows that the American entertainment behemoth has dealt, and they have channeled that energy into something unique. Instead of replacing the former culture with a proxy American one, The cult of Disney and MacDonnald’s and other American megacompanies has been incorporated into the existing traditions. Sometimes dysfunctional, often cloyingly superficial and insidiously naive, there’s a a constant struggle and a foxtrot of a dance being performed with these cultures at each others’ side and at each others’ throats.