AMERICAN TRADITIONS: "HONK IF YOU LOVE JESUS"
hi contrast to traditional advice books in Japan, traditional American books make light of tradition. Kor example, Dr. James Dobson’s Parenting Isn t for
Cowards offers up a humorous poem about modern times. Quoting a poem, “Where Have All the Grandmas Gone?” he says:
In the dim and distant past,
When life’s tempo wasn’t fast Grandma used to rock and knit,
Crochet, chat and baby-sit,..
But today she’s in the gym,
Exercising to keep slim,
She’s off touring with the bunch,
Or taking clients out to lunch.11
Indeed, in contrast to best-selling Japanese traditionalists who strike a serious, nostalgic, or scolding tone, many best-selling American traditionalists are humorists. Erma Bom beck’s three best-selling books, Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession, Aunt Erma’s Cope Book, and The Grass Is Always Greener over the Septic Tank, are not about the perfect, beautiful, motherly housewife, but about her comic opposite. Bombeck makes fun of being unbeautiful, noting that every time she sees her neck in a mirror, she’s reminded that she hasn’t made chicken soup in a while. She makes fun of being deferential to her husband. When her husband asks her if she married him because she loved him or because he could repair broken household appliances, she stares back in silence. Finally he says, “Okay, ГII fix the broken sink.” She even makes fun of motherliness. At one point she writes in her diary, ‘Tin terribly concerned about what’s his name.” At another point she complains that “the high point of my day is taking knots out of shoestrings—with my teeth—that a kid has wet on all day long.” When, after moving to the suburbs to raise their family, her husband questions why she needs her own car, she makes fun о і the isolation of the suburban housewife, explaining: “I’ll be able to go to the store, join a bowling league, have lunch downtown with the girls, volunteer. … I want to see the big, outside world…. I want to rotate my tires with the rest of the girls. Don’t you understand? I want to honk if I love Jesus!’’12 Bombeck thus embraces the role of suburban homemaker not through serious nostalgia—as in the Japanese analogue—but by making fun of the role she embraces. Similarly, in Love and Marriage, Bill Cosby notes that he is the man of the house but that his wife, Camille, has “the keys to the house.”14 Among Japanese books, humor is more often located at the modem end of the continuum, as in Shusaku Endo’s Lazy Man’s Guide to Love, not at the more anxious traditional end of it.
Related to humor is the theme of fun. Traditional American advice books, like those by Morgan, Bombeck, and Cosby, make the case that traditionalism is good, not-—as in Japan—because it is, but because it is fun. Thus, the deepest rationale for tradition is not what it stands for in some objective sense, but how it feels.
Best-selling modem American advice books welcome the working mother They prepare an emotional path for her. і the traditional American books assume an air of exchanging funny stories in the living room after dinner, the modem books put the reader on the psychoanalyst’s couch for a serious review of her “issues.” Often focused on troubles with men, books such as Cowan and Kinder’s Smart Women, Foolish Choices or Robin Norwood’s Women Who Love Too Much devote their serious tone not to reverence for the past but to a healing of the modem heart.
American modern advice books also give less honor, if not less attention, to the social support of family, friends, and co-workers. There is no analogue among the progressive American advice books to Kumiko Hi rose’s invitation to her mother-in-law’ to come and w? atch her in the studio. 1 here is much less grateful mention of a mother or good friend. From time to time, American advice books refer to the support of a friend or a relative, but these are offered in passing, without appreciative mention of their helpfulness.
While Hirose, the Japanese newscaster, focuses on a moment during which she takes courage from an older female fan, in the American text the spotlight is on a heroic woman on her own. In Japanese advice books social bonds help a person achieve her goals; in American advice books social bonds seem to get in the way. Both American and Japanese advice book writers seem to assume that a woman needs cultural room to attain equality with men. But the American authors seem to assume she gets that room by going it alone. Japanese authors more о’ten focus on the potential help to be found in allies within the family and community.
In addition to the different value placed on social attachments, there is a difference in the object of attachment. Of all American advice books, none is devoted exclusively to the topic of the elderly, and in most the elderly are mentioned little if at all. When old age is mentioned—as it is, for example, in Helen Gurley Brown’s Having It AU—it is not as an occasion to help others but as an aspect of self to avoid and disguise. In the Japanese best-seller How to Grow Old Together, Hajame Mizuno addresses the conflict between women’s paid work outside the home and care of the elderly. He suggests that the elderly themselves should develop interests of their own. In addition, Mizuno notes that as they retire, men will have to learn to be more considerate of their wives: “ It is said if you don’t use your brain when you’re old, the brain ages faster. If you stay at home without doing anything and say to your wife, ‘Give me tobacco. Give me a light. Give me my newspapers’ — if you act like this—your brain will age very fast and the final destination will be senility.”11 A Japanese popular saying about retired salary men is “You stick to your wife like wet fallen leaves to feet.” Modern Japanese advice books say in essence, “Get your own tobacco, and help around the house.” In America, as in Japan, it is mainly women who care for the elderly. But by
avoiding the topic of old age, American advice books also avoid a basic problem for working mothers, and so fail to address the policies and workplace reforms they would need to combine work with care.
American advice books, modern and traditional alike, are generally silent about siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, parents-in-law, neighbors, fellow congregants. They focus instead on one central man in a woman’s life, how to find him, repair relations with him, and keep him. Perhaps that’s because in America that one man has now become the emotional equivalent of a village. Considered as a whole, American advice books suggest two sides of American individualism. The good side of American individualism allows American women die cultural room to benefit from the opportunities of advanced capitalism. But the bad side leads Americans to see social support as entanglement and to stress individual over social solutions to its problems.