Thursday, 10 May 2012

Marumo no Okite and Monster Parents

Marumo was THE show of 2011. I swear every kindergarten and elementary school sports day in the country used the closing theme and dance last year. 
It’s easy to see why; it’s funny and heart-warming, there’s a talking dog and the acting of the young stars (Mana Ashida and Fuku Suzuki) is breathtaking. Well, more hers than his, but he is super cute so it’s ok. Personally I enjoyed every episode, but I thought that it revealed some interesting beliefs about what is ‘normal’ family life. A common theme in a lot of family dramas and movies is that a certain level of physical violence is an expression of love. In Always Sunset on Third Street (ALWAYS 三丁目の夕日) for example, the moment we realise that bachelor Chagawa has truly come to love the little boy he accidentally ‘adopted’ after a night of heavy drinking is when he slaps the boys face. The boy had gone missing (looking for his mother) and the slap tells us that Chagawa had worried about him just like a ‘real’ parent. The slap in Marumo is exactly the same device (Marumo is also an ‘adoptive’ single father), except in Marumo the incident is talked over several times between different characters. The final interpretation of the slap, and the one that convinces the six year old girl to forgive Marumo, is that slapping her “hurt him more than her” and that only parents who truly love their children hit them. 

Monster Parents 
Something that really stood out for me in Marumo as a topic that I wasn’t familiar with was the burden elementary schools place on parents. Because I work in elementary schools I have always heard the other side of the equation; the dreaded monster parents. Monster parents are very real and deeply infuriating. An example of monster-parenting happened after a recent school picnic. We’d hiked to a park on the top of a very steep hill, eaten our picnic then hiked back down. It took pretty much the entire day and after supervising hundreds of children walking through the city and playing in a public park the teachers were all quite hot and tired by the time we packed the kids off home. Just as we were about to call it a day and hit the showers a mother called to say that her seven year old daughter had dropped her house key at some point during the day. Better not to ask why a seven year old  needs her own house key by the way. The teachers from her grade then all had to retrace the route of the hike, scouring the ground, and crawl around the park looking under bushes to find the key. The mother, needless to say, did not bother to come and help. Perhaps worse was the case last year of a boy from one of my junior highs who didn’t come home after school. His parents called the school and demanded that we find him. All the teachers had to search the local town, looking in every game arcade and manga store. It was a Friday night before a long weekend, and the boy wasn’t found until after 7pm. periodically while teachers were out searching the parents and grandparents called the school to abuse us for not finding him yet. They didn’t help look for him, of course. Clearly that was our responsibility. They also wouldn’t let us call the police to ask if he had turned up at a koban. So my image has been that parents sat back and did nothing while teachers spent their entire lives running around after kids. Marumo was an interesting insight into what schools do require from parents. Upon enrolling the twins in grade one, Marumo learns that he has to hand make a range of items from cleaning cloths to home economics aprons to library bags. This requires the purchase of craft materials, fabrics and pattern books. Because he is a single working parent he has to spend all night hand stitching these items. Although Marumo dodges the PTA responsibilities that many parents accept, he still has to attend a meeting about the sports festival held during working hours (unable to leave the office, he sends a friend). At this meeting parents have to learn the dance the children will be performing in order to coach them at home. These are only two examples, but they do show the assumption on the part of the school system that students have a (female) stay-at-home care giver. Marumo has to contort himself to try and comply with these expectations rather than the school making allowances for his situation.
More on the theme of single fathers to come in a separate post, since this wall of text is big enough already!
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