Monday, February 21, 2005

My Gravatar
So you may have noticed that for some reason my comments boxes have little pictures in them these days. Don't ask me why, I didn't put them there, but it turns out that they are these things called Gravatars. Basically, after creating your account, you choose a little square picture and upload it to this site. It then appears all over the place automatically.

I chose my image from a couple of photos from Japan. Here they are...

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I took these photos toward the end of the holiday as I was riding the Keio line train with Ralph, going back to his place from a trip to eat some Thai food in the Kichioji area of Tokyo. I got very excited when I saw these signs, and whipped my camera out immediately. Basically they're posters from the train company telling the commuters what sort of behaviour is expected of them. The top one is controlling sitting positions, the bottom one is controlling the use of mobiles.

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Look at that imagery. In the top one I love the way the guy sitting with his legs casually draped into the carriage is made to stand out by being black in contrast to the yellow of the politely cloned masses, all of them arranged identically with their feat neatly tucked in, their bags and hands tidily folded on their laps. Only the angles of their heads are individually arranged, although they are all facing in the direction of the bad bad person selfishly arranging his legs.

Colour contrast is used again in the bottom image to differentiate the bad guy, with the hand and mobile phone clearly standing out. I'm only about 30% sure that the message on the mobile says something like 'Your conversation on the journey. It's a real annoyance' (Japanese speaking readers please feel free to correct me in the comments). Look at the way all the good commuters are singling this social criminal out by giving him the evil eye. Boy there are a lot of cold shoulders. Don't talk on your mobile!

Those neat positions and cold stares and shoulders exist in reality, not just in these pictures. I remember riding those trains for two years and gradually learning to read the signals and feel the ostracism which at first I was completely oblivious to. I remember myself in the first year, teasing a salary man who dropped a stinker by asking loudly in front of my friends and in my best Japanese, "Has somebody farted?" (I learnt all the most important words). By the end of the second year I had lost all spark of life and had become a nice little well behaved clone, trimmed and constrained like a bonsai tree into the idea of what I should be.

I guess that's all very well for protecting people from the annoyance of someone's feet being in a slightly different position than you are used to, or from saving you the trouble of being reminded that other living people who have friends and families are sharing the train with you. But it's a daily denial of variety and of ourselves. It's a mental burden to squeeze yourself into a corsetted appearance. It produces miserable and unfriendly human beings.

So I guess I chose my Gravatar as my way of being that guy with his feet in the aisle, valuing my sponteneity above their fussy appearances, and hoping that they'll get the message.

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