Class Discussion on “My Year of Meats” Nov. 21, 2011 How does Jane’s ethnicity influence her view of herself? How do her reproductive issues affect her sense of hope? How can we say that she is idealistic before the beginning of her year of meats/ what is she idealistic about? “I’ve always blamed my tendency to vacillate on my mixed ethnicity. Halved, I am neither here nor there, and my understanding of the relativity inherent in the world is built into my genes” (p.314). “That’s the thing about involuntary infertility-it kills your sense of future, so you hide in the here andnow.” – “You equate the loss of posterity with the loss of hope” (p.159). She [Shonagon] inspired me to become a documentarian, to speak men’s Japanese, to be different. She is why I chose to make TV. I wanted to think that some girl would watch my shows in Japan, now or maybe even a thousand years from now, and be inspired and learn something real about America” p.15). In her attempt to protect herself emotionally, Jane indulges in convenient acts of editing. Where can we see this happening? Do we feel that Jane really connects with people, or does she perhaps keep them at bay? And if so, how? Does Jane feel the need to be in control and in what ways does she allow herself to lose control? “’Can we cut out the boinnggg?’ ‘No. Anyway, that’s dishonest too.’ ‘Well, then we can’t send it. If she calls, tell her the show got canceled.’” (p.30). “Why hadn’t I realized? If I’d just dealt with it earlier, I could have talked them into agreeing, as a subversive political statement or something. But now it was too late. Too late… My heart sank. My ghosts. My baby. Sloan still didn’t know. I hadn’t dealt with this at all. But then again, why bother? Why make a big deal about it when the problem would surely go away by itself?” (p.178). “Few men could make me feel diminutive. Sex became sleek and narcissistic… I never felt submissive and certainly never lost control. Until Sloan. He overwhelmed me… The word “masterful” comes to mind, but he could be that. In the motel room in Nebraska … Sloan took charge. In life, I am the most competent person I know. It can get in the way. But Sloan was such a master of sex that my competence in life was irrelevant. He relieved me of choice. And self-consciousness. That was the charm of it. Is the dawning of hope the beginning of crisis, and if so, how? The loss of the baby is clearly the true crisis. What happens to Jane’s sense of her own accountability at this point in her life? “It was the first time I’d heard him say the words. ‘Our baby.’ I had steeled myself against this notion of ‘our.’ That was the agreement I had made with myself. I could have the baby, provided I root out all desire for ‘our.’ This baby would be mine, no strings attached. But when I heard Sloan say ‘our baby’… it was like conjuring. It made me gasp. I didn’t know how to respond” (p.221). “For the first time, I think I was aware of the danger I’d walked into, the effect it might have on the baby. I needed to make a choice” (p.268). I cried on and on, fed by the reservoir of all my dread made real. My thwarted progeny. My poor hope. I had robbed it of viability by my lack of conviction. Of course, it was my fault. It was all my fault” (p.293). How does Jane feel about her illness? How does Jane feel about her treatment of other people in the course of this year? Is hope reintroduced into her life, and if so, how? As a DES daughter, I need hope for my outcome. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to bear children of my own, but still, I’m one of the lucky ones… and I made it” (p.360). “I neglected to tell you this before the shoot, probably sensing that you wouldn’t go along with it… it was too late… I know these aren’t adequate excuses… All I can do is apologize and ask you to forgive me and promise to make it up to you somehow” (p.212). “Sloan and I parted in Memphis knowing that we would try once again to forge our respective uncertainties into something that resembled a family and a future” (p.355). When Jane accepts the job producing My American Wife! is she selling out? And if so, how? “On the one hand I really did believe that you could use housewives to sell meat in the service of a greater truth. On the other hand I was broke after my divorce and desperate for a job” (p.176). “Of course I knew about toxicity in meat, the deforestation of the rain forest to make grazing lands for hamburgers. Not a lot, perhaps, but I knew a little” (p.334). “Although my heart was set on being a documentarian, it seems I was more useful as a go-between, a cultural pimp, selling off the vast illusion of America to a cramped population on that small string of Pacific islands” (p.9). How can we describe her early disappointment with the show? Is there any hope associated with this disappointment? “I was learning. This was the heart and soul of My American Wife!: recreating for Japanese housewives this spectacle of raw American abundance” (p.35). “The BEEF-EX people are very strict. They don’t want their meat to have a synergistic association with deformities. Like race. Or poverty. Or clubfeet. But at the same time the Network is always complaining that the shows aren’t ‘authentic’ enough. Well, I’ve been saying if only they’d let me direct, I’d show them some real Americans. So this is it, Sloan. This is my big chance…” (p.57). Once Jane begins directing, how does that affect the narrative of the show? Is the focus still on the meat? What does Jane realize about the truth in documentaries? Is there a truth in documentaries, and can there be such a thing? How does the discovery of the toxic chemicals in meat affect Jane’s work? “I’d never get another meat like this, so beautifully integrated into the core of the family narrative. Documentarians are suckers for good narrative, since we have to wait patiently for them to happen and can’t just make them up from our imaginations” (p.137). “I wanted to make programs with documentary integrity, and at first I believed in a truth that existed – singular, empirical, absolute. But slowly, as my skills improved, and I learned about editing and camera angles and the effect that music can have on meaning, I realized that the truth was like race and could be measured only in everdiminishing approximations. Still, as a documentarian, you must strive for the truth and believe in it wholeheartedly” (p.176). “When Miss Helen blurted out that remark about chicken necks causing Mr. Purcell’s voice to change and his breasts to grow, I was shocked. I knew about antibiotics from the cute doctor in Oklahoma, and I guess I knew that hormones were used too. I just never gave it much thought before… It was a discovery that ultimately changed my relationship with meats and television. It also changed the course of my life” (p.123-4). When Jane was producing the show, was she being a documentarian? If not, what happened to change this? How do narrative and truth intertwine in the making of her first “real” documentary? What is Jane’s new attitude toward her own pillow book? What are the similarities and/or differences between her and Shonagon? “Ueno wants beef, and beef he shall have… The DES stuff was only the tip of the iceberg. Why didn’t I pursue this? I call myself a documentarian, but I’ve learned nothing about the industry that’s paid for these shows” (p.202). Editing my meat video was hard. It was not a TV show, which was what I’d become accustomed to. It was a real documentary, the first I’d ever tried to make, about an incredibly disturbing subject. There were no recipes, no sociological surveys, no bright attempts at entertainment. So how to tell the story?” (p.334). “There’s no denying, I thought. In the Year of Meats, truth wasn’t stranger than fiction; it was fiction… Half documentarian, half fabulist… Maybe sometimes you have to make things up, to tell truths that alter outcomes” (p.360). Whatever people think of my book, I will make it public, bring it to light unflinchingly. That is the modern thing to do” (p.361). How does Jane’s worldview expand from how we saw it at the beginning of the novel? How does Jane’s increasing awareness of widespread ignorance motivate her to act and think at the end of the book? “Akiko’s fax threw me for a loop… up until now I’d never really imagined my audience before… Now it hit me: what an arrogant and chauvinistic attitude this was. While I’d been worrying about the well-being of the American women I filmed as subjects, suddenly here was the audience, embodied in Akiko, with a name and a valuable identity” (p.231). “I would like to think of my ‘ignorance’ less as a personal failing and more as a massive cultural trend, and example of doubling, of psychic numbing, that characterized the end of the millennium. If we can’t act on knowledge, then we can’t survive without ignorance. So we cultivate the ignorance, go to great lengths to celebrate it, even. The faux-dumb aesthetic that dominates TV and Hollywood must be about this. Fed on a media diet of really bad news, we live in a perpetual state of repressed panic. We are paralyzed by bad knowledge, from which the only escape is playing dumb. Ignorance becomes empowering because it enables people to live. Stupidity becomes proactive, a political statement. Our collective norm” (p.334). EDITING – If the truth is subjective, how much of her early “editing” was unethical? CONTROL – How does relinquishing control and/or learning to share control improve Jane’s life? TRUTH – What have Jane learned about truth and its representation? ACCOUNTABILITY – How does Jane’s ability to take responsibility for her own detrimental actions help her hold the world, the meat industry and the people in her life accountable?