Eurhythmics from the East

For those of you who don't speak German, this curious gem of a video from the International Socialist Peace and Freedom Conference of 1974 (held in Rio de Janeiro) shows the East German women's rhythmic gymnastics team introducing their new outfits for the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal.

All 22 ladies show off the daring new 'Progess and Equality' themed uniforms, half black and half multicolored, which were the first in East German history not designed by Margot Honecker, wife of East German Premier Erich Honecker and Minister of Education.

The voice-over commentary is by Erich Mielke, Director of the East German Ministry for State Security (Stasi). Having the secretive super-spy appear on mainstream television programming was part of the short-lived 'Protecting You, Protecting the State, Protecting the Future' program, which was designed to improve the reputation of East German spy agencies. Mielke was removed from the spotlight after he made comments about the apparent facial hair growth of some of the gymnasts, which is just visible from certain angles in this video.


Begin Japanology with Peter Barakan

I went to Japan last Christmas and loved it. Everywhere is clean, the people are courteous, street life is lively and safe, free public restrooms everywhere, spectacular shrines temples and gardens, handmade things made of natural materials. The entire country seems to be curated by people with discreetly minimalist good taste mixed with a bit of wabi-sabi aesthetic. I just scratched the surface, but it's quite a surface. 

While surfing around for things Japanese, I came across the oddly-named TV series Begin Japanology, produced by Japan's national television channel. The understated host, longtime Japan resident and fluent English speaker Peter Barakan (apparently he's half Burmese and half English) presents half-hour shows dedicated to everything from Kyudo to festivals to incense to fireworks to shopping streets to sake to masks to swords to folding fans to Western Japanophiles to pickles, plums, sushi, and calligraphy. Here's one on incense, which, it turns out, has its own highly formalized ceremony: 

By now there seem to be hundreds of episodes -- a long but not exhaustive Youtube playlist is here.  The production values are reasonably high, without being ostentatious. There's often a slight twist: the episode on kendo features an in-depth profile of a young kendo master with one arm who routinely beats two-armed opponents without being given any advantages. Barakan profiles many fascinating Japanese, from retired managers who carve masks in their spare time to famous tea masters, actors, puppeteers and architects. Barakan, a congenial, low-key host, also has a weakness for ordinary Japanese who are trying to maintain some of the many traditions which teeter on the verge of extinction. As with many Japanese shows, there's a lot of pleasantly burbling background music, some of it a bit incongruous.

The shows focus on traditional, non-controversial topics, so I don't think we're going to see a episode on soaplands anytime soon. But within their limited scope, these shows are well-done, with thoughtful scripts, interesting subject choices, and a few modest surprises here and there. Highly recommended.


The Generic Television Show Plot

A man analyzed the plots of thousands of television series using complex statistical analysis and came up with the following description of a generic television show episode:

Just for fun, let's put that into a single narrative: the typical script starts among a group of wise-cracking teenagers at the school, making plans for the day to come and the weekend. At the office, however, a dead body is discovered. The wisecracking ceases, and instead the befuddled victims try to describe more accurately how the murder happened, to apologize for their mistakes, and to inspire each other not to give in to defeat but to fight for victory. A heartfelt plea to the Almighty for help lies over their testimony at the trial; and they carefully move into the future, apologizing once again and reflecting on the new truths they have learned.

Eerily disjointed.