“The Good Old Days” (short story) by Yasutaka Tsutsui
English Publication History: Bullseye! (2017, Kurodahan)
Original: Japanese (団欒の危機), 1973
Translated by Andrew Driver, 2017
Synopsis: With the old TV having been pawed off and the arrival of the new TV delayed, an awkward situation with a family that’s accustomed to basking in the screen’s glow at dinnertime and in the evening. With nothing else to do amid the bickering of her family, Grandma Chie chimes up with the suggestion of an oral story, which is taken up by grandpa Masato. What begins as a urbane story of restrained youthful romance soon morphs into a tale of love and espionage, only to transcend into a narrative of disappointing marriage, which has yet another odd turn of plot when the next family member takes over.
Analysis: As in 1973, as in 2017… as in Japan, as in the US. Who says technology is progress? What exactly does it progress? Technology and innovation for the same of technology and innovation? With the advent of TV, family time turned away from the radio. Prior, the advent of radio turned families away from books (not that I’m demonizing books, good lord). And before that, books took attention away from what mattered – the oral tradition among family members. What if that oral tradition were fast-forwarded to the modern era? What tale would evolve?
As the story begins from grandpa’s perspective, his bias boils from the tale in which the youthful romance is between degenerate youth; however, the listening children are bored. As the father takes over, the urbane romance soon slides into lustful predation; however, the wife interrupts to spare the children’s virgin ears. As she takes over, the narration takes on a regal tone that descends into familial angst, again, much to the disappointment of the children. When the grandmohter finally aims to complete the story, emotions flare.
With each turn of story comes the repressed emotions of the narrator. Even though the audience is intended to be the children, the frothing angst among the family members spills forth into the narration. The personally embittered ideas of relationships are injected into the characters’ own relationships. Instead of the story running smooth as water, it merely treads in blood, the froth of which choking the very family who kicks to survive.
Unknowingly, the TV had held more than just their attention; it also held at bay the very emotions under their skins. With the repressive glow of the cathode ray tube removed, repressed angst percolates from the boredom, the victims of which are the children rather than the intended recipients.
Review: It’s funny yet relevant even though it was written more than 40 years ago. It’s interesting that each character in the story is characterized through the words through the story, a kind of meta-fictional mirror. The children, the intended audience of the round-robin story, are quickly smothered by the smoldering animosity. As their generation is nearly entirely reliant upon technology, what can be said for the children’s future in which they may face only the company of people… what hostility will bold forth?