Posts tagged ‘World War II’


Modern masculinity doesn’t involve reinventing the wheel

29.11.2019

When Douglas Bader recorded in his log book on the aeroplane accident that cost him his legs, he wrote, ‘Bad show’.
   It was men like Bader, Audie Murphy, Claire Lee Chennault and Douglas MacArthur that my father spoke of as heroes from his childhood.
   There were plenty more from our own culture but I’m using these ones given my largely occidental audience, and Dad really did cite them as well.
   None of these men, by the accounts I’ve read, were braggarts. Most were indeed very humble about their contributions to their countries.
   But even my late pacifist veteran grandfather (he served, but desperately hated war) would consider these men heroes, as my father did.
   I may have blogged at other times about my first years in New Zealand, but I won’t go into depth about it as it would be too much of a digression from the point I want to make.
   Perhaps it’s growing up in an immigrant household that what your father tells you a real man should be trumps what you witness at school from your classmates about what they think masculinity is.
   And you see your own father display the qualities of what he considered to be gentlemanly. Children are good mimics.
   A gentleman, he would say, has the ability to refrain. A lesser man might act out, or strike someone, but that is not a civilized man. Society runs best when people are civilized.
   Those ideas of what we call toxic masculinity today were never displayed in my household and are utterly foreign to me—and as an immigrant, ‘foreign’ has two meanings in that sentence. I may be the “foreigner” as far as others (such as certain Australian-owned newspapers) are concerned, even after living here for 43 years, but from your own perspective, you can more easily distance yourself from any undesirable behaviour, saying, ‘That’s not who I am.’
   In the early years at my first high school, I may have had some cause to doubt the fatherly advice because what I witnessed was an extreme and intellectually stunted form of hero worship that might was right. That the brute force of the rugby player was true masculinity and if you didn’t have it, then you were a ‘poofter’ or a ‘faggot’. Brag, brag, brag, be it about sports or sexual encounters.
   This, as any real rugby player knows, and I have met men who have represented our national side, is a wholly inaccurate perception of who they are.
   They will tell you that true men display values of camaraderie, teamwork, quiet achievement, tolerance and decency. No All Black I know talks himself up as anything other than one of the boys who happened to be lucky enough to be chosen.
   Indeed, some of the bigger blokes who wound up in the school rugby teams, especially the Polynesian and Māori lads, were generally gentle and protective fellows with strong family values.
   Yet that misplaced perception held by immature high school boys, I fear, informs many young men of how they are to conduct themselves in adult life.
   They think that being jerks toward women is the norm. ‘Treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen,’ is the familiar refrain.
   I’ve had comments over the years of, ‘Why didn’t you make a move on me?’ when I either could not read the signs or felt that forceful “masculine” behaviour was not particularly respectful. As a middle-aged man I wonder if the patriarchy, “just the way things are”, has warped expectations for heterosexual men and women. (I can’t obviously speak for our LGBTQI community.)
   However, what I do know is sending intimate pictures of yourself via a dating app or messaging service is disgusting (and, incidentally, has not worked for any man in the history of the planet), and that constant desperation is particularly unappealing.
   I remember a female friend showing me the sorts of messages she received from potential suitors on a dating website.
   ‘Holy crap,’ I said. ‘This is the calibre of men out there?’
   And when I talk to my partner today, she tells me that that was par for the course.
   But I have a quality relationship because I did listen to my father and behaved in a way that I thought he would approve of. Whatever he taught me wound up being hard-wired in me and I never aped the boys in my first high school. He was right after all, even if it took longer for me to be in a long-term relationship.
   No, I don’t have a massive list of “conquests” because it honestly isn’t about quantity and life is too short for empty encounters. And while my behaviour at uni age, and shortly after, wasn’t always exemplary, as I tried to figure out the norms, I’ve also come through this knowing that I didn’t have to lie to any woman, and not a single woman out there will be able to say I did anything physical without her consent.
   While I obviously told my other half of my career when we met (‘So what do you do?’), I never mentioned my mayoral bids till our fourth date, a month in to our courtship (she lived out of the country when I ran), and I admitted I didn’t always have an easy time in business during a period of my life, including the recession. I am human, after all. And if one can’t accept me for the bad as well as the good, then is the relationship founded on reality? Or simply fantasy?
   We’ve recently had a murder trial here in New Zealand with the accused a young man who is described as a serial liar, and accounts from women he had met were tragic: he would lie about his occupation, bigging himself and his family up, or pretend he had terminal cancer. Enough has been written on this creep.
   I had the misfortune to meet another young man who has since been exposed by the Fairfax Press as a con man, who also told constant lies about his life, thinking that talk of personal wealth would impress me and a co-director of one business we have.
   Mercifully, the latter case didn’t wind up with anyone physically hurt, and I know plenty of young people who would never behave like this. But it got me wondering whether the core of these cases tells us something about how certain young men feel inadequate, because of a misplaced hero worship of a warped form of masculinity that leaves them as outsiders.
   I’m by no means excusing the murderer because he frankly committed a heinous crime, in a premeditated fashion. I remain appalled at the victim-shaming that I saw reported as though the deceased, the one person who couldn’t answer, were on trial. I’m also not excusing the failed con-man who any viewer of Hustle would be able to spot a mile away: his actions, too, were his own. But I am pointing at society and how we men have shaped expectations.
   For I look at some male behaviour and they are entirely at odds with what a man should be.
   While examples like Douglas Bader might not resonate with young men today, because his example is too far back in history for them (the biopic is in black and white), surely we can find ones of humble men who accomplish great deeds and don’t have to go on social media to talk themselves up.
   Just tonight I was at a dinner for Merrill Fernando, the 89-year-old founder of Dilmah Tea, who was earlier today conferred an honorary doctorate by Massey University.
   When I asked if he was now Dr Fernando, he replied that he would still be Merrill Fernando, and that all the honours he had received—and they are plentiful—would never change who he was. His humility and his faith continue to inspire me.
   This is the mark of a decent and admirable man.
   And surely we can find examples where men aren’t being disrespectful to women and show us that that is the norm.
   Surely we don’t need to berate anyone who doesn’t fit the trogoldyte mould and use homophobic slurs against them.
   Because, chaps, I don’t believe what defines a man, a real man, a fair dinkum bloke, has actually changed, at its core, from what my Dad told me.
   There is room for the jocks, the geeks, the musos, the artists, the romantics, the extroverts and introverts, because we all have our strengths.
   One female friend of mine tells me that it’s safer for her to presume all men are jerks as her default position till proved otherwise, and I know fully why she would take that position. On social media she points to the ‘bros’, men who’ll gang up on women because they don’t like them for calling it as it is, or having a different viewpoint. In real life she has had unwanted attention, even after she tells them she’s queer.
   These men, the bros, the braggarts, the dick-pic senders, the liars, the bullies, the slanderers, are actually trying to change the definition of what a real man is—and that, to me, seems to be non-masculine, insecure and inadequate. We can do better—and history shows that we had done once.

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Posted in culture, internet, New Zealand | No Comments »


Mitsubishi’s latest scandal: enough to shake it right out of the passenger-car market?

26.04.2016


Above: The Mitsubishi eK Wagon, one of the cars at the centre of the company’s latest scandal.

One thing about creating and running Autocade is that you gain an appreciation for corporate history. Recently, I blogged about Fiat, and the troubles the company is in; it wasn’t that long ago that Fiat was the designers’ darling, the company known for creating incredibly stylish vehicles for all its brands and showing how you could use Italian flair to generate sales.
   That was the 1990s; by the turn of the century, Fiat had lost some of its mojo, and by the time I got to Milano in the early 2000s, the taxi ranks had plenty of German and French cars. Once upon a time, they would have been nearly exclusively Italian. Today, a lot of Fiat’s range is either made by, or on platforms shared with, Ford, GM, Chrysler (which it now owns), Peugeot, Mitsubishi and Mazda. Sharing platforms isn’t a sin, but a necessity, but Fiat seems to have taken it to a new level, looking like a OEM brand whose logo is freely slapped on others’ products.
   Mitsubishi is the other car company to find itself in trouble in recent weeks. The company admitted that it had lied about the fuel economy figures for its kei cars, the micro-cars that it sells predominantly in Japan.
   It wasn’t as troublesome as Volkswagen’s defeat device which fooled the US EPA, running differently when it knew the engine was being tested. Mitsubishi kept things simple, and overinflated tyre pressures.
   It would have got away with it, too, if it weren’t for Nissan, a company to which Mitsubishi supplied, under an OEM deal, kei cars. The customer started to ask questions and tested the cars for itself.
   Mitsubishi had supplied 468,000 cars to Nissan, all of which are affected. It had only sold 157,000 under its own marque. Production of the cars, from the eK range, and the OEM equivalent for Nissan, the Dayz, is now suspended, while Mitsubishi’s shares plunged 15 per cent on the news last week.
   Sankei, the Japanese newspaper, believes that Mitsubishi used the wrong test method on the I-MIEV electric car, RVR (ASX), Outlander, and Pajero, which are exported.
   You have to wonder what the corporate culture must be like for these matters to recur so regularly. But then, collectively, people tend to forget very rapidly, and companies like Volkswagen and Mitsubishi must bank on these.
   VW isn’t the first to cheat the EPA—US car makers have attempted less sophisticated defeat devices in the latter half of the 20th century—though it has had a chequered past. Just over 10 years ago, there was a scandal involving VW colluding with a union leader to keep wage demands down, and a few low-level employees took the rap. Go back to the 1980s and the company found itself in a foreign exchange scandal. But these were known mainly among specialist circles, principally those following car industry news.
   Mitsubishi’s scandals, meanwhile, were more severe in terms of the headlines generated. Last decade, when the media called Mitsubishi Japan’s fourth-largest car maker—these days they call it the sixth—the company was implicated in a cover-up over the safety of its vehicles. Japanese authorities raided the company in 2004, and revealed that Mitsubishi Motors Corp. hid defects that affected 800,000 vehicles, and had done so since 1977. Nearly a million vehicles were recalled. Affected vehicles were sold domestically as well as in Europe and Asia. Top execs were arrested that time, including the company president, although it was hard under Japanese law to punish Mitsubishi severely. There was no disincentive to conducting business as usual. The company was ultimately bailed out by its parent, the giant Mitsubishi Group, when it found itself facing potential bankruptcy.
   People were killed as a result of Mitsubishi’s cover-ups, and at the time it was considered one of the biggest corporate scandals in Japan.
   Go back a bit further and Mitsubishi Materials Corp., a related company, had used slave labour in World War II, including US troops—something the company did not apologize for till 2015, even though the Japanese government itself had issued apologies in 2009 and 2010. While it was a first among Japanese corporations, and US POWs got what they had long awaited, descendants of Chinese slave labourers still have a lawsuit pending against a connected Mitsubishi subsidiary.
   The other major difference between Volkswagen and Mitsubishi is that the Japanese marque is relatively weak in terms of covering its market segments. It’s SUV- and truck-heavy, and its kei cars had sold well (till now), but it has little in the passenger car segments, which it had once fielded strongly. The Mirage (and the booted Attrage) and the Galant Fortis (exported as the Lancer to many markets) are what’s left: the latter is now nine years old, though still fairly competitive, and in desperate need of replacement. Its only other car is its Taiwan-only Colt Plus, still selling there as an entry-level model despite having been withdrawn from every other market. In the big-car segments, Mitsubishi is actually supplied by Nissan in Japan, but doesn’t make its own any more. ‘Sixth-largest’ is shorthand for third-smallest, at least among the big Japanese car companies.
   Mitsubishi looks set to quit the C-segment (Galant Fortis) since neither Renault nor Nissan, which it had approached, wanted a tie-up. And the company survives on tie-ups for economies of scale, and there’s now a big question mark over whether potential partners want to work with it. Automotive News’s Hans Greimel questions whether the Mitsubishi–Fiat truck deal will go ahead (though I had thought it was an inked fait accompli).
   But, most seriously, Mitsubishi hasn’t completely recovered from its earlier scandal.
   It is within living memory, and the timing and nature of the latest one, tying so closely to what rocked Volkswagen, ensured that it would get global press again, even if the bulk of the affected cars were only sold domestically. And when consumers see a pattern, they begin wondering if there’s a toxic corporate culture at play here.
   We’re too connected in 2016 not to know, and while Mitsubishi is likely to be bailed out again, it will face the prospect of shrinking car sales—and sooner or later one will have to question whether the company will stay in the passenger-car business. Isuzu exited in the 1990s, focusing on SUVs, pick-ups and heavy trucks, forced by an economic downturn. Since Mitsubishi’s own portfolio is looking similarly weighted, it wouldn’t surprise me if it chose to follow suit, its brand too tarnished, with too little brand equity, to continue.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, culture, marketing | 1 Comment »


Parts of Japan are decimated, and I think back to my grandfather

11.03.2011

My grandfather, Col. Tung Wan Yan, of the Chinese Constitutional Army, had a very interesting war.
   He was on a Japanese hit-list and was hiding in trees when some soldiers opened fire on him with automatic weapons. By some miracle, he escaped unharmed.
   It’s one of the close calls he had in China and Malaya during World War II.
   Last night, and for a little while this morning, I Tweeted some public notices to help get word out for the Japanese people, which is one of the few things my limited skill set allows for. I translated Tweets via Google Translate to keep people informed, especially those in Japan who might not understand Japanese.
   And my mind turned to him. He’s the one guy in our family who has met a lot more Japanese people than we can claim.
   Not because of any contrast, but because of similar motives.
   Immediately after the surrender, my grandfather created jobs for stranded Japanese soldiers in Malaya, so they could earn their passage back home.
   When you cast aside government orders, people are people—and compassion is a natural trait in most of us. They put down their guns and became brothers.
   If you ask me what part of my grandfather’s war record I am proud of, it was that immediate postwar work. Technically, it’s not part of his war record, though it is part of his military record.
   He had to get back to his family, too, but, as any leader would do, he placed others before himself. More importantly, these others included not only his own men, but those whom, a day before, were called ‘the enemy’.
   He was a few months younger than I am now, and had done way more than I ever could. In this and other respects, he was a better man than me.
   Tweeting public notices isn’t much compared with actual job creation and restoring public services and infrastructure in a foreign country.
   But what he and I have in common is that we believe that, in these times of need, we are all brothers and sisters in unity with the citizens and families of Japan.

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Posted in China, internet, leadership | 3 Comments »