“And two pieces of Hokkaido uni sushi please.”
“Wait, no. Could you change that to Canadian uni please?”
“But baby, Hokkaido uni tastes better.”
“Canadian uni please.”
Then I send away the waiter so that my boyfriend cannot change the order. This is a conversation I often have whenever I go to a sushi restaurant with him. He prioritizes taste and I love long life better than figs, or sushi for that matter. I have to tell you; this conversation usually happens in Seoul or Taipei. I have never been to any part of Japan since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, which began on March 11, 2011–not even for a layover in Japanese airports. In Seoul, I used to neurotically check whether or not anything that comes into my body is from Japan. The hardest thing was giving up my favorite Kiss Me super waterproof mascara, manufactured in Japan. (Korean cosmetics seem to be “the new black” among New Yorkers interested in beauty products but I dare say that Japanese mascaras and eyelash-curlers are the crème de la crème. Korean girls could not get enough of them before the disaster.) My friend who was planning a trip to Japan 5 months before having a baby was branded a reckless lunatic among my friends.
New Yorkers reading this may think you are safe. But are you, really? Although I moved miles and miles away from Seoul to Manhattan last summer, when I shop in Asian grocery stores in the Morningside Heights, I still cannot help but wonder if it is indeed safe to eat seaweed exported from Japan. Is this frothy and vibrantly green matcha latte made with matcha from the Nishio region cesium-free? How far is Nishio from Fukushima? When I read this article about a specially-designed robot with video and shapeshifter capabilities (It can change its shape to a snake!) was dispatched into one of the reactors in Fukushima and started to malfunction after three hours, it just worsened my hypochondria. The Tokyo Electric Power Company’s statement that they do not know the cause of the malfunction and that it just got stuck and stopped working does not help, especially when they add that No. 1 reactor emitted 9.7 sieverts per hour, fatal enough to kill humans within 60 minutes. That’s it, no more dreaming of Jiro’s sushi. No more Japanese sushi for me.
Okay, maybe I am over-reacting. But some of my concerns are articulated Play Company’s latest production, Ludic Proxy, written and directed by Aya Ogawa. It weaves together past, present, and unspecified future and different geographic settings. The title of the play originates from a term coined by Kevin Slavin the assistant professor of media arts and sciences at the MIT media lab. Inspired by his experience of learning the geography of Tel Aviv through a game called Counter-Strike, he named this phenomenon of phantom knowledge of something real as “ludic proxy.” The play leads the audience into the world we are terrified to explore ourselves in person. There are three segments in the play and each of them utilizes different aspects of gaming. If this makes you curious, you will have to visit Walkerspace by May 2 to learn more.
Ludic Proxy could not have been more timely. Not only is April 26, 2015, the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, we are living in the time of anxiety. In fact, our anxiety about science and technology is nothing new. Victorian intellectuals were fascinated and yet dreaded the progress of science. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, Modern Prometheus reflects the contemporary’s unease regarding the possibilities of electricity; Luigi Galvani conducted public experiments to induce muscle spasm of dead bodies by electric shock. We do not know exactly how Victor Frankenstein animated his Creature constructed of dead body parts but Mary Shelley mentions the use of electricity. Other novels such as The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde and Dracula also mirror the Victorians’ anxiety about science (or, its failure). This fear has been aggravated more and more. But it’s only fair. According to the IAEA, in 2013, almost 20% of the electricity generated in the U.S. was from nuclear power. In New York alone, there are four nuclear power plants. (The address of one of the plants is on “Broadway” and I could feel adrenaline shooting up in my veins. But no worries, it is located in Buchanan, NY. Or should we be worried about it too?) But it is not just nuclear power. Everyday new apps, new inventions, and new technology are created. So spawned new risks. Having learned the power of nuclear weapons during World War II, we know all too well how destructive technology can be. No wonder we are living at the apogee of angst.
One of the greatest thing about Ludic Proxy is that the actors are going to be our avatars or as the title suggests, proxies to the poisonous environment. We are still in Manhattan but also in Chernobyl, Fukushima, and a post-apocalyptic underworld. By immersing us in such lethal settings, it awakens and inflames our unease. Are we really safe? Should we let science’s tentacles sprawl freely through this world? What will happen to us if we just take the laissez-faire approach? If you have not thought about unpredictability of nuclear power or any other form of technology, you will have no choice but to mull over it once you see Ludic Proxy.