I think the look of the show is great. There was a bit of an adjustment for me. I had been living with these characters and this world since 1991, so I had close to twenty years of pictures in my head of what these characters looked like, and the banners and the castles, and of course it doesn’t look like that. But that’s fine. It does take a bit of adjustment on the writer’s part but I’m not one of these writers who go crazy and says, “I described six buttons on the jacket and you put eight buttons on the jacket, you Hollywood idiots!” I’ve seen too many writers like that when I was on the other side, in Hollywood. When you work in television or film, it is a collaborative medium, and you have to allow the other collaborators to bring their own creative impulse to it, too.
For almost as long as I’ve been alive I have known that I am going to die. This awareness came to me when I was five, going on six, and since I was a child then, selfish and self-orbiting, I assumed a certain universality. At the time, and for years after, it seemed to me that the awareness of death—and therefore the fear of death, because I couldn’t fathom that a person could know of it without fearing it—was something that dawned early in every human life. It was not quite so fundamental as breathing or hair growth or digestion but more innate than learning the alphabet or the order of the days of the week, though soon enough it came to seem just as familiar.
That death was not often talked about in any open or direct way did not seem to make it any less real. As a kid, I intuited that there were certain subjects that were not for me to hear of, and later I came to understand that discussions of those same subjects were best tempered with shrugged shoulders and sideways insinuations. Death was among them, like pooping and menstruating and masturbating. Other times the topic seemed not gauche so much as just too foregone to speak of in any useful way—too vast, too apparent, like the very presence of the sky.
How did sources treat you differently than your male colleagues?
The bad news was you weren’t one of the guys so you didn’t chum it up with them and go drinking. The good news was they assumed you were young and stupid. I was young. I wasn’t stupid. They would very often say the most incredible things to me because they weren’t concentrating on the fact that I was concentrating on them.
I probably scored a number of scoops that way. It’s just hilarious. One time I was doing a story about junkets on Capitol Hill. I think Northwest [Airlines] had inaugurated a new line to Japan and Korea. They had taken on their maiden voyage most of the members of the Senate Commerce Committee, which of course controlled regulation of the airline industry.
So I did a bunch of interviews with people who went, and then I asked the people who didn’t go why they didn’t. I remember [Montana Democrat] Mike Mansfield said something of great integrity. He just said, “Don’t do that kind of thing.” But there was a senator, [New Hampshire Republican] Norris Cotton, who said, “Oriental food gives me the trots.” And that was the subhead in the story! It was just too good.
Haltingly, apologetically, then with increasing fluency, the survivors spoke of the terror of the wave, the pain of bereavement and their fears for the future. They also talked about encounters with the supernatural. They described sightings of ghostly strangers, friends and neighbours, and dead loved ones. They reported hauntings at home, at work, in offices and public places, on the beaches and in the ruined towns. The experiences ranged from eerie dreams and feelings of vague unease to cases, like that of Takeshi Ono, of outright possession.
A young man complained of pressure on his chest at night, as if some creature was straddling him as he slept. A teenage girl spoke of a fearful figure who squatted in her house. A middle-aged man hated to go out in the rain, because the eyes of the dead stared out at him from puddles.
A civil servant in Soma visited a devastated stretch of coast, and saw a solitary woman in a scarlet dress far from the nearest road or house, with no means of transport in sight. When he looked for her again she had disappeared.
A fire station in Tagajo received calls to places where all the houses had been destroyed by the tsunami. The crews went out to the ruins anyway and prayed for the spirits of those who had died – and the ghostly calls ceased.
A cab driver in the city of Sendai picked up a sad-faced man who asked to be taken to an address that no longer existed. Halfway through the journey, he looked into his mirror to see that the rear seat was empty. He drove on anyway, stopped in front of the levelled foundations of a destroyed house, and politely opened the door to allow the invisible passenger out at his former home.
As far back as the early 1960s, the government became aware of the imminent ageing problem and began to establish nursing homes and home helpers. In the 1970s, benefits for retirees were more than doubled and a system of virtually free healthcare for older people was established. In 1990, Japan introduced the “Gold Plan”, expanding long-term care services. Ten years later, it started to worry about how to pay for it, and imposed mandatory insurance for long-term care. All those over 40 are obliged to contribute. The scheme’s finances are augmented with a 50 per cent contribution from taxes and recipients are charged a co-payment on a means-tested basis. Even then, there have been financing problems and the government has had to scale back the level of services provided. Still, Campbell calls it “one of the broadest and most generous schemes in the world.”
As a result of these and other adaptations, he argues, Japan has struck a reasonable balance between providing care and controlling costs. Other countries, including Britain, have studied Japan closely for possible lessons. Of course, 15 years of deflation have left Japan’s overall finances in lousy shape, with a public debt-to-output ratio of 240 per cent, the highest in the world. Spending on healthcare per capita, however, is among the lowest of advanced nations, though outcomes are among the best. That is partly down to lifestyle. Most Japanese eat a healthy, fish-based diet and consume less processed food and sugary drinks than westerners. Obesity is far less common. So are violence and drug abuse. But even taking into account such factors, Japan gets a big bang for its healthcare buck. Every two years, the government renegotiates reimbursement fees with doctors, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies, routinely imposing restraints or reductions. Primary care is given priority over specialist treatment: the Japanese visit the doctor far more often than Americans but receive far fewer surgical interventions.
In 2013, for the first time in the 55-year-history of the Billboard Hot 100, not one black artist lodged a number-one single. (Of the eleven songs that held the spot for some portion of the year, four were hip-hop, and four featured black singers or rappers in guest roles.) There’s been round, sustained clamor over Macklemore’s Grammy haul, which was all the more glaring because it came at the expense of fellow nominee Kendrick Lamar, a (frankly) far more talented artist, who is black. (Macklemore handled the situation awkwardly, too, writing Kendrick a text message that said, “I wanted you to win. You should have. It’s weird and sucks that I robbed you.” And then posting a screenshot of that text to his Instagram account, so everyone could see how magnanimous he is.) Macklemore admits that white privilege is a factor in his success. “I benefit from that privilege,” he has said. “And I think that mainstream Pop culture has accepted me on a level that they might be reluctant to, in terms of a person of color.” But that doesn’t change the facts on the ground: A new white hip-hop superstar has been anointed, one who does not live up to most rap critics’ definition of excellence. (Eminem is widely considered to be an extremely skilled rapper.) Some have even gone so far as to anoint Macklemore some sort of savior of hip-hop, a Great White Hope who will help the genre evolve into a more enlightened form. A recent Dallas Morning News headline sums up this perspective: “Macklemore shows hip-hop doesn’t need to be homophobic, violent in Dallas concert.”
In many ways, Jeffries’s most impressive accomplishment was not the signature Abercrombie style but the signature Abercrombie attitude, with its bluntly brash appeal. As one former employee put it, “The only bad news was no news. Controversy was what you wanted.” Consequently, the list of PR disasters past and present is too lengthy to fully detail, but the more notable flare-ups include the following: the quickly recalled line of Asian-themed T-shirts, which featured men in rice-paddy hats and cartoonishly slanted eyes; a line of thongs, marketed to girls as young as 10, with the words wink-wink on the crotch; an issue of A&F Quarterly that included a user’s guide to having oral sex in a movie theater; and the disingenuous joke-apology to critics that appeared in the same periodical in 2003: “If you’d be so kind, please offer our apologies to the following: the Catholic League, former Lt. Governor Corrine Wood of Illinois, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Stanford University Asian-American Association, N.O.W.”
In 2010, Michael Stephen Bustin, a former pilot of the Abercrombie corporate jet, filed a lawsuit against Abercrombie in a Philadelphia federal court, claiming he’d been unfairly dismissed because of his age. (He is in his mid-fifties.) Abercrombie & Fitch settled with Bustin, but not quickly enough to prevent the disclosure, by Bustin’s lawyers, of a 40-plus page Abercrombie “aircraft standards” manual, a copy of which leaked online.
Included in the manual are rules on crew apparel (the male staff, hand-selected by a New York modeling agency, were to wear a “spritz” of Abercrombie 41 cologne and boxer briefs under their jeans), the specific song to be played on return flights (“Take Me Home,” by Phil Collins), and the way the toilet paper in the aft lavatory should be rolled (never exposed; end square neatly folded). If Jeffries makes a request, the crew is always to respond with “No problem” instead of “Yes” or “Sure.”
It’s Fashion Week in New York, and in New York magazine, Matthew Shaer looks at the rise and fall of retailer Abercrombie & Fitch, which is attempting to reposition itself in a the current market, where stores like H&M have found success. A+F CEO Mike Jeffries helped rebrand the company in the ’90s to much success, but has unable to keep the company up with a changing consumer market. Read more business stories at Longreads.