Today I read "Japan's Rent-a-Family Industry" by Elif Bautman, one of my favorite New Yorker writers.
The article is great, very long and in-depth, which is one of the reasons why I love the NYer. They commit to a lot of journalism that takes time.
This industry is so fascinating and causes Bautman to meditate on the nature of relationships and why money seems to alienate our thinking about relationships.
For me, the article made me think about several aspects of this industry that are curious. One, is there something uniquely Japanese about this phenomenon? Bautman makes the argument that, for example, many cultures have had or currently have "rental mourners" for funerals. I'm not sure that's enough to make me think there isn't something uniquely Japanese about this trend.
That said, for a time in graduate school I thought it was a funny idea to have a "Rent a Boyfriend," not for any sexual purpose, but someone to bring you kleenex and chicken soup when you were sick, maybe someone to come over and wash your dishes or bring you a movie to watch (this was pre-streaming, obviously).
Bautman discusses the many tasks we already pay others to do, such as taking care of our children, or cleaning our houses, or cooking. We have disentangled those tasks from the relationship with the person who performs it (usually a mother/woman). But other tasks, such as the nurturing which might accompany those chores, seems diminished when coupled with pay.
The concepts are so interesting. She discusses Marx or course and Gilman, along with other theorists.
But the whole scene raises interesting questions about how difficult it is for us to initiate, maintain, have relationships in cultures where we are increasingly alienated from ourselves and each other. What's the alternative to rent-a-family?
I guess we have to work hard to make and maintain close relationships. I am lucky in that I am close to my parents and my sisters, but I know that is not the case for everyone. I think our increasing separation from others contributes to the growing depression in our midst. (Well, that and politics.)
But I think if we can get together, whether it's for lunch or coffee or parties or dinners, and just sit down and relax and be and feel, I am confident that we will be happier.
To that end, I'm going to try this idea I heard about on The Splendid Table. I really love this idea of a weekly supper, but to be realistic, maybe once a month. I'm only human!
And now I have to get back to my regular Sunday, which involves swimming and, today, a whole lot of grading. Sigh.