Carole & Tuesday: A Song of Refugees and Fire

by ZeroReq011,

Carole & Tuesday has some good music, but good music isn't made in a vacuum. Music is created by musicians, and whether they're strumming guitar strings, singing mezzo-soprano, or scribbling notes on staves, aspects of musicians' lives end up bleeding into their songs. People are partly a product of their societies, and those societies are subject to political turbulence and changes.

Some of the most well-known and celebrated musicians were politically outspoken: Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, John Lennon. These artists were vocally anti-war. Likewise, there are music genres borne from the political. Rap was originally developed by African Americans and was used as a protest vehicle for issues like police brutality. Carole and Tuesday bears echoes of the African American experience of struggle for freedom.

Being a fan of these Western music artists, director Shinichiro Watanabe knows that good art can be political. He applied that knowledge in his direction of Terror in Resonance, a story that blended avant-garde Icelandic rock with angry anti-war messaging. By comparison, his directorial handling of Carole and Tuesday has been lighter on the angst, but Carole & Tuesday is not apolitical.

Whether they like it or not, the show's titular characters are caught in the crossfire of a rancorous political issue: migrants and refugees. It's an issue that's just as explosive in real life as it turns out to be in Watanabe's fiction. Modern Japan, too, has a complicated and strained relationship with migrants and refugees.

Caught in the Crossfire

Based on the show's initial premise, viewers wouldn't expect characters to end up rapping passionately about refugees, but neither did the show's titular characters. The show begins offering the audience what life was like for Carole and Tuesday before they met. Fair hair and light-skinned Tuesday sneaks out of her family's countryside mansion and takes the next train to the big city, daring to chase her dreams. The Earthling Carole has darker skin and sports afro-locs. She sets up her keyboard to play the evening away after a rough day at her last minimum-wage job, wondering when her dreams will begin. Two very different-looking girls from two very different worlds meet on a bridge. They bond over their shared love of music and form an army of two – hoping to break into the music world as the duo Carole & Tuesday.

Carole and Tuesday would have preferred that things didn't become so politically charged and could continue singing those deeply personal songs they love singing. However, identity can be quite a personal issue too, especially if society won't stop reminding you about it. The two have their setbacks and successes, like those typically seen in a lighthearted first half of a musician biopic. Their brand of achingly personal music eventually nets them a lot of professional success. At the same time, they and the audience gradually learn about each other's personal history.

Carole is an orphan who has fended for herself for a while now. She meets and bonds with a kindly man briefly in town who is strongly suggested to be her dad and may have left her at an orphanage because he didn't think he could provide for her by himself. Tuesday is a sheltered kid with a distant and ambitious politician for a mother. She gets forcibly taken back to her family villa at one point on her mother's orders, which sets up this whole extraction get-away adventure that goofily but ultimately succeeds.

All these issues come to a head in the second half of the series as refugees take a center role. Carole is a refugee from Earth, and Tuesday's mother is running on a pro-Mars, anti-refugee platform. Bad things might happen to Carole because of the political climate, and it'll be Tuesday's mother to blame for abetting it.

What is a Refugee?

Before going further about refugees in Carole & Tuesday, it is a good idea to begin with a real-life overview of who refugees are and why their circumstances are so controversial. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees's (UNHCR) definition for refugee is based on the 1951 Refugee Convention: “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.” Not all countries (i.e. Japan) subscribe to the UNHCR's definition of what a refugee is, but more on that later.

The UNHCR identified 25.9 million people as refugees in 2018, with many recent populations hailing from Syria, Afghanistan, and Myanmar. The majority of refugees from these countries are Muslim, which the show makes a nod to when it later introduces a certain musical artist. Citizens within countries accepting refugees can express anxieties of economic displacement and social disharmony. These anxieties pervade especially when refugees are perceived as unskilled and poorly educated with different colored skin and cultural backgrounds. However, the worst fears surrounding refugees are connected to citizen's perception that they will impact public order and national security. These can range to fear of increased criminal activity leading to worsening crime rates to fear of terrorist attacks by furtive ideological extremists admitted into the country. Citizens hold on to these fears despite clauses in the 1951 Refugee Convention that excludes "perpetrators of heinous acts of refugee protection and to safeguard the receiving countries from criminals who present a danger to that country's security.”

These fears of potential terrorists festering among the admitted refugee population is unfounded. Studies conducted on refugees in the U.S. conclude that the overwhelming majority of refugees in the U.S. are peaceful and that the refugee asylum process is the worst avenue terrorists could take to infiltrate the country due to the U.S.'s rigorous background check process.

The 1951 Refugee Convention's exceptions to its refugee definition, the results of studies on potential terrorism from refugees, and the rigorous background checking processes of refugee-recipient countries have not been enough to quell anxieties and xenophobia from refugee detractors and skeptics. Public anxiety and xenophobia toward the issue worsens when violent incidents occur that are fingered, justifiably or not, on migrants and refugees. Some figureheads go so far as to leverage and exploit the simmering anxieties and erupting fears that result from these events as political wedge issues. Carole and Tuesday inserts analogues to these dynamics in a Tuesday's mother and a bombing.

The Prophet and the Politician

Tuesday's mother Valerie is running to become president of Mars on the convenient wedge issue of an aggressively inflammatory anti-refugee platform. That platform frames refugees as potentially dangerous and criminal. Valerie declares she'll stop Mars from admitting them if she wins. Her campaign's strategy is that her platform and rhetoric will galvanize the xenophobic nationalist vote and then she'll garner the remaining moderate voters she needs by playing into their fears of violence and chaos and projecting herself as the only safe and stable choice.

The Earth refugee and rap artist Ezekiel releases a music video that highlights the difficulties refugees like himself are now facing because of this more hostile political environment, literally bashing a televised image of the person primarily responsible. He takes his stage name and lyrical inspiration from the Prophet Ezekiel, a revered figure in the Abrahamic (Judeo-Christian and Islamic) religious traditions. Ezekiel's real name is Amer Souleyman, an Arabic name that gives a nod to Muslim refugees.

Like the rapper, the Biblical prophet Ezekiel was something of a refugee himself. In a nutshell, the Babylonian Empire conquered the Jewish homeland and forced many of its inhabitants into living in Babylon proper, nullifying the Jews' chances to stage a successful rebellion. Biblical prophets served the traditionally formulaic role of chastising people for doing evil things and warning them of bad stuff happening if they don't wise up.

Tuesday later reveals that Valerie isn't personally hateful toward refugees. Valerie uses an anti-refugee platform and rhetoric based off advice from Jerry, an unscrupulous Lee Atwater-type consultant. Still coming short in the polls despite improving her percentages by activating xenophobic nationalists, Jerry furtively arranges for a utility installation to be bombed and frames the crime on refugee terrorists. Unaware of who was actually responsible, Valerie still takes advantage of the new talking point and directs blame on refugees for the incident, resulting in a significant increase in polling support. Ezekiel's deportation and effective silence is also arranged on charges that he was staying illegally on Mars on an expired visa. The life of a prophet also tends to be a life of suffering and persecution.

Refugee Policy in Japan

Compared to similarly developed countries, Japan has a very low acceptance rate of refugees. To demonstrate, in 2018 Canada accepted 28,100 refugees out of 55,400 applications that year. That same year America accepted 22,900 out of 254,300 applications. Their acceptance rate approximates to 50.7% and 9.1%, respectively. By contrast, Japan admitted 20 out of 19,629 in 2017, a rate of roughly 0.1%. The Japanese government claimed to have made significant progress in accepting more refugees, approving 42 out of 10,493 refugee applications in 2018. This poor rate contrasts other positive endeavors the Japanese government has undertaken to engage in in the international community since WWII, including being the fourth largest national donor to the UNHCR.

However, technical legalese only explains part of the story, as the law is made by people who may have ulterior motives. Many potentially accepted refugees would be considered low-skilled workers in Japan's economy. Japan has traditionally had a somewhat robust policy for admitting high-skilled experts, and a severely restrictive one for laborers. Japan's Technical Intern Training Program has been especially infamous for denying its labor-class, non-Japanese participants both opportunities for permanent Japanese residency and basic labor rights protections. The point of refugee status is supposed to identify those who deserve aid based primarily on humanitarian reasons, not self-serving ones.

There is also fear among those in Japan that any policy that admits refugees, let alone permissive ones, will invite not only societal disharmony, but violence and even terrorism. This fear was ignited in 2014 when the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) live-streamed the execution of two Japanese tourists. The tourists were ostensibly targeted in response to Japan's pledge of humanitarian assistance in the Middle East as part of the US-led coalition. Japan began to fear that radicalized Muslim terrorists could the country as tourists, migrants and refugees, attacking the country from within.

A Song of Refugees and Fire

Gradually, the worsening political climate influences the content of Carole & Tuesday's songs. A journalist seeks out Tuesday to discuss her mother and illustrates to her how Valerie's anti-refugee policies might harm Carole. Carole's childhood friend Amer is deported from Mars by government officials who are implied to be connected to Jerry. In the meantime, the two are nominated for Best New Music Artist by the Mars' Grammys. Carole and Tuesday have to decide on the show's performance, and manage to recruit one of their favorite pop music artists, Crystal, for a collaboration. She suggests they create a song that speaks on the current issues.

A politically critical song doesn't have to be N.W.A's “F*** tha Police” to inspire people. It can also be gentle and optimistic songs like John Lennon's “Imagine”.

The result of Carole and Tuesday's efforts is “After the Fire”, a song about hope and rebuilding even after fire and disaster. It is neither as sharp nor as angry in its critique as Ezekiel's “Crash the Server”. Nevertheless, it's a clear shot against the planet's darker political mood. It's not nearly enough to change things, as yet another musician gets jailed for releasing a song critical of government censorship. Carole and Tuesday decide that they need to take a bigger stand on a bigger stage to make an impact, and important members of the music industry and news media are alarmed enough by the political climate to give them a hand.

The result is like a more woke version of U.S.A. for Africa's “We Are the World.” Jerry's government cronies might be able to silence artists individually, and society might overlook the odd controversial artist, but a community of them? Up-and-coming musicians, established pop artists, legendary retired ones, and even Carole and Tuesday rival Angela join the army of two becoming an army of many. On New Year's Eve on Mars, at the Mars Immigration Memorial Hall, in front of cameras broadcasting voices all throughout Martian society, they all sing “Mother”.

“We Are the World” invokes the oft-cited Christian belief in all peoples being God the Father's “children” as an appeal for Western audiences help the people of Africa.

Even as it refrains from making direct religious references, “Mother” makes a similar humanistic connection between refugees and the people of Mars. “Mother” invokes an oft-quoted description of Earth and connects it to an objective fact: Martians are all migrants or descendants of migrants of Earth – Mother Earth's “children”. Everyone on Mars has that important quality in common, that migrant trait responsible for Mars' existence and strength.

At the same time, Valerie is confronted by objective proof of Jerry's crimes in her campaign's name and given an ultimatum: her career or her family. Between an unscrupulous career path to the Martian presidency and her family's desire for an inclusive Mars society, she chooses the children. On TV, “Mother” plays, and mother beams warmly at her daughter, whose music she once coldly shunned. The show ends on a happily convenient note. Jerry Lee Atwater and his corrupt associates are discredited. Valerie intends to take responsibility for her part in it all. Things in Mars will be alright... probably.

Carole & Tuesday's happy ending shouldn't be taken as an indication that the real-life conflict over refugees can be solved like the conflicts of so many musicals. Director Watanabe ended his angrier Terror in Resonance on downright tragedy. But while Terror in Resonance may betray Watanabe's cynicism at the world, Carole & Tuesday captures his hopes for it. “To be continued… in our minds.” More than just offering us a good time with music, Watanabe hopes viewers come out both kinder and more politically conscious. Out of the fire, a change for the better might come, starting with refugees.

Social Scientist & History Buff. Dabbles in Creative Writing & Anime Criticism. Consider following him at @zeroreq011

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