'Katamari,' KonMari And Confronting Consumerism
WE ARE MOVED TO TEARS BY OUR CLUTTER

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Marie Kondo has, once again, taken over the internet. The Japanese decluttering specialist and best-selling author of "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying" is experiencing a second wave of popularity in the US thanks to her Netflix show, "Tidying Up with Marie Kondo." If the streaming leader's self-reported numbers for its biggest hits are to be believed, then there's a very good chance that Kondo's infectious positivity, thoughtful animism and A+ folding tutorials have already reached more people through Netflix than her best-sellers did in just two weeks. I have watched all of Kondo's show, but when it comes to what I hope will inform my relationship to my possessions in 2019, I am considerably more obsessed with a different Japanese import focused on all the junk that surrounds us: 2004's "Katamari Damacy," created by Keita Takahashi.

 

Last month, Namco reissued "Katamari Damacy" for the Nintendo Switch. I picked up the game for the first time over the holidays (I never owned a PlayStation 2, the original system it came out for), and when "Tidying Up" hit Netflix on New Year's Day my brain made the leap between Kondo's trademarked method and the Katamari series' signature "roll junk up into a massive ball" gameplay.1 Boom: Katamari KonMari, a bit of wordplay surely ripe for a few likes on Twitter. Then again, being extremely late to both Marie Kondo and the Katamari series, I did a quick search to see if others beat me to the joke and, of course, they did.

This is not a gag article, mind you; I am not going to frivolously extol the benefits of tidying your home by smushing all your things into an unwieldy ball. There's a lot more to "Katamari Damacy" than its gameplay mechanics, story, delightful soundtrack and bright, blocky visuals. "Katamari Damacy" and "Tidying Up with Marie Kondo" both have philosophies about the multitudinous things that we surround ourselves with, and when examining those ideas you see that the contrast between the two goes a lot deeper than "messy ball" versus "minimalist aesthetic."

First, let's get into what's up with "Tidying Up." The eight half-hour episodes of the show are an attempt to mesh the KonMari method with Netflix's line of amiable, advice-peppered reality television. In each episode, Kondo meets with some Los Angeles residents — usually a couple, often with young kids, always homeowners — who feel like the clutter in their homes is negatively affecting their lives. After getting a tour of the house, Kondo walks the participants through the steps of KonMari; since these people enthusiastically volunteered, they usually nod along with Kondo's advice to keep only what "sparks joy" in their life and toss or donate the rest. The volume of stuff in these homes is never life-threatening, or even all that everyday lifestyle-threatening; Kondo is not there to judge the situation and the audience is not granted an opportunity to gawk, "Hoarders"-style, at an overflowing sea of junk. Kondo checks in with the participants' progress week after week, and a little over a month later they're all uniformly happier in their relationships and ecstatic about their organized, more harmonious homes.

On its surface, "Katamari Damacy" is about the pursuit of a different kind of harmony. The story the game provides to justify "Katamari's" unusual gameplay is appropriately goofy: The King of All Cosmos, our universe's stylish and irresponsible monarch, accidentally destroys all the stars in space while on a drunken bender — and now his son, the diminutive green Prince, must roll up objects from Earth into Katamaris so the King can turn them into new stars. As the Prince, you can only roll up things smaller than your Katamari, and you start off incredibly tiny. Over the course of the game, you go from rolling up small trinkets and rubbish in a house to rolling up Katamaris hundreds of meters in diameter, collecting everything up to and beyond entire buildings and landmasses.

Both Marie Kondo and Keita Takahashi set out to buck the trends they saw in their respective fields. In "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying," Kondo tosses out most of the conventional wisdom surrounding home organization, especially anything advocating for drawn-out tidying and complicated storage techniques. "Katamari Damacy" was Takahashi's response to the stagnation he saw in gaming, opting for accessibility over complexity, humor over violence and originality over popular tropes. It was, as Takahashi put it in a talk, "punk over rock."

Neither figure's success seems to have changed their principles much. Takahashi only agreed to work on a sequel to "Katamari Damacy" because he knew Namco would make one with or without him, and that became his last in the series2 before moving on to other, more "punk" projects. As Kondo's influence has grown, she hasn't really watered down the axioms of her method to reach a bigger audience.

The Netflix show is giving the KonMari method a renewed cultural moment: people are flocking to used clothing stores with trash bags full of old (and hopefully duly thanked-for-service) clothing, and maybe soon they'll start forming long lines at The Container Store. The popularity of "Tidying Up" has attracted plenty of thoughtful criticism — some think the show's worst sin is being boring, some are skeptical of its too-simple framing — mixed in with some unsubtly close-minded attacks on the elements of KonMari that are more spiritually-rooted than utilitarian in nature. The backlash to KonMari is nothing new3, and naturally, both passive dismissal and active disdain for KonMari grow in step with the ascent of Kondo's brand.

While I could criticize the pricey road to becoming a certified KonMari consultant or the slow proliferation of KonMari-branded accessories, I'm no more interested in ripping apart the Marie Kondo lifestyle brand than I am in dissecting any branding enterprise (hey, get this, they're all bad). The KonMari method has certainly helped some people achieve a happier life, so I'm not inclined to write it off. Besides, anyone who can give a simple and effective tutorial for folding fitted sheets should be eligible for a Nobel Peace Prize.

I folded all my t-shirts in the KonMari style the other day. I'll never go back. 

The big issue I have is that "Tidying Up" sells Kondo's method short by going too far in "tidying up" peoples' journeys through her process and their results. I think BuzzFeed's Alison Willmore is right to say that, in the show, Kondo "keeps to the more easygoing territory of having the right kind of stuff in the right place, which isn't the same thing as making do with less." This limited scope, Willmore argues, is certainly not enough of a "fix" for the participants' various relationship stressors, which are surfaced sparingly in the show despite being the most likely reason behind these people's struggles with clutter:

It's about having everything you really need to pursue what Kondo refers to several times as "your ideal life." And that term really highlights the limits of tidying up, because it doesn't make room for the idea that a mess can be a symptom of the greater issues affecting someone's life, rather than just the cause of them.

[BuzzFeed News]

Again, I think this criticism is spot-on for the show, though not as applicable to Kondo's book; where she has space to thoughtfully address the relationship between, well, our relationships and how we tend to accumulate stuff (quote, Chapter One, "Visible mess helps distract us from the true source of the disorder") Occasionally the show's editors include clips of arguments taking place between Kondo's visits that you know might touch on something deeper than the clutter at hand, but more time is devoted to straightforward solutions instead of external causes — with one exception worth revisiting later on. Unlike some shows in the home makeover genre, "Tidying Up" doesn't check in with its participants after some time has passed. At least when it comes to keeping their homes tidy, we're supposed to believe every KonMari follower really will "banish clutter forever," just as Kondo's book promises.

Ultimately, because "Tidying Up" timidly avoids the personal causes for clutter at almost every turn, it severely downplays the major root cause of all the messes: the way unsustainable consumption is ingrained into modern society. I'm not as interested in a follow-up to see if participants back slide on staying tidy or not; I want to know how they're really thinking about what they consume afterwards.

On the flip side, unchecked consumption is core to "Katamari Damacy." The act of combining everything you see into one Katamari encourages you to shed any illusion that these objects bear no systemic relationship to one another. It could have easily taken the myriad single-use objects and the large cargo ships and factories you roll up later on out of its game world, but it doesn't. "Katamari Damacy" unambiguously wants the player to observe the mechanisms and scale of the consumption that modern life perpetuates. Takahashi has straight-up said the game is "about the consumption society," though you don't need his word for the interpretation to stand.

"Katamari Damacy" makes the player confront a profoundly absurd system that fills our world with stuff, one that's driving us to the brink of total environmental disaster, and then responds to that absurdity with absurdity of its own. Everything in the game — the jumbled Katamaris, the hilarious item descriptions and the King of All Cosmos' favorite, massive understatement ("My, Earth really is full of things!"4) — puts a silly face on an upsetting reality. In the real world, our junk can't be repurposed for populating the night sky, so why do we have so much?

Rolling up the means of production. 

In the Willmore quote above and in some other appraisals of Kondo's work, there's a line of response to KonMari that casts the method's focus on having the right things in your home, as opposed to strictly less things, as a concession to wasteful consumption. I think that's not quite accurate, and comparable to saying the end-of-level transformation in "Katamari Damacy" from junk-riddled Katamari to star in space is an endorsement of the same. The KonMari method isn't wholly incompatible with being less wasteful, but in service of getting people to actually follow through on tidying it doesn't make that mindfulness intrinsic to the method. Kondo encourages us to imbue personality into all our belongings, but as soon as we've thanked what's leaving our home we are supposed to stop thinking about their impact (quote, Chapter Two, "To throw away what you no longer need is neither wasteful nor shameful"). That's not a concession to rampant consumerism so much as it's a denial.

There is one episode of "Tidying Up" that can only go so far in presenting a too-tidy version of reality. It follows Margie, a recent widow whose personal KonMari journey necessitates sorting through the belongings of her late husband, Rick. Like the rest of the show, the episode leans too heavily on reality TV tropes, but it stands out5 because it presents an existential challenge to Kondo's method. If we're not allowed to tidy and toss our partners' belongings while they're alive, then what should you do when they're gone? Margie can't live with all this stuff or pretend it isn't there.

In Margie's episode the best reason for KonMari-ing our things becomes clear: If we're tidy today, the burden we leave when we're gone will be less intractable. The theme pops up here and there in "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying," too.6 Taken to an extreme, you could see that as a philosophy that could legitimately help our world, not just our individual homes. Still, Kondo stops short of making that connection, and so instead I volunteer this: The world is our collective Katamari, and no amount of individual tidying will change the fact that our junk's still stuck to this ball here with us. If that's an uncomfortable thought, maybe it can be the push you need to actually make to do with less — and for us all to really banish clutter forever.

1

The game's name translates literally to "clump soul."

2

The success of the first game is directly invoked in the plot of the second: the King now has you rolling up Katamaris to make stars only because the fans on Earth want more (the game's Japanese cover is even a photo of fans outside of Namco's offices, holding up signs that form the title).

3

Taffy Brodesser-Akner spoke to several American professional organizers who were outraged over Kondo's popularity for a 2016 Times piece.

4

Darius Kazemi wrote a great piece on the ontology of "Katamari Damacy" back in 2012 that touches on this line.

5

Netflix seems to know this, having let Vulture go behind-the-scenes for Margie's KonMari experience.

6

Quote, Chapter Five, "There are three approaches we can take towards our possessions. Face them now, face them sometime, or avoid them until the day we die."

Mathew Olson is an Associate Editor at Digg.



There Are Too Many Streaming Services. Which Ones Are Worth Your Money?
REQUIEM FOR A STREAM

· Updated:

Disney+ launched this week, with HBO Max and NBC's Peacock soon to follow. With Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video already on the market, how can you choose between streamers? Here's a breakdown of each service's pros and cons.


Netflix

Essentially synonymous with the word "streaming," Netflix is still the big boy on the block. And you probably already have access via your brother's girlfriend's parent's account — at least until the crackdown on password sharing begins.

Price: $9 to $16 per month

Pros: You'll never see a commercial on Netflix, and the viewing experience is extremely user-friendly. But the biggest strength Netflix has to offer is its massive content library:

Even if Netflix were to lose all of its licensed content, the company has prepared by building a huge catalog of original shows and movies. Plus, now that they've poached just about every big name in TV from the floundering networks, including Ryan Murphy and Shonda Rhimes, they've essentially replaced the networks as the key provider of television content.

[TIME]

Cons: Netflix's price point is slightly more costly than other streaming services, although given its voluminous library, it's easy to argue Netflix provides a solid bang for your buck. That aforementioned library will soon lose some essential titles, however, as shows like The Office, Friends, Parks and Recreation, and The West Wing are heading for other platforms.

Verdict: How else are you going to watch Stranger Things?


Disney+

Following its debut on November 12th, Disney+ is adding A Whole New WorldTM of content to the streaming game. 

Price: $7 per month or $70 per year

Pros: With a price tag that's less than half of Netflix's premium plan, Disney+ offers outstanding value. And if you have children, Disney+ is nearly a must (plop your kids in front of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse while you stream The Mandalorian). The content is never-ending:

In year one, the service will have 30 original series, 7,500 past episodes and 500 movie titles. That includes Marvel films such as "Avengers: Endgame," documentaries from National Geographic and 30 seasons of "The Simpsons."

[CNN]

Cons: While the catalog is extensive, not every Disney title seems to have made its way onto Disney+ just yet:

The content on Disney Plus will be the deciding factor that makes or breaks the service. At the moment we can't seem to find recent blockbusters like Aladdin, The Lion King or Avengers: Endgame. If Disney waits too long to put their titles on there, Disney Plus will be left feeling more like an archive of movies past than a platform for current, hit content - but all signs point to that changing in the months after launch.

[TechRadar]

Additionally, the prospects for original content (beyond "The Mandalorian") remain to be seen:

Calling Disney Plus an essential streaming service feels a bit preemptive at this point as, without a strategy to fill the well with new content, the service is in real danger of running dry in a few month's time. 

[TechRadar]

Some users also reported glitches during the Disney+ rollout, with error messages and long load times leading to frustration:

Verdict:

$6.99 is a pittance to pay for such an archive, particularly when the appeasement of one's offspring is what's actually for sale; with Netflix as a precedent, raising prices somewhere down the line is a when, not an if, and we'll continue to oblige even once the sticker price is no longer falsely deflated.

[The Ringer]


Hulu

Price: $6 to $12 per month; $45 to $51 per month includes live TV

Pros: If you want to cut the cord but *not really* cut the cord, Hulu offers a live TV subscription and DVR at a reasonable rate. And now that Disney owns Hulu, you can bundle Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ together for just $13 per month ($5 cheaper than buying all three services separately).

Cons: Unless you purchase the premium version of Hulu, you'll get ads while watching, which could be a deal-breaker for some. And while Hulu was built on the back of TV shows, it's unclear how Hulu's catalog will change now that NBC and CBS, among others, are creating their own streaming services. Seinfeld, for one, will be moving from Hulu to Netflix in 2021.

Verdict: If you need the option of live TV or simply can't miss an episode of The Handmaid's Tale, Hulu might be for you. But given the uncertainty of Hulu's catalog, other streaming services might be better alternatives.


Amazon Prime Video

Lord Bezos, give me your content.

Price: Included with Amazon Prime membership ($13 per month)

Pros: You probably already have an Amazon Prime subscription, meaning you already have  Amazon Prime Video! If not, you're missing out on exclusive shows like Fleabag and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, plus archive exclusives like The Americans and Downton Abbey

Cons: The user experience can't match that of Netflix or other streaming giants:

Amazon's interface can be a bit unwieldy. It varies in style and usability from one device to another, with the best experience (no surprise) on its own Fire TV media streamers, while the execution on some smart TVs is less intuitive. The web interface for Prime Video is presented as a section within Amazon's online store, rather than its own, stand-alone experience. This can be a bit jarring, especially when you're trying to figure out how to search for a movie. The big search bar at the top of the screen is the right place, but it sure does look like you're about to search Amazon.com, not Amazon Prime Video. 

Amazon does not offer multiple user profiles for Prime Video, and its video recommendation engine isn't especially sophisticated. Complaints that it can be hard to find something decent to watch are not uncommon.

[Digital Trends]

Verdict: It's probably worth a subscription, unless you have an (admittedly valid!) moral issue with supporting Amazon.


HBO Max/HBO Go/HBO Now

Max and Go and Now, oh my! 

HBO Max: HBO's newest service is scheduled to launch in May 2020, reportedly at a price of $15 per month. HBO Max will have the rights to acclaimed TV series' such as Friends and The Big Bang Theory, and will be free for a lot of users — although sorting through who exactly is eligible for a free subscription may prove challenging.

HBO Go: Unlike Max and Now, HBO Go requires an HBO subscription through cable access or Amazon Prime. It's essentially a way for HBO subscribers to watch HBO content whenever they please. 

HBO Now: HBO's original streaming platform, HBO Now allows anyone to access HBO's library, whether or not they have an HBO subscription.

As of now, there are no plans to scrap either HBO Go or HBO Now despite the impending introduction of HBO Max. "Nothing will happen with HBO Go or HBO Now," an HBO rep told Fast Company earlier this year. "HBO Max will be a distinct offering. As a distinct offering, you would not automatically become a Max subscriber."

Still, it doesn't seem viable to keep both HBO Max and HBO Now around, especially at the same price point. But there may be reasons for keeping everything separate:

So why isn't the company simply rebranding HBOs Now and Go as HBO Max, moving everyone over and cleaning up its confusing mélange of streaming brands?

The answer: It would be an operational nightmare, and probably not even feasible in the near term given the company's obligations under distribution contracts for HBO products.

[Variety]


Peacock

Set to debut in the spring of 2020, NBC's ridiculously named Peacock streaming service will include virtually all of the NBC properties you've come to know and love: 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, Cheers, Frasier, Saturday Night Live, The Office (in 2021, after Netflix relinquishes the rights). The most notable omission is Friends, which is instead heading to HBO Max.

The one thing we don't know is cost. Most streaming services land somewhere between $10 and $20, which seems like a reasonable price for Peacock, but NBC is reportedly considering making the platform free of charge (with ads, of course):

Previously, Comcast had planned on making Peacock free only to cable subscribers and Comcast broadband customers. The new plan, which is still under consideration, would be to give away the ad-supported Peacock streaming service to anyone who wants it. An ad-free product would also be available but will come with a charge, said the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions are private.

There may also be multiple tiers of Peacock to give Comcast customers and other pay-TV subscribers additional content or other benefits, said the people. But the cornerstone product will be free and ad-supported, for both cable and non-cable subscribers, the people said.

[CNBC]


Niche streaming sites 

If you just can't get enough streaming, fear not! There are plenty of niche services available for every interest. Here are a few:

  • Shudder: Owned by AMC, Shudder has enough horror and thriller content to satisfy your spooky urges. At $5.99 a month, though, it's probably only worth it if you're a horror buff.
  • Crunchyroll: Anime and manga. And it's free! (Ad-free requires a subscription).
  • Sony Crackle: A surprisingly decent lineup of movies and TV shows at no cost.

Dallas Robinson is a freelance writer living in Minneapolis

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