Work, Life, Relevance, the Works

John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Sat, 10 Feb 1996 11:37:53 +0900

Keith Dever writes,

"John McCreery said something about intending to become an
adjuct. I applaud and appreciate his intentions to return to
academia "

Applause is always welcome. But I think, perhaps, it's time
for me to say again where I'm coming from.

My CV reads B.A. (Philosophy), Michigan State, 1966, Ph.D.
(Anthropology), Cornell, 1973. I belong to that happy
generation whose trip through graduate school was funded by
the wave of cash the Vietnam War poured into the pockets of
those of us who were doing anything even remotely related to
Asian Studies. In my case that meant two years in Taiwan
(1969-71) living in a small market town and observing the
rituals performed by a Daoist healer who said that he'd been
told in a vision from the Jade Emperor that I ought to be his
disciple. After returning to the States, I found a job teaching
anthropology at Middlebury College in Vermont. It would
have been an idyllic place to retire, but I was very much a
product of my times, self-centered, blind to the disciplines
needed to write, publish and network my way into academic
success. I failed to notice that the ceiling would shortly fall in,
i.e., I wouldn't get tenure, partly, to be sure, because the
college, like other institutions, was hitting a wall
economically, but largely, as indicated above, because, while I
claimed to be an astute observer of human behavior, I was
clueless to what was going on around me.

I had the great good fortune to be married to my wife Ruth,
whose pursuit of a Ph.D. in Japanese literature brought us to
Japan in 1980 with a list of names provided by one of her
colleagues whose own study of Japanese literature had been
interrupted by a couple of years working in a small
advertising agency in Tokyo. My qualifications as an
anthropologist were exotic and somewhat interesting. What
got me my first job in Japan was having spent a year in a
graduate student wife's [sic] job as a research assistant helping
to write AI programs and learning a bit of computer science at
Yale, where Ruth did her graduate work.The small corporate
communications company that hired me had an account with
IBM Japan and my knowing about such arcana as operating
systems and Huffman codes added to writing and editing
skills made me attractive to them.

That same background, by then fleshed out by having spent a
year or so producing _The Marketing Hotline_ for Sony led to
my getting a job as a copywriter at Hakuhodo Inc., Japan's 2nd
largest advertising agency. Now my largely honorary title is
"International Creative Director." I spend a good deal of my
time helping to pitch my Japanese colleagues' work to
foreign-based clients who require explanations in English. I
am, however, only a contract employee (yes, dear friends, one-
year contracts twelve years running) whose final contract (I
am 50, a foreigner, and only a contract employee in a time of
restructuring) will run out in November.

There is, however, no reason to panic. While I have been at
Hakuhodo, wife Ruth has built up a small but flourishing
translation, writing and DTP business that is ripe for
expansion. I've been spreading the word that I will be leaving
Hakuhodo, writing for the American Chamber of Commerce
Journal, joining Chamber committees, giving the occasional
speech, increasing our visibility. It helps a lot that two years
ago I started moonlighting as an adjunct in the Graduate
Program in Cross-Cultural Studies at Sophia University,
where I bootleg anthropology into seminars on "The Making
and Meaning of Advertising" and "Marketing in Japan."

Besides showing off a bit, the point I want to make is that,
with a little luck and a lot of adaptability, it is possible to make
a decent living and still find time for the field we love. Does
my conscience bother me? Of course. That's why you find me
now harping on what, if anything, anthropology has to
contribute to the great debates of our times and feeling a pull
to invest more effort in community and political activities.
After all, my culture taught me the Sermon on the Mount,
the Good Samaritan, and that bit about pushing a camel
through the eye of the needle. That's why, for example, I so
much admire friends like John Stevens, who manages to
combine serious, passionate scholarship with working for
Amnesty International; Patsy Evans, who has found the
courage to take a serious cut in pay to help hold our
fragmenting field together; or Mike Salovesh, who has talked
the talk, walked the walk, and shares his wisdom so

And then, of course, there's Ruby Rohrlich. I agree absolutely
with Patsy on this one. She is, like my dad, a bit of a pill at
times. But, lord knows, I hope that when I reach her age I too
still care enough about the issues I've spent my life on to be a
curmudgeon, too.

On the spit, awaiting roasting,

John McCreery
February 10, 1996