Saturday, April 19, 2008

From Juno to ?

If you use two films to sum up the current election, it's There Will Be Blood on the Democratic side, and No Country For Old Man on the Republican side. - Norman Ornstein on the China Town Hall of National Committee on United States-China Relations

The film that sparks this post though, is Juno, the cool teen pregnancy story. Hollywood may never guessed that the film would stimulate much cultural and political discussion among the Chinese youth. A review on the popular Chinese social website douban, which teems with so called the angry youth and the literate youth, sailed at the idealization and political correctiveness of the picture, apparently in response to the overwhelming adulation of American tolerance on the subject.

Rest assured, the author got her main points right. Juno isn't your typical pregnant teenager, she is ultra cool and wise beyond her age. Nor are her parents. Abortion is still a hotly debated issue deeply rooted in the religious and political spectrum in the U.S.

Case in point, school paper of Yale University broke out a story about an art student deliberately pregnant herself and then miscarry to make a strong statement. Only to be proved a hoax later. The whole parody only shows how the media today is clueless as in lacking common sense judgment. Not to mention the fact that most major news outlets today are under the entertainment division of big corporate umbrella. News programs' pampering of viewer inclination, rather than just reporting purely based on facts, contributed to the perceived anti-China biased that so many Chinese resent of in this election season. While average Chinese might have conspiracy theory about how the news agencies and governments of the West "out to get China", it's mostly news media out to get attention and politicians juggling to get political favor.

But I digress.

We were talking about political correctiveness in Juno, weren't we? While I personally think Juno is more idealistic and personal than PC, PC is certainly prominent in American culture. PC is the American English term for "harmonious society", 和谐社会. (Sorry, Hu jintao. You can't quite apply for patent yet.) PC is designed to appease social tension, at the sacrifice of personal freedom of speech non the less. It is more disguised, and doesn't require a government agency to administer.

However, political correctiveness doesn't extend to outside the nation. So it's OK for Juno to crack a joke about China handing out babies "like how they handing out free ipod. And the audience laughs (I admit I chuckled also.). No wonder China bashing becomes a new fashion when the election is heated.


For their part, many of the Chinese youth don't fully understand these, or very exposed to western style politics. Matthew Forney, a former Beijing bureau chief for Time, thinks young urban Chinese study hard and that’s pretty much it. That's probably not a fair assessment, but I do think youngsters under patriarch Chinese government have a tendency of swinging between over-zealous and totally apolitical. In between, you have also people who are opportunistic or simply naive. In that regard, Chinese education largely failed. One of the flawed product of the system, Wang Qiangyuan, or Grace Wang as her English names goes, shoots into infamous stratosphere her story reaches both NYT and Washington Post. Aside from her other character flaws, Miss Wang certainly doesn't understand what free speech is really about, despite her ambition for politics. Civil protests of two groups of opposite views simultaneously need no mediator, as she so flattered herself. What did she want everybody to "negotiate" about? Shut up and go home?

At home, many Chinese are boycotting French products, with Carrefour being the easily accessible target. While Carrefour might temporary fall an undeserving victim, I think some of the overbearing bashing on the other side of this youth activism get it wrong also. For one thing, Chinese boycotter are already more measured and rational than some of the "boycott China" folks in the West struggling to find anything not labeled "made in China". Unlike those folks, Chinese protesters are calling for just 17 days of boycott and one day shun of Carrefour. A sensible boycott must be measured, achievable, and have a clear goal, which in this case is about sending a message. Judging by these standards, the current boycott call is actually pretty well thought-out.

Why bash them even if they don't get it all right, especially since we already accused them of not doing much beside studying and getting rich? Aren't they getting experience of political activism, which is an important aspect of all democracy? How else can they learn to express themselves with measured and civil actions and abidance of law?

*sorry for the long post. But I feel like I have many more to say on this topic. I'm also thinking this post should probably be written in Chinese.

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