Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Autopsy of a Media Storm

A story about double-act of singing on the opening ceremony was making rounds in the media and blogsphere. In pursuit of theatricals perfection, directors combined Lin Miaoke's stage appearance and Yang Peiyi's singing voice.

Most of the reports in the western media seemed to be based on an interview of the music director by the Chinese media. transcript shows


which indicated Lin's voice was not good enough and had to be mimed by another voice. Whether he was telling the whole story was another matter.

While some reports got that fact straight, others totally missed boat. Chicago Tribune for example, reported as: "one member of China's Politburo revealed Miaoke had lip-synched the song, after the original singer, Yang Peiyi, was told she was not good-looking enough." Chen, who revealed news, was not political leader. the Tribune might not realize it was in conflict with its next line: "Chen Qigang, the ceremony's music director, had been asked last minute by the Politburo official to replace Peiyi with Miaoke, according to an interview with Beijing Radio."

Nevertheless, the "not quite" headline of "girl kicked out of ceremony performance at the last minute" because of "chubby face" and "Bucket/crooked tooth" had became the main theme of the story. I am not sure where journalists got the crooked tooth part. It sounded like their own interpretation by looking at the picture.

Time UK emphasized that theme by using headline of China banned child singer with crooked teeth from singing at opening ceremony. "Chubby-cheeked with crooked teeth, she was substituted at the eleventh hour by Communist Party officials desperate to present the best possible image of Chinese youth to a curious world. " it asserted.

Whether Lin's voice being subbed in the 11th minute or Yang being substituted, fact remained Yang did not get on the stage except her voice. Who said good looks and stage presence weren't "talent"? Jessica Simpson would probably agree.

Fake, is the predominant word used in headlines across UK press. Headlines such as China 'faked' awesome Olympic opening ceremony was already in place when it was revealed parts of the "footprint" show was not shot in real time. Maybe the Brits didn't know that was not made of secret. NBC mentioned it during the broadcast. Past TV productions, such as fire in the studio fireplace during the 2002 Salt Lake Games, was also generated digitally.

Fake might be an uneasy word, but perfection was always an illusion. Lest we forgot.

Guardian hedged their report by pointing the source to a translation by the China Digital Times website.

"We had been through several inspections - they were all very strict. When we rehearsed at the spot, there were spectators from various divisions, especially a leader from the Politburo, who gave us his opinion: It must change," said Chen.
In deed, by leaving out details such as it was Miaoke's voice they were listening at the rehearsal, that translation could lead to confusion conclusions. That's what you got by sending reporters who are not versed in the local language.

Whatever the source, British media finally found their controversial story about the opening ceremony. BBC called it the second "fake" story about the opening ceremony, and asked openly for comments whether this has damaged the image of the Beijing Olympic games. Its own tone was made apparent in its editing choice of comment to appear on the main page - a Beijinger comments: "If the stories are true, it is absolutely disgraceful and I am ashamed as a Chinese citizen."

It's understandable that British got extra mile from this story. London after all has to host the game in four years. As Telegraph put it:"it might now be easier for London to end the 'arms race' that requires every staging of the Games to be more spectacular than the last. "

In fact, the media storm was not broken first in the west hemisphere, Chinese media and blogs were seethed about the story first when the interview was first published. There was something about China and fake that struck a cord in people's mind. Some English language reports even cited Chinese message board writings in the initial confusing hours. Yes, that what journalism reduced to.

The stand-in singing is a result of complex social value system we have today. There is China's overwhelming desire for perfection; there is this film director who is famous for meticulousness in aesthetics; there is Eastern culture of "face value", there is also this today's "looks" obsessed culture - American or British or Chinese. Think of Audrey Hepburn singing to the voice of Marni Nixon. Although it should be pointed out that both girls get credit on both the ticket of the ceremony and DVD that is released, the concern of influence of adults value system - and what kind of system should it be - on the two girls is genuine and legitimate. Personally, I think the directors miscalculated the social amplification and should have simply used best vocal. That being said, some of the directions and tones of this media storm are not surprising. After all, controversies are relatively scarce on these Games, how else can the media be fed on.

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