Friday, August 08, 2008

Olympic Opening Ceremonies - gonna watch?

I guess I've been living in a dimly lit cave for the past few years, because I only just found out now that the Beijing Olympics opening ceremonies are/were directed by famed film director Zhang Yimou. If you don't know the name, then you probably know at least a couple of his martial arts films - Hero and House of Flying Daggers, which were his biggest international hits. But before that, he directed a series of small, personal stories showing the difficulties of regular life in ancient China, including Raise the Red Lantern and Ju Dou, which are also among my favorite films. All of his films are visually stunning.

It's ironic that he'd be directing the opening ceremonies considering that the same government that invited him to do so also banned several of his earlier films as subversive propaganda. Those earlier films used stories of ancient China as an allegory to present-day oppression.

There seems to be a love/hate relationship in both how the Chinese government feels about its people and how the Chinese people feel about their government. And a lot of the news reports I've seen ahead of the Olympics can't seem to reconcile that - reporters are shocked that people in China would actually be proud of their country, despite all of the government's abuses. (Americans can't understand this? Really?) And we're taken aback when the Chinese government tells us to mind our own business in international affairs. (As if we have any moral high ground on human rights these days.)

China is an ancient country. They've been around a lot longer than we have. While I don't personally agree with much of what their government does - and I don't have much confidence in Chinese-made products these days - I also don't believe in this Amero-centric view of the world that so many in this country share. And I don't believe we are the solution to any of China's problems. That sense of seeing the world as a crashed car being brought in to the body shop called America for fixing is pretty unique to us - a lot of other countries don't see themselves as the center of the universe, and the home of the only just and right policies in the world. And they don't see every other country as "broken" either, simply because their policies and culture differ.

My point being, I don't think China are the good guys here. But I don't think we are either. I don't think anybody is. We are just a couple of countries in the world, doing things our own way. Both countries do good and bad things, both countries have good and bad people, most of whom are proud of where they live regardless. The issue is, we're the only ones who apparently don't see it that way - who instead see ourselves not only as the world's policeman, but its moral compass too. And that's causing a lot more problems in the world than anything China is currently doing.

Maybe some progress is being made. Bob Kravitz of made the following "random observation" in his most recent column: "There are 1.3 billion Chinese who do not care that Brett Favre just got traded."

I guess that's a start in realizing that your own culture is not universal, nor will it ever be.

I'm looking forward to watching the opening ceremonies tonight.

UPDATE! Watched it - it was beautiful. I never even remember opening ceremonies afterwards, but I have a feeling this one's going to be different. This was clearly the best I've ever seen.

Only thing that spoiled it was the somewhat patronizing tone of the NBC commentators (how many times do we have to hear that this is China's "coming out party", as if it's a quaint little country formed a couple of years ago), and the ridiculous amount of political commentary during the parade of nations. I want to hear about the athletes and the competition, not any stupid wars that we have no business in. There was way too much talk about politics, not nearly enough talk about the everpresent mini-skirted Chinese cheerleaders ringing the entire parade route!


  1. Anonymous1:40 PM

    Congratulations on your post, man.
    You know, I honestly don't remember how I found your blog, but I'm glad I did it.
    It's so nice seeing an American guy like yourself admitting that USA is not the center of the universe and acknowledging that your government makes mistakes. I live in Brazil, we suffer from corruption and we see these things on the news every day. And it's exactly like you said: it´s not the Chinese, the Americans, or whoever. Doing good and bad things has nothing to do with ideologies, politics or nations. It's about the human being.
    When people start to realize that and understand that we're less different than they think, maybe some day this crazy world will be a better place.

    Keep up the good work!

    Best regards!

  2. Thanks for the nice comment.

    My perspective on the world changed the first time I left the continent (and country, since technically Hawaii is off-continent). You can intellectually know that other countries see the world differently than we do, but it's different when you actually experience it. To go somewhere and not even see US news anywhere in the newspaper, or hear about any of the supposed problems around the world that we're so obsessed with... then to see a completely different culture in action, where people look and act completely differently than we do and have for centuries... I mean it really makes you realize that our priorities are our own, they're not necessarily shared by the majority of people out there. And that goes for everything, be it politics or food or how we think of ourselves as individuals.

    Most Americans never get out of the country. It's a big country so they probably feel like they don't have to. But that's the only way to really have a balanced view of the world.


About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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