Tuesday, August 12, 2008

OMG! The Olympic Opening Ceremonies Were Faked!

I'm so over this. For the past couple days, people have been harping on how the fireworks at the Beijing opening ceremonies were all fake, they weren't really there, the IOC and NBC had pulled a fast one on us. Then today there's this business about the little girl who sang at the beginning of the show lip-syncing.

It's propaganda, bit into by those who wish these Olympics would fail. Ok, the story about the little girl is actually a bit sad. I'll get to that. But this business with the fireworks is really annoying.

My wife actually thought it was all the fireworks that were fake. I don't think she's alone - she read that on a discussion board somewhere (in Japan, actually, so this is not just the United States). Somehow the news reports, which have generally been accurate, have been blown up and into something else by those who were hoping to read something even more dramatic.

Ok, point by point:

1. The fireworks weren't "faked". They were actually happening in real-time, just as they were shown on TV. But the aerial views fed to international TV stations were a recreation just so they could get that dramatic camera angle. Even the first report from the Beijing Times - used as the source for all subsequent reports - said this clearly.

2. The entire CGI sequence was within the 55 second introduction. Everything else in the four hour show was real even as seen on TV.

3. NBC told us it was CGI! I'm not sure why this is suddenly some big revelation. Here's the exchange (from my DVR):

Matt Lauer: You're looking now at the footsteps of history quite literally coming from the old center of Beijing near Tienanmen Square to the new area of Beijing, this national stadium along the north-south axis. You're looking at a cinematic device employed by Zhang Yimou here. This is almost animation. A footstep a second, 29 in all to signify the 29 Olympiads.

Bob Costas: We said earlier that aspects of this opening ceremony are like cinema in real-time, well this is quite literally cinematic.

No, they did not use the term "CGI", but I can forgive them for trying to avoid what still amounts to technical jargon. And reading it back, I'll admit that in print it does look a little more ambiguous than it sounded on the broadcast. (Were they talking about the concept or the execution or both?) But the inflection and cadence watching live made it clear to me that this was pre-filmed, a TV intro.

The presentation itself also looked very made-for-TV to me; I mean I never thought it was anything other than an animated opening.

And let's not forget, it's entertainment, people. Yes I know, it's a slippery slope, but where is the universal outrage when Fox News makes up a story about "terrorist fist jabs" by presidential candidates, or when George Bush gets caught faking evidence used to justify an invasion? (Note the date on that story.) I'm saying let's have a sense of perspective here. This is just not that important, and you have to learn to pick your battles. All this entire event was really about was spectacle and symbolism, and that's what we got. Even with a little CGI.

Now, let's talk about Lin Miaoke and Yang Peiyi. Miaoke was the little girl who apparently sang "Ode to Motherland" (or "A Hymn to My Country" depending on your favored translation) near the beginning of the opening ceremonies, and who's been everywhere since then because she's so goddamn cute. (And she is.)

Except that she didn't sing it. I'm a lot more put off by this than the fireworks "scandal", because this is just mean, to both girls. Yang Peiyi (left) sang the song, behind the scenes, because she wasn't deemed cute enough to be seen in a showcase for the Chinese in front of a billion people. So they took Peiyi - who had sang out in front in rehearsals - replaced her with Miaoke (right), and used Peiyi's voice. The decision was apparently made at the "highest levels".

This is going to scar both girls for life. Peiyi's forever going to know that she could have been out there but wasn't, because some politician didn't think she was cute. Miaoke's going to remember being at the center of a scandal where she stole the limelight. (Even though she obviously had nothing to do with it, and may not have even known that her voice was not being picked up by the mic.)

I hope they become friends and create a shared experience out of this; that's probably the best way for them to deal with it down the road.

Anyway, neither of these things in any way diminish what was an amazing ceremony, much to the chagrin of some of the commentators on both the extreme right and the extreme left who would love nothing more than for these games to fail. Both the right and left have their own reasons for being anti-China - on the right, it's China's rise as a world power combined with a bit of racism and xenophobia; and on the left, it's China's human rights abuses, including Tibet. It's no wonder that any little negative thing to come out of these games is seized upon and blown into a full-scale scandal. What's next, the gold medals are only 23.9 carats? Alert the media! Those cheap Chinese bastards.

It's important to remember that there are 1.3 billion people in China, who are not all evil and are not all idiots. These games are for them and for us. There is no reason to want them to fail. So I hope we in the United States stop acting like spoiled children by celebrating every minor scandal that erupts. My experience in watching so far has been marred only by these manufactured non-stories and the cry-babies and whiners who keep spreading them - people who can't accept a China that's actually capable of putting on a good show, because that would somehow make them feel inadequate and insecure.

(There was one real non-athletic news story a few days ago - the murder of Todd Bachman in a random knife attack. But that's now been largely forgotten in the horrendous wake of - gasp - CGI fireworks.)

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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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