Saturday, August 9, 2008

Satirical Olympic Videos Take on Anxieties Over China

Since major sporting events are an exception to my no-TV rule, I watched the Olympic opening ceremonies on a giant screen in our town square with about a thousand other people. There were many Chinese and Chinese-Americans in the audience, with beaming faces and red Beijing 2008 t-shirts. The pageant dramatized the history of China and their hopes for the future on a scale never before seen at the Olympics.

Whereas China is beaming with national and cultural pride, the Olympics only seem to highlight the concerns U.S. citizens have of their Eastern neighbor--of the workforce competition and potential environmental havok their massive population represents. They are also concerned about the Chinese government's suppression of free thought amongst it's citizens, which American's hold dear. Meanwhile, China routinely tells the U.S. to look at the beam in their own eye and bugger off.

It's only fitting that there have recently been a spate of satirical videos online dealing with the intricacies of modern U.S.-Chinese relations--and that even in the realm of comedy, things are tense.

This first one, from The Onion parodies the fear-mongering in the U.S. media and attitudes some American's may actually have.

The Beijing Olympics: Are They A Trap?

Whereas most people who view this at The Onion's website would know that The Onion was a satirical news site, those who find it on YouTube don't always realize what they are seeing and have left some offended comments on the video (even I was a little shocked when I first watched it but the comments about dragons kinda tipped me off). With satire, it is often hard to tell who is being made fun of, as the New Yorker learned from the response to their recent Obama cover cartoon.

"The Chinese Are Coming!" from Scott Blaszak at Slate Magazine, examines the fears of a Chinese medal sweep (as with the Cold War, the Olympics have become a proxy for other types of global competition, and this year economists predict they will edge the U.S. out) It took me a while to figure out that this one was a satire too, perhaps because they look exactly like the alarming "Did You Know?" video series.

This last one from Black20 takes "Welcome to Beijing" the official song of the Beijing Olympics staring a host of Chinese pop singers, and gives it subtitles that poke fun at the Communist party (here, I believe, are the real lyrics).

Again, commenters at YouTube alternately praised and berated the creators. However, while this time the video was a critique of China, I don't think it is critical of the Chinese people. Lyrics like "I would have fled here years ago but they've wired my chest to explode" are a bit over the top, but it reflects the concern Westerners have on behalf of Chinese citizens. Those of us who saw democracy demonstrations crushed in Tianamen Square in 1989 (which many Chinese have forgotten according to this news clip) worry that Chinese citizens are imprisoned routinely for expressing free thought and dissent. While I'm sure the average citizen lives in peace and relative prosperity, arrests for dissent still occur. At worst, the creators of this video are guilty of not politely ignoring inconvenient truths. But I imagine we would not be amused if someone overdubbed "We Are the World" with lyrics about Katrina and Abu Graib.

It's a wonderful moment for the citizens of China and while these videos throw something of a wet blanket on the festivities, I'm thankful none of them are seriously portraying a red menace or yellow peril taking over the world, nor are these videos making fun of the Chinese themselves--well, except maybe for the crack in the last video about one of the singers dressing like Elvis.

Update: South Park debuted an episode on October 8 called "The China Problem" in which one character has a rather vivid nightmare:

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