Friday, May 13, 2011

Typical China Day

Yesterday I went to a foreign correspondents club lunch where several young organizers briefed journalists on the upcoming Shanghai Film Fest.

This year the big news is Rupert Murdoch and his wife are coming to town. Beyond that, it has a reputation for being a commercial venture that brings three-year-old Grade B Western flicks to town and has little to do with local up-and-coming filmmakers.

The journalists asked the organizers a bunch of questions that were fair, I suppose, but also pretty brutal: How do you get directors to come who are worried about piracy? How do you select movies that you know will comply with the censorship bureau? What are you doing to beat a reputation for being boring and irrelevant?

They handled it well - lots of nervous smiles and diplomatic answers, but it was sad to watch these three young people get grilled by a bunch of foreigners. Shouldn't it be obvious that a film fest in an authoritarian state with zero tolerance for provocative art is doomed?

Next I went back to the office where one of the editors was frustrated because our assistants compiled a list of mainland celebrities for a feature. The key to any good celebrity story is a bit of scandal, and our assistants literally couldn't think of any - no cheats, no drugs, no crazy party binges, no bitchy cat fights, no homemade pornography - zip!

The list they put together was filled with seemingly interchangeable TV hosts known for their "cheesy smiles" and for being 'so silly'. It was an awful, vapid read.

But it made me reflect, once again, on how pervasive authority is here. It's hard to find any bit of modern Chinese culture that hasn't had the life blood sucked out of it - unless you want to count imprisoned artists.

I think in part because of the whitewashed media environment, a lot of Chinese believe in their own cultural superiority. One of my ex-coworkers straight up told a British guy in our office she thought Westerners were immoral. We get an especially bad rap for sexual immorality. Someone else insisted that all the grimy dildo shops found throughout the city cater primarily to foreigners. One of James' coworkers insisted that sketchy massage parlors in Shanghai rely heavily on Japanese business men for clientele - never mind such places can be found in most parts of the city while the Japanese reside largely in just one district.

It would all be rather insulting if it weren't so damn stupid.

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