Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Pop culture reflections

In my slow and somewhat pathetic efforts to learn Chinese, I've been trying to watch Chinese movies. Thus far I've only found Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, though my father-in-law also has another Ang Lee movie, Eat Drink Man Woman, which I believe is also in Mandarin. Anyway, last night I was goofing around on the internet, and I learned that Taiwan-born Ang Lee did his undergraduate studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, my alma mater. So that made me proud. Another famous international alumni is Rafael Correa, Ecuador's president. He's known as a leftist, but his economic and social policies seem pretty well-thought and rational to me, as compared to Latin America's other prominent left-wing presidents, who are more interested in making a polemical show than making intelligent policy. Could his conservative temper be a product of his time at UIUC?

Recently on a bus to Bogota I saw Rush Hour, the 1998 "black people and Chinese people are different, hahaha" classic collaboration between Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. Pretty stupid, but I was thrilled that with my two words of spoken Chinese I was able to pick out that the Chinese language parts of the movie were in Mandarin, even though the characters were supposed to be from Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong. A bit of cinematographic laziness really made my day.

Lastly, in my infrequent television viewing with my wife, we sometimes see ads for a show called "Taboo". It's a production of the National Geographic channel, which is frankly quite sordid and tacky, a far cry from the magazine. The TV channel seems to focus on violence and sensationalism, with Maya prophecies, man-eating animals, and the like. Anyway, the Taboo show apparently focuses on other cultures that depart from Western standards about sex, food, etc. The show also looks at individuals who challenge the mores of their own cultures. However, this latter seems to consist mainly in people with profligate tattoos, obsessive piercing, or permanent body modifications like forking tongues or adding horns to their heads. These things don't seem very taboo to me, just innovative manifestations of the consumerism and neurosis that plague most everyone else in the West, too. Whether you've got to have the latest Louis Vuitton bag, or the newest iPhone, or a million piercings in your anus, you're just one more unhealthy consumer defining yourself by the stuff you obtain and not by the things you do or the thoughts you think or the beliefs you hold. And whenever I see the TV ad for the Latin American edition of the Taboo show, I must to myself that the only really taboo thing to do in our context would be to advocate coherently and forcefully for land reform or social justice. The oligarchs and paramilitaries couldn't give a damn if our continent's comfortable city dwellers tattoo their eyeballs or whatever--the real untouchable subject is creating a more just society for everyone. Do that and you'll be the most taboo, far-out cat around, not to mention having to fear for your life. Those who have followed this course of action have often been priests, not normally known for their radical social perspectives. They usually end up dead (Oscar Romero, Camilo Restrepo Torres, the priest who just got killed in Marmato) or exiled (Jean-Bertrand Aristide).

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