Macchars don’t wear sweaters

Archive for June 2011

I was watching a documentary on China the other day on an American channel. I can’t help but notice the not-so-subtle discourse in American coverage of China, no matter the channel. The story of economic success always has some subtle catches – the human toll of the success, an autocratic government. Even the economic success is qualified with statements like “artificially deflated currency” or “indiscriminate construction to maintain GDP growth rates”. A totally unbiased alien watching the program would immediately recognize China as the “other” – mysterious, impenetrable, ¬†incomprehensible even in its prosperity, as opposed to the west – noble, well intentioned even in its violence.

Ironically, one part of the program was about China’s occupation of Tibet, and its strategies to suppress discontent – flooding the country with the fruits of commerce – brands, consumerism. One doesn’t really have to be a conspiracy theorist to notice that consumerism is the most effective tool of population control any government can ever find. If China uses it, how can it be incidental elsewhere? The relentless images of happiness associated with brands and consumption are so deeply embedded in our psyche by now, that even our own constructions of happiness borrow from these images. Even our ideas of freedom are that of a society which has malls, mcdonalds, benetton, reality shows bright lights, discos. This is what Chris Hedges has called the “Empire of illusion”. As long as you can escape into the pseudo-reality of the screen – happy faces, dreams made, millions won – u would care a hoot even if the world crumbles around you. You don’t care for the appalling poverty around you – but you are desperate to get on that popular reality show. It says something about human nature. This is maybe really what people want – to be entertained all the time.

Another impression I had on the general subject was in the middle of the movie “Battle Los Angeles” whose crux was “marines never quit”. Although the theme was quite silly, I think that the intense belief Americans have in the nobility of their causes comes from Hollywood – its hundreds of thousands of movies which portray them as well intentioned, compassionate, vulnerable,¬† courageous. The same applies to other countries as well, certainly to Bollywood and India. What better way to get support from the population for foreign policy.

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