Wednesday, April 21, 2010

On this, a national day of mourning

Last night CCTV-1 ran a three-and-half hour New Year's gala-type benefit show, with high-ranking audience members sitting at banquet tables, ostensibly devoted to the people of Yushu, Qinghai Province (most recent update: 2,000-plus dead, 12,000-plus injured after Wednesday's 7.1-magnitude earthquake). You can watch the show on Youku, i.e. Chinese YouTube, a service that more or less stopped returning searches last night and instead redirected people to an earthquake relief fund page (linking to this).

If you do watch the show, let me know how many minutes you managed to sit through before realizing something was horribly amiss.

Up on stage, executives of China's top companies congratulated themselves for making donations, the RMB amount printed in bold characters on oversized placards that these executives held over their chests like homeless bums in San Francisco pronouncing the end is near. They may not have outright patted themselves on the back, but it was clear why they were participating in this parade of dunces: to let the country know that Samsung is harmonious with the earthquake relief efforts; to let the country know that Air China is mobilizing to help with earthquake relief efforts; to let the country know that the hearts and minds of those at Baidu -- nay, EVERYWHERE -- are with the people of Qinghai Province; to let the country know that THIS company is toeing the national line so for the love of God do not human-flesh-search us on the Internet and make our stocks lose value.

Yes, the culture here in China is, well, different, but it's still shocking to see these flagrant demonstrations of groupthink on every channel and major Internet portal. Then again, who's complaining? Who doesn't love watching middle-aged men trying to outdo each other by donating money according to the size of their penises company's worth? I, China resident, fully support pissing contests, almost as much as I support spending money to show the world that "Chinese people are indomitable in the face of natural disasters," you know, like robots.

If there was anything at all genuine about this segment, it was the toupee I saw on that one guy's head. And I wonder what soul-sucking vacuum those CCTV hosts had to crawl through to earn the assignment of sticking microphones in front of executives and listening to them say the equivalent of "Go Qinghai!" I wonder how long these hosts practiced perfecting that solemnly dignified expression of sympathy and interest and gratitude while nodding vigorously -- but nodding only once per executive -- and saying resolutely, "Thank you." Yes, thank you. Thank you, state media conglomerate, for giving soapboxes to an assembly line of pasty douchebags who fly on corporate jets and eat abalone. Oh, and thank you, great state media choreographer, for putting a second and third row of executives behind that first row so that they strain their arms holding their placards like pudgy parasites outside the windows or New York's Today Show, or vacuous models from Deal or No Deal. What a great use of time, energy and resources. I'm sure those people in Qinghai are cheering as we speak, each of them handed hundred-kuai bills for the reconstruction of their lives.

Don't get me started on "forced donations."

Not to be too cynical, however: lots of people are contributing positive energy to relief efforts and some of their work was, as it should have been, publicized on the CCTV benefit show last night. I just wish the whole thing didn't come off as so contrived, forcing viewers to discern the fake from the real.


POSTSCRIPT: (Lots of characters for "love.")

。爱。。。。。河北秦皇岛人民为同胞祈福 加油!!。。。爱
。。。。。。。。。。。。爱。加油 。爱

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