Monday, August 18, 2008

Mass Festivals, the Miss Universe Paradigm, and more!

I have been thinking about the awe-inspiring Olympic Games Opening Ceremony for days, trying to process all of its spectacle and content, but a trip to our nation's Capital delayed my writing. I was there appropriately enough, for something called a Flag Ceremony, where new Foreign Service diplomats are told of their first post. A flag is held up, and then a name is called. Of course, I immediately thought of The Bachelor: Destiny, will you accept this rose? But Miss Universe is more apt, especially when they announced an award to the person his/her colleagues judged best embodied the spirit of service. Miss Congeniality, anyone? In fact, more and more I am believing that almost anything might be explained by drawing a parallel with the Miss Universe Pageant - the Miss Universe Paradigm. I was anxious about going to the inner sanctum of our nation's State Department, even more so when I saw the photo of Condi on the wall - that hair is more heavily reinforced than Baghdad. And fortunately, my dear friend got a nice post, where I intend to visit him. Although I was not strip-searched nor were my irises scanned, I did get a special badge that read "Escort Required." Indeed. It was as if they'd read my mind! The question is: after all my tax dollars, can they make it happen? 

A few days earlier, and keeping with the international relations topic, I was absolutely overwhelmed by the Opening Ceremony. Most of it was spectacularly beautiful. One of my favorite sections was about the origin of calligraphy and scroll painting, where dancers imprinted the page with their movements. (above). The very helpful commentator on NBC explained that Zhang Yimou intended to highlight key events in Chinese history, cultural and scientific innovations, and three great philosophies - Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism. I wondered, where was Maoism? But that was, as the commentator himself explained, excised from this ideal "We are the World" version of international brotherhood, led by a resurgent China. 

However, despite my almost non-existent knowledge of Maoist culture, except that transmitted by a friend who is an expert on this period's propaganda, I immediately began to make comparisons, especially to Cultural Revolution period visual culture. (below)

Such mass spectacles, also of course were a modality employed by dictatorships in other countries. 

And there were certainly moments as below, where I could not help but see in my mind's eye frames from Leni Reifenstahl's propaganda film about the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany, "Triumph of the Will."

2008 Olympics

2008 Olympics

1936 Nazi Olympics

And moments like this, when the man-savior-athlete-ideal Chinese worker held the boy-savior-future athlete-model student (the little boy who saved his schoolmates in the rubble of the Sichuan earthquake) made me think of New Year's posters' robust infants or of images of a smiling, benevolent Mao with his subjects, the future of Communist China. (below)

And the lovely Bollywood meets 1930s musicals scenes, such as the one below, also reminded me of something just as lovely and captivating but more sinister.......

Cultural Revolution Model Operas.

And for an up-to-date version of Communist mass spectacles, complete with the hand-made L-E-D-like imagery (people moving panels or their own bodies en masse to create moving imagery akin to film), see below, from North Korea (2007). Perhaps this most resembles the 2008 Olympic Games opening ceremony.

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