Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Light is Left On

I cut this off the bottom of my last post to give it its own post, because I felt it was buried under my apologies to the fragile glass hearts of China.

So, on a serious note, I had started a post in which I wrote about how China's motivations for aggressiveness in the
South China Sea didn't worry me, and the actual apologies issues by many Taiwanese pop stars didn't either (the smartest comment regarding that was made by Lin Fei-fan recently, whose post you can read here - the gist as my crappy Chinese understands it is that we shouldn't blame individual artists who feel forced for economic reasons or by their agencies and promoters to apologize for having done nothing wrong, but rather to change the way we support the arts in Taiwan so that such artists can find a local base and local support, in terms of popularity and financing).

What worries me is that China is frighteningly successful at slowly building - training, even - a sense of blind nationalist fervor. An entire army, one billion or so strong (or close enough to seem like it), of trolls both self-aware and not-, of useful idiots and of economic intimidation that is scarily good at humiliating and subjugating anyone and everyone they wish to. This, I was (and am) afraid is a far more terrifying prospect than missiles and soldiers. Those are not only unlikely to be deployed in the near term, but easily make China look like the aggressor internationally. Far more horrifying is this sort of thing, where you can't quite pin it definitively on the Chinese government doucheparrots, but you know they're involved in it somehow. You can't quite get the egg to stick to their face as they humiliate your stars internationally and make you look weak. It might not bring nations to their knees but it is fantastically undercutting and detrimental to national morale.

It is especially frightening in a world where Taiwan rarely makes international news for anything other than business, or if it does it's relegated to a side note in a story that uses China as its lede. How can you fight back when nobody is listening to you?

I feel slightly differently now. With this simple contest, which has made global headlines in multiple languages (well, at least Chinese and English) and shown the world that Taiwanese can and will fight back and they will do so with two of the most potent weapons known to public discourse - satire and sarcasm - well, that gives me some hope. Far from being 'childish' or 'meaningless', there is a reason why humor is so strictly policed by authoritarian regimes. In political rhetoric, it is approaching a nuclear option. This entire contest is a brilliant show of social media savvy - if you grab international headlines, you are pretty damn savvy - as well as the sharp level of satire and sarcasm that Taiwanese regularly employ. 

Missiles and soldiers? Scary. But the death of intelligent discourse? Way scarier. As long as you keep talking about things, as long as you keep exchanging ideas and progressing in understanding of issues through rhetoric and discussion, as long as you don't stop fighting and don't shut your mouth, a light is left on somewhere even in the darkest times. When that light is quashed by a billion angry trolls so you can't hear other free-minded people above the static and din, you've got far bigger problems than you might think.

Side note: if you are one of those idiot Westerners who think 'Asians don't understand sarcasm', you are simply wrong and this proves you wrong. You may now go back to drinking beer in your dank expat cave and generally ceasing to comment on things you don't understand because you don't have local friends. BYE.

If Taiwan can keep this up - fighting attempted humiliation with biting wit - they'll have half a chance in the media battle for the attention of the world. And China will be exactly what it deserves: well and truly fucked.

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