24 August 2014

Cinema and Representation in China

The distance between Hong Kong and China can perhaps be measured by what is considered representable in each culture. Hong Kong is permeated by advertising, like a Western city. It is dominated by writing: signs of all descriptions festoon city buildings and stretch across the street. The Chinese cities we visited in 1981 (including 'sophisticated' Shanghai) treated sign writing functionally, to indicate a locale or slogan that needed indicating; advertising had begun to appear, but tentatively. In cinema, too, the same contrast appears. Hong Kong cinema has developed a strong tradition of depictions of violence, involving its own system of performances and special effects, its own codes and conventions. The Chinese film-makers we met in Shanghai were assessing their first foray into the explicit depiction of familial violence: a scene in Family Festivities (1980) in which a husband slaps his wife who has been intriguing to break up the extended family group into a series of independent nuclear households. Such a level of aggression is new in Chinese cinema, and the scene was shot so as not to emphasise the physicality of the moment of husband striking wife. However, it is dangerous to treat such comparisons as emblematic of general features of a society. All that we can do is to record certain impressions.

09 August 2014

Social Amnesia and the American Culture of Carnage

On 20 April 1999, armed to the teeth with bombs and automatic weapons, two teenaged students named Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold stormed into their suburban high school in Littleton, Colorado, and carried out a horrific display of murder and mayhem before committing suicide. When the smoke cleared, 12 students and 1 teacher lay dead, with many more wounded, and Americans were left to sort out another seemingly senseless act of what has come to be called 'teen violence.' Law enforcement and the media soon swarmed the site as investigators looked for clues and reporters sought answers. National news outlets entirely pre-empted normal programming for several hours afterwards, in a bizarre spectacle of suffering, anguish, and confusion. Over the next few days, as the events in Littleton had receded somewhat into the usual corporate media stew of consumerism and the latest war, speculation about the incident ran rampant.