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The 2008 China Games And The ‘Björk Cork’

March 13th, 2008

Nice article in today’s International Herald Tribune by Howard French. While China insists that the world not make politics out of the Games, China in fact sees everything related as political.

“Foreigners who persist in touching upon what are quaintly known in China as sensitive issues, thereby putting the government on the spot, risk being treated as unfriendly to the country, or even downgraded further to the status of enemies.”

Speaking of those who persist on touching upon sensitive issues, I dropped a quick post here a few days ago, suggesting how ridiculous it should seem that China claims “hurt feelings” over Björk. In the IHT article, French noted that it was simply ridiculous propaganda (I still think it was more interesting that the NY Times reported on “hurt feelings” as if it was news… but let’s leave that alone for the moment):

“This brings to mind a saying about propaganda, which is defined as a kind of magic practiced by people who don’t believe in it for people who do. A crude, practical example of how this all works was delivered last week after the Icelandic singer Björk ended a concert performance of her song ‘Declare Independence’ in Shanghai with the cry ‘Tibet! Tibet!’ Beijing said that act not only broke Chinese law, but even more preposterously, ‘hurt Chinese people’s feelings.’”

Harry Connick, Jr. was in Shanghai this week and was the first to get the “Björk Cork”. Authorities came in an hour before his stage performance and crossed off some musical numbers from his act’s play list. As a result, Connick was forced into performing older songs, some of which his band didn’t know how to play! The audience came away from the performance disappointed - no big surprise there - and the press reported widely on the incident.

Musicians often adjust their act up until the last minute, for any number of reasons, and it is hard to imagine a Ministry of Culture that understands so little about stage performances. Let’s not even think about what any of this says about the future of improvisation (”Attention: All improvisation must be pre-approved by authorities”).

In the run up to the Olympics, the CCP has promised it would loosen up. It has done more on Darfur than anyone ever imagined, and it has made incredible gains on human rights issues (even as the Chinese government has gone all out to denounce the U.S. this week on American human rights abuses). It’s sad to see any artists treated poorly, but this particular incident was telling. Almost nothing says more about the state of things in China in the run up to the Olympic Games as much as the image of Harry Connick, Jr. - an already tame act - forced to play the piano by himself while his band simply looked on.

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