When a 15 year old boy scribbled his name into a 3,500 year old Egyptian monument, he probably wasn’t thinking it would lead to an international incident, or an intense internet manhunt. He probably wasn’t thinking about anything at all other than the “heh heh” laugh that 15 year olds do and Beavis and Butthead parody so well. Unfortunately, international incident and intense internet manhunt are what he got.
When the Chinese blogosphere got a hold of pictures depicting a priceless ancient Egyptian artifact defaced by one of their own, they did not handle it well. They launched an intense investigation to ascertain the identity of the idiot who did this. Who they found was Ding Jinhao, a 15 year old Chinese boy who, several years previously, had visited Egypt with his parents.
China has recently surpassed the U.S. and Germany as being the largest spending tourist nation in the world. Each year the Chinese spend around $100 billion on international tourism and that number is expected to continue to rise as a burgeoning Chinese middle class is poised to continue to seek out the comforts and leisure that, until recently, were not financially possible.
This comes with the added visibility that their individual citizens have as tourists and representatives of China. A stigma like the “self centered American tourist” image that the U.S. has so painstakingly cultivated is something that the Chinese are desperate to avoid. Defacing a national treasure is not something that the Chinese wanted and the condemnation was swift.
While I too am saddened by any ancient work being destroyed or damaged due to stupidity, callousness, or oftentimes, for reasons as stupid as jingoism, I don’t think we should be condemning this boy to a life’s worth of punishment. What he did was stupid, but it also reminded me of just how stupid all of us were at his age.
Even the words he chose to write (“Ding Jinhao was here” in Mandarin) scream “I’m a bored teenager here against my will” rather than malice. It’s such an innocent statement, “I was here” that if it had been written on a toilet stall wall and not on a national treasure, it would have been almost quaint. It’s a statement that comes from someone who thinks he is the center of the Universe, and at 15 we all did.
Now, before I get too far, obviously it must be pointed out that not every 15 year old is dumb enough to do this, nor would want to. And I know that at 15 you are aware of right and wrong and have the beginnings of a thing that later in life will make you long for being a 15 year old again: Self Control. But my only point is that, given how many bored 15 year olds are passing by the ancient monuments every day, this was bound to happen.
It must also be noted that because of the relative lack of funds that Egypt has for protecting its ancient landmarks (especially since the Arab Spring ushered in a new government and new level of disorder), there is an almost criminal lack of supervision at many of these sites. This can be seen as good and idiotic. Anyone who has ever waited in line at the Louvre to see the “Mona Lisa” only to get to the front and find that the picture is small, reaallllyy small, and behind a piece of bullet proof glass that’s thick, reaalllyy thick knows the feeling of wishing safety measures didn’t exist. On the other hand, the curators of the Mona Lisa know people like Ding Jinhao are out there. In every school bus that pulls into the Louvre’s parking lot, there are probably several kids dumb enough or cocky enough to ruin it for everyone.
Now, having identified the boy in question, the Chinese hackers appear unwilling to exercise restraint, as the sacred act of “shaming” always seems to fall on to their eager, self-appointed shoulders. Like wolves licking their lips, they pounced. Hundreds of blog posts with his picture and name were shot out onto the web. His school’s website was hacked and in its place was a “message making fun of him.” One blogger wrote:
“It’s a disgrace to our entire race!” said another angry micro-blogger.
Yep. It has went that far. Perspective, never the internet’s strong suit, is entirely lost and hyperbole has replaced it. Far from being a disgrace to an entire race, this is more of a disgrace on the Egyptian government’s part who show little to no effort to keep these priceless artifacts protected. It is also one of those things that will occasionally happen. We need to admit that. This is going to happen.
Teenagers are at a weird point in their lives. They know right from wrong, but they often times don’t care. I think back on my high school years and, if viewed objectively, see instances of behavior from classmates that was borderline sociopathic. None of those kids, as far as I know, grew up to be violent killers or unfeeling monsters. It was a phase. They were occupying a period of life where childhood was behind them, adulthood ahead, and in the middle was a whole lot of stupid acts of bravado and arrogance.
By all means, condemn this act. Call it stupid, or callous, or shameful, but this young boy does not deserve to be a punching bag for the rest of his life because he happened to do something stupid in the Internet Age that manufactures and feeds on outrage, at the expense of human decency. This is no different than a witchhunt or gladiatorial bloodsport; A form of entertainment built around watching a fellow human being squirm, loosely justified (black magic! different god! stupidity!), with audience participation. Well, it needs to stop and it can do that by each of us refusing to fall into the trap of manufactured, self perpetuating outrage. We also need to stop this idea that we are all responsible for “teaching” transgressors a lesson. With hacking, great power comes great anonymity and what results is sometimes vigilantism that is worse than the original offense. With any witch hunt, the justifications are used to give unending power to those employing them, whether that be a church or an internet forum. They deserve this. No, they don’t and it’s not helpful. But do we have the self control to admit that or, on the internet, are we all 15 years old?
Well that didn’t take long. A mere day after the terrible news that Moore, Oklahoma was hit with a devastating tornado that left dozens dead and hundreds injured and a path of destruction that is absolutely breathtaking in its scope, the attention seeking hate group Westboro Baptist Church led by attention seeking hate group leader Fred Phelps tweeted out an explanation to the question on many people’s minds: “Why did this happen?”
According to them it’s about basketball.
— Fred Phelps, Jr. (@WBCFredJr) May 21, 2013
Yep. the death and destruction was brought upon a random suburb of Oklahoma City because a basketball player who plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder told another team’s basketball player that he was proud of him for coming out of the closet. It’s so great that God gave us the Westboro Baptist Church because His punishments would be EXTREMELY hard to decipher if they weren’t here to connect the dots.
I’m going to assume that the members of the Westboro Baptist Church mean what they say, because the alternative is even worse. The idea that a group would spout this hateful vitriol and NOT mean what they say is entirely more offensive. So, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt (how very Christian of me), and take them at their word. Here is what the world looks like when you are member of this congregation:
The Biblical God is heavily active within the modern world. He has a chosen people, Christians – well, some Christians – and he hates pretty much everyone else. He hates a lot of things: scientists, homosexuals, politicians, Americans (generally), Americans (in specific groups), the troops, minorities, the Chinese. The list goes on and on. He hates a lot of people okay? Almost anything you can imagine doing (and I’m not that imaginative) he hates as well. When a person, especially if they are well known, does something or is someone that God hates, he lashes out. But not right away. And not the person doing or being the thing He hates. Maybe a couple of cities over. Or a city in an entirely different state. So by Jason Collins coming out of the closet, it was only a matter of time before God got payback for his transgression: Which was telling people he was gay. Remember, he’s been gay for his entire life. So it was the telling people he was gay part that really must have irked God. And then, he was probably going to let it slide (don’t say God isn’t merciful), but then God was browsing twitter and saw something that he COULDN’T let slide: Kevin Durant sent a tweet expressing support for Jason Collins. It was then that, according to the WBC worldview, God decided that in a month he would level two elementary schools…11 miles away.
According to the Westboro Baptist Church, God does this a lot. He has an incredible amount of beefs – many probably overlapping within the same person or community – and His only way of expressing himself is through knocking things over. Maybe the Teletubbies had it right. It’s sounding more and more like God is a giant sky baby.
It gets creepier. God also hates entire countries (he has a huge problem with China for reasons that only Fred Phelps seems to fully understand) so he will occasionally send earthquakes or landslides or Django Unchained over to their lands in order to punish them for, actually I don’t know on this one, being Chinese? Living in China? Seeing Jamie Foxx’s junk? His punishments are beginning to look less like “teachable moments” to enlighten the sinners of the folly of their ways, and more like violence for its own sake. God is The Joker, a chaotic force hellbent on nothing more than causing fear and pain.
And sadly, God is apparently a bumbling idiot. Neither able to anticipate upcoming sins or reverse the tides of change that seem to be rising all around Him, he rages on. In an increasingly directionless fury, he lashes out like a confused and stubborn shell of a once All Powerful being. The Westboro Baptist Church have intentionally and unintentionally been left behind (not the Kirk Cameron kind) in a world that has increasingly embraced diversity, science and compassion. This is no country for bigoted men, not any more. Fred Phelps is a living, breathing representation of hating what you don’t understand. He doesn’t understand the world and he hates it and his God hates it. It has often been noted that the image of God tends to reflect that of the people who worship it. No truer could this be than with the Westboro Baptist Church. A clan of closed minded, bigoted Americans worshiping a closed minded, bigoted, hateful God, what are the odds? So if we were to imagine what God looks like to this family of imbeciles it would have to be a reflection on the family themselves. Not a sun baby, nor a Joker, I imagine their God looks a little like this:
How sad it must be to live in a world you hate, surrounded by people you hate, doing things you don’t like. How uncomfortable and cruel it must be to live with a family that teaches you that people deserve to die because they think differently than you. Theirs is a small God. A God concerned with hall monitoring and strict rules. A black and white world divorced from moral wrangling and self doubt. It’s a world of cowboy hats and wood paneling, and not at all about truth seeking and compassion building. Fred Phelps will one day die, and when he does he will have left this Earth having never once experienced the joy of uncertainty or of changing his mind or the thrill of reaching out. He will close his eyes, release his last breath, and hope that he will soon join a God who doesn’t mind exterminating dozens to avenge a tweet by a basketball player. How bizarre.
I have a sneaking suspicion that Americans still hate the French over the Iraq War. Yes that war that started 10 years ago and the French refused to be a part of. The war that was started on the wave of American jingoism and a swell of misinformation by a war hungry Bush administration. That Iraq War.
It always amazes me when people (or in a lot of cases, political action committees) use someone’s “frenchiness” (not a word) as a slander. It happened to John Kerry during the 2004 presidential election. And again with Mitt Romney who was accused of the crime of “speaking french”.
I’m not surprised that people are using xenophobic tinged slanders in general (you’ve already seen a lot about candidate’s ties to China and prepare to see a lot more) but the French slander is directionless. No one can quite say what specifically they should be ashamed of when they’re outed as being fluent in French, or getting a picture taken with French dignitaries. It must be hard to defend when you aren’t sure what you did wrong and neither is the accuser.
That was very different in the Summer of 2003 and Americans were itching to invade Iraq and France very publicly and in no uncertain terms told us to shove our unnecessary war and that they wanted no part of it. In 2003, around 72% of Americans (of all political flavors) were certain that Iraq was a good idea. The French were thumbing their noses at our moral certainty and giving voice to a war opposition that in this country was cowed by accusations of not being patriotic. How tough it must have been to meet a Frenchman and not be able to accuse him of being unamerican.
So the war effort turned from bunker busters to sound bites, labeling the French as cowards, or socialists (boy would that come up again), and even changing the name of our beloved French Fries to the way more embarrassing “Freedom Fries”
As an adult, all of this probably seemed like nonsense, recognizing the vitriol as nothing more than political rhetoric. As a child, you absorbed this new belief as fact. Therein lies the danger. As a media savvy adult we get wrapped up in a particular news story, say awful things full of hyperbole (because why not), and never really expect anyone to take it too seriously. The news eventually moves on, a new issue is brought forward to lose all perspective on and we forget the last one ever happened. Unfortunately, for better or for worse, children don’t have that ingrained cynicism. If they hear someone say something outrageous they can only assume the person meant it.
America has moved on and come to its senses about the Iraq War (support for the war has plummeted and over half of Americans now view it as the wrong decision).
Unfortunately, no one bothered to explain to the younger generation (the one in their 20s by now) that all the French bashing was because you see when a country wants to go to war real bad they say things that aren’t true to justify that decision and sometimes those things are about a country that turns out to be right but in the heat of the moment we hate them and that’s why Daddy and Mommy insisted on calling French Fries “Freedom Fries” for a year when you were little. It was because of adult stuff.
And so we are left with a lingering but nebulous disdain for the French that is not only silly (it was silly to begin with after all) but is now not even valid given that over 50% of us now agree with what the French were saying in 2003!
What’s been ignored here is that France, even during the Iraq War, has been America’s staunch ally. Our relationship with France is what relationships should look like. We disagree, we squabble, but we never disavow our commitment to one another because we have a trust that the other one is doing what they think is right. It’s called mutual respect and we might want to consider it more often (maybe even with China? Could we please?). France could be said to be our oldest ally. They were our allies before we existed so that has to count for something right?
This week France legalized gay marriage and while it’s another area that over 50% of this country can agree with them on, the response from this side of the ocean has been muted. Maybe it’s because, once again, the French find themselves on the right side of history several years before us. C’est la vie.
It’s been well documented that I had serious misgivings of Django Unchained when it came out in theaters last year:
So when I heard there may be a newer, cooler version being worked on closely by Quentin Tarentino, Sony Pictures officials, and a shadowy group of Chinese censor artisans, I resolved to give it a fresh try. As you may have heard by now, the release of that improved film didn’t go as planned today. Luckily for you, I was in attendance at the opening day premiere and am now ready to give my analysis of “Django Unchained: Chinese Edition”.
The film opens onto a brilliant desertscape. No people are visible but rocks, wind carved into flowing and rounded shapes, dot the scene. Finally, the film pans over to a group of travelers. It is clear that some are in chains. A song about Django plays over the images of the men in bondage being escorted by two armed men on horses. Django (Jamie Foxx) is seen with numerous scars on his back, it’s clear he has had a hard scrabble life as a slave in the Southwest. Cut to night time, the men still stumble on in the dark but suddenly a lantern light appears in the distance. As it draws closer, the slavers grow anxious – cocking their shotguns and peering into the distance in expectation of confrontation. One calls out and demands the man identify himself. He gets closer and we see it’s none other than Dr. Shultz (Christoph Waltz) in his dentist wagon! He attempts to ask questions to the two slavers when, and this is unique in all of American cinema but seems to be a tired trope in the Chinese version (the audience I was with seemed unsurprised), the lights go on and the film stops. Thought provoking and powerful, your eyes have to get adjusted to the new brilliance of the scene. So dedicated to the craft of film immersion, the Chinese government must have paid people to march in just at that moment (in perfect choreography) and demand the film be ended then and there.
I’ll admit the film leaves a lot of unanswered questions. Who was this Dr. Shultz? What was his business with the slavers? Does Django ever escape his bondage? Will they allow me to speak to my lawyer? Does the term “indefinite detention” not mean anything to these people? I would hate to think that Quentin Tarentino has done this to leave the option open for sequels, but with the success of “The Hobbit: Part 1” I wouldn’t be surprised.
Overall though the movie is a triumph. It is a nihilistic commentary on the hopelessness of a people who were prevented even the most basic forms of comforts (like clothes, freedom, or the ability to watch movies unharrassed) that illustrates just how difficult it would be to live in a society like that. Never once does it waver (from credits to one minute after the credits) from its position that what these men in shackles are facing is beyond their control. I for one counted my lucky stars that I was born in an era where suppression of freedom was virtually unknown to the world.
5 out of 5 stars
- ‘Django Unchained’ pulled from China theaters for ‘technical reasons’ (entertainment.nbcnews.com)