Thursday, June 4, 2009

Prologue to "Tank Man"

What follows is a very close reading of the Prologue to Frontline's show "The Tank Man." I'd like to be clear that I am in no way an apologist for the violence that occurred, but I cannot also stand by and allow this kind of violence. What we are experiencing, at least in the U.S. is, I argue a pernicious form of violence that rests on the assertion that some people are allowed to remember, but only can remember what they are told. The simple truth is this: the American public does not understand China's history and there is a very real incentive to capitalize on this ignorance. Not only among the power elite because they cannot achieve their hegemony without their handmaiden: the newscycle. Of course the irony is that here we have a media that decries the erasing of history while simultaneously creating a new history that will reinforce the naturalness of what the power elite want the multitude to think about China.

"Tiananmen Square, Beijing. The largest public space in the world, created on an inhuman scale." (this emphasis is in the original) The monumental public buildings that line the edges and the vast, tree-less edges between speak of the insignificance of the individual before the might of the State."
In this passage, the beginning of the show, the prologue which will orient us so that we can understand what they are trying to persuade us to believe, we are set up with a familiar problem. Familiar to Westerners, at least. Their is an ominousness to the tone in this sequence, in the suggestion that the individual is insignificant in relation to their government - but isn't this what ALL monuments are supposed to do? Is this not the purpose of erecting Gothic cathedrals, to inspire in humanity the sense of the vast mystery of God? That the Chinese have dedicated a vast public space, the largest in the world, should reveal to us that the Chinese are far less concerned with lofty abstractions about the mystery of some transcendental realm and are much more concerned with the mystery of the immanence of being in this world. This public space should be inspiring, the individual should know that there are more than just individuals in the world, but an immense, teeming, ocean of human beings - one should be given pause at this thought. What is the purpose of the individual, in this schema, except to elucidate, articulate, and promote the peaceful coexistence of billions of human beings (the very name of the Chinese government can be translated along these lines, in fact).

"[T]hey have hundreds of [cameras] trained on Tiananmen Square, their cameras, cameras in the hands of others are considered dangerous."
This should be no surprise to anyone in the Western world, look at Britain. They have thousands of cameras set up through out the country and designed to track cars and individuals. But this is also true in North Carolina. And it appears that all Americans are being spied upon now.

"It's absolutely extraordinary. You could look at him as unusually brave; but he probably wasn't. He probably just an ordinary person who was so disgusted at what he had seen for the last few days."
The emphasis in Western media on the individual is necessary because it reinforces what the West believes to be sacrosanct: the individual, the one that is defined as radically particular, and fundamentally different from all others and only able to be related to others through externalized relationships. The ideal form of relationships for this entity is the contract.

"Standing in front of a column of tanks. No one around him - he was all on his own with a shopping bag in his hand. He climbed on top of the tank, banged on the lid, and said, 'Get out of my city you're not wanted here.' We don't know exactly what he said, but it's clear that's what he wanted to say."
Is it so clear? Is this not a classic example of projection? Maybe he said something like, "go on kill me, you shot my girlfriend last night and I drank all the rent money away, again. I'll be homeless and without prospects, just kill me." What if he was schizophrenic and thought he was catching a bus? Why is the journalist (I assume he was there, but I am not told he was) given this priviledged information? Yes, it is compelling to believe that the guy got off work (see 11:15), bought his groceries and on the walk home confronted the People's Liberation Army. It's compelling because that's what I want my action heros to do, it's what I would expect from Bruce Willis or Will Smith. It's my ideal type. But it's not Chinese.

"During this time I'm thinking, 'This guy is gonna be killed at any moment now. And, if he is, I can't just miss this. This is something he is giving his life for.' It's my responsibility to record it as accurately as possible."
Spoken with the great solemnity that we should all be familiar with because this is the same attitude of the apostles at the crucifixion. Of course, we will also all recognize that there are very different accounts of what happened on that cross - there is no accurate depiction in the sense that there is 100% agreeance about what occurred there. This is another great Western preoccupation: the revelation through objectivity, through public epistemological methods. It is a great hiding and revealing game that we play because our worldview. But why is it necessary to watch these moments? Why do we HAVE to watch as the man is executed? Why must we witness, what compels us to watch the gore? Is there not something sadistic and cruel to this voyeurism? Is there not a sense that the man is calling into existence the murder of this man with his bags in front of the tanks?

We are told, then about this magical photograph. The one that publically announces, like that mythic star in the East of the Nativity, that their is a special man in the world that redeems all our sins (our need to create a social order where individuals are subsumed other individuals). Where does he hide this wonderful photo? In the shitter. I wish that I could talk with Zizek about this one! Literally, the object of our political fascination, the stuff of pure excess, is put into the toilet, that place where all real human excess is deposited and where we place all that we cannot bear to view because to have it return from the toilet is a nightmare, just as to confront our unconscious desire to see a man crushed to death under a tank is too nightmarish to admit. Fortunately we have the medium of celluloid to give us the fantasy of these ghoulish desires - and it's stored where? That great symbol of the unconscious: the toilet!

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