Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wrestling with ghosts

Confronted with a print from the China's Cultural Revolution of ruddy-cheeked, gleaming white-toothed peasants cheerfully going about their revolutionary business in perfect harmony, a shaken Michael Stipe of REM wrote the hit song "Shiny Happy People"* -- hoping that through blithering innocuity he might simultaneously obfuscate and highlight the real faces of the Cultural Revolution.

The sharp contrasts between the richness of life in modern-day coastal China, Stipe's bouncy, impossible nonsense and the sheer insanity of the subjects of these newly available images from the actual Cultural Revolution (including images of the denunciation of the descendants of Confucius) etch in high relief how lucky we all are that "black cat, white cat, what does it matter?" Deng Xiaoping and his allies prevailed.

A reminder that we must all be wary, as it takes only a claim of righteousness, a prescription of discipline and an appeal to resentment to make a determined, dishonest madness seem (almost) rational.


* Yes, this song.

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