Have you got an opinion? Starting this week, we will publish an opinion piece from readers on selected weekends, so if you feel like you’ve got something to get off your chest, email it to us at info AT shanghaiist DOT com and if we like it, we will publish it under this column. This week, a reader takes on That’s Shanghai‘s Erik Peterson’s review of Beijing punk band Snapline‘s new CD. All views expressed by writers under this column are their own and do not indicate any official position taken by Shanghaiist.
By Andy Best
In the 1800’s Europe saw science and imperial power working together to create a streamlined Racial Theory that served to justify their historical actions and pave the way for more bloodshed and hatred. This new racism had imagined academic and scientific weight and lead straight down the logic path to Eugenics. When the death camps of the holocaust were discovered it caused even hard-line racial theory supporters, such as Churchill, to consider the resultant public outcry. Since then our modern world has been defined by the struggle to create a fair society in a world governed and shaped by the structures of the imperial age and racism/modern nationalism, structures that power still clings to even today.
So why is it that this discourse seems to elude huge sections of ‘educated’ writers?
I am no longer surprised by the apparent reactionary bent of supposed liberal writers in my native UK and it’s rare that an article actually shocks me in its naked prejudice. Unless, of course, it’s written by a cartoon like Bill O’Reilly or it’s appearing in a Combat 18 leaflet. That’s why it was all the more shocking to be shocked by a CD review in That’s Shanghai.
On page 22 of That’s Shanghai’s January 2008 edition is the quarter page, easily missed review of punk band Snapline’s new CD by Erik Peterson. In said review, Peterson drops all usual reviewing convention to lecture the band in the first person about not being ‘Chinese’ enough. It starts with a flimsy insurance clause about false advertising:
“Snapline, you are charged with false advertising!”
But once that’s out of the way it gets straight into a lecture based on racial/national loyalties. Among the cited reasons for the reprimanding are: The album was supposed to be ‘Chinese’ it’s ‘not’. The band sings in English. The songs are informed by ’European sensibilities’. He ends by telling them they’d do better, as a Chinese band, to find their own voice.
Now, whether intentional or not, how does an English language writer like Peterson lecture a Chinese band in a magazine review about their Chinese-ness, whatever that actually means, and not be aware of the ideology at work. I’m sure we wouldn’t hear the invalid and mundane “I didn’t mean it that way so it isn’t” defense as framing it as a false advertising claim seems to imply he knows it could be sensitive at least. Do modern courses on journalism or English deal with the idea of Discourse? Or are we all skipping the lectures? Would he dare to write a review of a mainstream R’n’B singer from the USA and accuse them of not being ‘Black’ enough? Or perhaps we should judge the new Coldplay CD on if it is ‘White’ or not? If I’m to write some songs, should I check to make sure they represent pre-Norman Invasion Anglo-Saxon values?
Why does this not seem equally ridiculous when commenting on Chinese bands? It does to me.
We create a discourse when we write or speak, an intersection of our own ideas and the ‘text’ we comment on. To control this we first have to be aware of our own ideas and, indeed, ideology. When we have identified our own position we can then control how we express it. Some commentators are happy with their reactionary views and express them clearly, like the aforementioned Bill O’Reilly. Others, who don’t quite indentify with the Anne Coulters, try to hide the parts they don’t like by creating elaborate denials. The most famous being the “Professional journalism is impartial” myth. But a minority of people are led to examine those views and ideas and seek discourse from the other side of the coin. Even a basic awareness of this will help.
The ‘ex-pat’ community in Shanghai is now large and diverse but reading our blogs and our magazines would lead us to believe we are old school ‘orientalists’ simply trying to appropriate the place for ourselves on many levels.
Andy Best is from Liverpool, UK where he graduated Drama and wrote for the theatre. He’s recently been finishing up a book on Mantis Kung Fu in Shanghai.