Dis­hon­est beauty in pur­suit of profit

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT - OP RANA The au­thor is a se­nior ed­i­tor with China Daily. oprana@hot­mail.com

Western coun­ter­parts? In a way, they have been (at least they are seen as try­ing to do so) and fail­ing time and again.

Many me­dia com­men­taries have also rued the medi­ocrity of Chi­nese pop and rock (soft, hard, acid, et al) mu­sic. By do­ing so, they are mis­tak­enly as­sum­ing that China does not have any tra­di­tion of mu­sic, dance and opera. This poverty of imag­i­na­tion is some­thing China can do with­out, es­pe­cially at a time when the coun­try is try­ing to spread its cul­tural web far be­yond its bor­ders. The truth is Chi­nese cul­ture has noth­ing to do with a genre of mu­sic that has no soul.

The pop and rock mu­sic many Chi­nese talk about mas­ter­ing is noth­ing but mind­less en­ter­tain­ment and, if one watches some of the videos, ex­hi­bi­tion of flesh. Mu­sic is any­thing but sex­ual tit­il­la­tion, which is what Western main­stream mu­sic seems to be pro­mot­ing. Most of the mu­sic com­ing out of the West is more about math­e­mat­i­cal ar­range­ment in studios, “mod­ern” chore­og­ra­phy and visual pre­sen­ta­tion, and less about stir­ring our emo­tions and in­tel­lect.

How true was Ger­man so­ci­ol­o­gist Theodor Adorno when he said that the cul­ture in­dus­try churns out a de­based mass of un­so­phis­ti­cated, sen­ti­men­tal prod­ucts; it cul­ti­vates false needs that can be cre­ated and sat­is­fied only by the cul­ture in­dus­try, de­mean­ing the role and im­por­tance of so­ci­ety as whole. Only true needs, as op­posed to false needs, Adorno said, can give hu­man cre­ative po­ten­tial full ex­pres­sion. Those who are trapped in false con­cepts of beauty, in form and con­tent and in au­dio and visual expressions, ac­cord­ing to the cap­i­tal­ist mode of think­ing can hear and see beauty only in dis­hon­est terms.

It is this dis­hon­est beauty that we see and hear in the prod­ucts churned out by most of the cul­ture in­dus­tries in ad­vanced in­dus­tries, sim­ply be­cause their agenda is dic­tated by profit. And it is the blind ad­her­ence to profit that has, as many crit­ics lament, spelled the cre­ative demise of Hol­ly­wood. This is not to say that Hol­ly­wood has be­come a grave­yard of cre­ative film­mak­ers, for there are still quite a few that have been serv­ing the needs of film­mak­ing, which is a glo­ri­ous amal­ga­ma­tion of all the nine muses.

Even when talk­ing about an­i­ma­tion, Chi­nese com­men­ta­tors fo­cus their lens on Hol­ly­wood, prais­ing its pro­duc­tions to the sky. True, Hol­ly­wood has given us some good an­i­ma­tions of late. But how many can hold a can­dle to the works of Hayao Miyazaki? How many Hol­ly­wood an­i­ma­tions have the so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal mes­sage of, say, Miyazaki’s Spir­ited Away? But then we are blinded by the glitz and ex­trav­a­gance of the West.

China is not a na­tion-state; it is a civ­i­liza­tion state. And no civ­i­liza­tion is com­plete with­out cul­ture. Why should it seek inspiration from other coun­tries (and ape their de­based cul­tural prod­ucts) to build its cul­ture in­dus­try? China has more than enough cul­tural el­e­ments and forms to cap­ture the imag­i­na­tion of the world. The need is to present them (per­haps with in­no­va­tions) to the world with pride, in­stead of be­ing ashamed of them.

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