Upside to Shenzhen’s Olympic propaganda push — less minutes of propaganda per bus ride than leading up to the Universiade. That said, during blurb du jour about the national body, I had an insight. To wit: I’m thinking that Chinese athletes represent state power, while US American athletes represent honed individual desire.
Consider the mise-en-scene: a busload of commuters reading weibo, some sprawled on a seat others dangling from a safety handle, still others huddled over fat children, one who smiled at me. Their expressions were neutral, passively waiting to jump off the bus to their next encounter, although I did see several people scowling at their cellphones and overheard a well-dressed lady in pumps, repeat in frustration, “No, we need the order to be shipped today.” In contrast, on the television screen another Chinese gymnast gracefully flip-flopped on a balance beam, paused, and looked directly into the camera. She wore a bright red and yellow bodysuit, her hair was pulled back in a neat ponytail, and she stood straight, shoulders thrown back in pride. The message was clear: if we commuters who were not exactly slovenly but far from neat and certainly tending to scrawny and flabby, ate healthy, exercised, slept regularly, and visited our doctors, we too could be proud members of the national team.
That’s when I realized that similar US American propaganda would have emphasized the same good behavior but for a different reason; we should eat healthy, exercise, get enough sleep, and have medical check-ups in order to fulfill our personal dreams. Another thought followed: even if the US and China field national teams to achieve different ideological ends — the US has to demonstrate that all that rugged individualism makes us a strong nation, while China has to prove that all that authoritarianism is the pre-condition for individual excellence, nevertheless, structurally all this athletic posturing affirms the status quo. But we knew that. It’s just that suddenly the status quo seems to be a pad de deux Sino-Americana, rather than say, a cold war.