Thursday, March 11, 2010

Avatar Defeats Truman

I opened the China Daily the other day and was greeted by a huge picture of Kathryn Bigelow clutching her Best Picture and Best Director Oscars. And I’m thinking: calm down, Roberta Benigni! It’s so typical: a woman wins a couple of awards and suddenly she’s allowed to rub it in our faces. What is this, the LPGA? Let’s try for a little class.

The strange thing, though (other than the picture of a woman above the fold), is that the headline was “Avatar is Chinese Choice.” Which is weird because if I’m reading the front page of the paper on the day after the Academy Awards, I don’t care what the Chinese Choice was, I care who actually won the Academy Award. I know, I know: how “old media” of me right? I mean, it’s the Twitter generation! Headlines should be able to just hang out and do whatever! And I think that's a valid criticism. I’m just of the old school that says that headlines should actually report the news rather than telling me a fact I don’t care about.

After the headline and subhed (“The Hurt Locker is surprise winner as many thought 3D hit was shoo-in for best picture.” Really? Who were those “many,” and how can I get invited to their next Oscar pool?), the article starts seriously comparing Avatar and the best picture winner (whose title you wouldn’t know from the headline). The author calls The Hurt Locker “harder to decipher” and says that one Chinese news organization dismissed it as “Pentagon propaganda.” So, just a heads up for the future, guys: this is not really the way that the movie industry works in America. There are plenty of people willing to make pro-war films without any financial incentive from the Pentagon, which is a good thing because the Pentagon spends most of its propaganda money putting “military analysts” on Sunday morning talk shows.

Anyway most of the article is about how Chinese people didn’t understand the results at all (“Sandra Bullock is less appreciated here…”) except when it comes to The Cove, which has sparked “an avalanche of condemnation against the Japanese practice of killing dolphins.” Obviously this vitriol is not surprising at all, given Chinese history’s with Japan. After the release of Howl’s Moving Castle I heard there was an avalanche of condemnation against the Japanese practice of animating roving wizards in a whimsical fashion. Really appalling.

The article concludes that there is simply a “gap between Oscar voters and movie viewers in China”: “People do not want to go to the theater to watch a sharper replica of reality, but to forget about it.” I think this is true of some Chinese moviegoers, and of many American ones as well. And, seriously now, one of the reasons I’m (trying to) teach a class on Film Analysis is that I want to show my students that those are not the only two choices. But I suppose that’s neither here nor there.

Congrats, Ms. Bigelow! I hope you’re enjoying your victory. Because China's not.