Thursday, August 14, 2008

Globalization AND Bad Decisions at Fault

I got into a wee bit debate at Feministing over the story of "Yang Peiyi (on the right) who had the perfect voice, [while] Lin Miaoke (on the left) had the perfect face."

China is doing all they can to impress the world over the course of these few weeks. Sometimes, however, money can't buy image. Even though these are the most expensive Olympic Games in history, they leave a lot to be desired. Not from the Olympians, because, don't get me wrong, they're doing a kick-ass job, but from China as a nation.

First, the homeless are forcibly displaced, fake fireworks, and urging people, "to quit smoking and spitting, and to adopt the Western custom of standing in line for a bus, instead of jostling." Now, it has come out that the beautiful singing of Yang Peiyi was the actual voice behind the adorable face of Lin Miaoke. Don't get me wrong, Yang Peiyi is a very cute girl! But unfortunately, her county did not deem her as "cute enough" to sing the "Ode to the Motherland." The rationale? "The reason was for the national interest. The child on camera should be flawless in image, internal feelings, and expression."

This sends several messages to little girls.
1. Talent isn't enough. You have to have "the look" to get anywhere...
2. If you do have "the look," you will get exploited for it, for the best interest of your country, of course...

We all agree this is disgusting. But the wee bit of a disagreement i got into on Feministing was because i think it goes beyond just China fucking up. I think there's a lot to be said for why they deemed Lin Miaoke "cuter." I argued that the girl who was chosen fits more in line with a Western standard of girlish cuteness. I also said that it's not entirely China's fault but the fault of a Western standard of beauty that has spread through globalization. Brad argued that i was using globalization as a cop-out and MewKunn called me mean and rude for ascertaining that Miaoke wasn't "Asian enough" (which i didn't...)

China is concerned with putting forward a specific image. One that, to some degree, mimics the US. They are working hard to keep up with US's consumption, technology, and urbal living, which is very difficult to do with a population over 1.3 billion people. I'm not saying this as it's a good thing. The US isn't the popular kid here, inviting China to sit at the cool kid's table at lunch... No. Rather as a negative of the traditions and culture lost due to the spread of globalization. I fully realize that China has it's own culture, traditions, and fashion which are unique to their nation. Globalization, however, has vast effects on beauty standards among many other things. For example, Chinese media is saturated with advertisements for eye-widening plastic surgery and skin whitening products. This isn't because the Western and European look is "better" but because it is now being widespread through media, advertising, and globalization. Which leads me back to Yang Peiyi and Lin Miaoke, the two adorable girls taught an unfortunate life lesson at the tender ages of 7 and 9.

For a country so consumed with their current image, this did not make them look good...

IMO, China made a choice to cast the more stereotypically Western looking girl and chalk it up to being, "flawless in terms of her facial expression and the great feeling she can give to people." The pig tails, the big toothy smile, the lighter, long hair... that's all Western little girl "cute." And it's deemed "better" and "cuter" because of the globalized standard of beauty and cuteness. China's attempt to cast the "cuter" girl for the way she looks is intertwined with Western standards of girlishness and cuteness and since all eyes are on China right now, they are trying to fit in as much as possible with these standards.

And to address MewKunn's concern: I don't think it was Lin Niaoke's choice to look the way she does or get chosen for the reasons she did. I also think that it works to her disadvantage too that she was chosen solely based on her looks and not her talent. And it teaches her a lesson that she is not talented enough, but her looks matter. This is a lesson many women learn, early on. That they are chosen, selected, picked, dated, hired, based solely on their looks alone. She is not the one to blame, or target. Who IS at fault are the individuals who chose her based her looks and why they thought her look was "better." She may have not chosen to have the Western standard of beauty features that i discussed but i do believe a big reason she was chosen to appear on screen was because she DOES have these features. There is a difference. And the difference is one that is wrapped up in globalization, childhood, beauty standards, choices, and image.


frau sally benz said...

I don't quite see where the problem is. Just looking at these pictures, I can clearly see that one girl has a cuteness that is more acceptable by Western beauty standards, and the other does not. Case closed, no?

And it's not about her NOT looking "Asian enough," it's about the fact that her features also happen to fall more in line with what is the beauty standard here while the other girl is just "cute."

FeministGal said...

frau sally benz, yea that's what i thought too... ;)

Smirking Cat said...

Oh, this is wrong for so many reasons. You've already hit most of them, feministgal. For them to offer up the best interests of the nation as the reason to refuse the actual singer her due time because she wasn't as cute to them is deplorable. I agree, the message that your looks are all that matters is loud and clear here.

phd in yogurtry said...

As you point out with your examples, China is trying to set a good example. The fact that many of their atheletes (all that I've seen) have CHINA written in English on the backs of their attire is one bit of proof that its the western world they wish to impress.

I think you make an excellent point that globalization plays a role. I am guessing not entirely, however. Standards of beauty have been within-culturally influenced for thousands of years. One example, foot binding, a particularly Asian method (I believe its largely Asian) of "beautifying" women.

phd in yogurtry said...

I didn't get to finish that post (phone call .. I can't type and talk at same time)

I wanted to say that I do think globalization, in part, is responsible for replacing the singer with the "prettier" girl. Again, trying hardest to impress westerners. Just not that the ideals belong specifically to the western eye. There's research indicating that there are cross cultural commonalities to standards of beauty (facial structure symmetry being one of them).

The true singer's teeth aren't all in, thus not as pretty. Probably (?) another cross cultural sign of beauty (I think the true singer is actually cuter, to be honest.. she's looks more authentic and real..I bet if they had kept her in, she would have won more hearts).

Anonymous said...

It's not a Westernized, white version of cuteness. China has a long, deep cultural history of preferring high cheekbones, big eyes, and pale skin. You see it in Chinese art and poetry going back hundreds or thousands of years.

That's how China is. They have an Asian standard of beauty that's been little altered by Western versions of beauty.

Anonymous said...

My feeling on this one is that is this so different from what we do over here everyday? Isn't China just practicing what we preach?

It doesn't make it any less reprehensible, but what was that in the bible about pointing out the spec in your pal's eye when you've got a plank in yours? I find our critical horror at what they did to be oh so hypocritical.

nat said...

I agree that globalisation has an impact on cultural preferences regarding beauty etc. Just like how euro-asion looking people are often sited as the most attractive in studies done in the west. There is an argument to be made that meshing of cultures has such positive effects.
And I can't argue that the swapping of the children in the opening ceremony was poor. But not any different than what happens in Hollywood or Australia (not excusing this - just seems we are a little to eager to find fault with China for things we do in the west all the time. Like we don't herd up the homeless?)

However, China and other southern Asian countries have a strong heritage that they have and will continue to protect. The example of the whitening cream you brought up - although this seems irkesome, it really pre-dates western culture influence and has significantly more to do with internal class issues within their own culture (dark-skin being associated with peasants and poor outdoor workers) than it does with a desire to be "white".
I think we just need to be careful not to be too western centric looking at such issues.