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28 July 2009 @ 11:42 pm
IBARW: people living in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.  
It's International Blog Against Racism Week, which I forgot to mention yesterday! *facepalm*

The sad thing for me about IBARW is that, rather than feeling that I have nothing to talk about, I have entirely too many relevant things to say. Avatar: The Last Airbender; Lori Phanachone; Texas Representative Betty Brown (Republican); Justice (it is Justice now, isn't it?) Sonia Sotomayor; Professor Henry Louis Gates; the whitewashed cover of Justine Larbalestier's Liar- all of these topics spring to mind so that I sit here choking on all the words that clamor to be spoken. And then, of course, there are the things I have already said, so that I wonder if I should make the effort to write a whole new post instead of simply linking to older ones. Given my lack of energy, I might even have stayed silent today, if I hadn't had some of the following already written.

Back in April, for Asian American Awareness Month, I had a post planned out about body image and the toll that multiple standards and conflicting expectations exact from Asian-American women. Today is still not the day for me to go into that discussion in detail, but a lot of it relates to the rant I've been (mostly) suppressing about the western media slant on the Beijing Olympics.

I am still angry, you see, and even though I didn't agree with China's decisions with respect to their women's gymnastics team and the Opening Ceremonies voice-over, I was and am extremely offended by the way the western (US/European) media handled these topics.

I am angry that Bela Karolyi felt the need to harp on the small size and lack of defined breasts of the Chinese gymnasts, in a sport where these characteristics are the norm. Goddamnit, the vast majority of East Asian women that I know have small breasts, okay? It does not automatically mean that we are "un(der)developed" or pre-pubescent. As a matter of fact, those of us who are larger than A- or B-cups generally have a pretty hard time finding lingerie that fits in East Asia. Actually, those of us who are tall and/or not-skinny and/or have large feet also tend to have difficulty finding shoes and clothes in our sizes in East Asia. Full disclosure, for perspective's sake: I am 5'8", I generally fit into US size 4 (or thereabouts) clothing, and I wear US 8.5 shoes. In America, I am thin and of middling height. In Taiwan (and mainland China, and much of the rest of East Asia), I am considered large; I have not gone clothes shopping there since I was about ten years old.

I am sick of the fact that nobody ever seems to realize that "baby faces" are not indicative of age when one is speaking of East Asian people, except (of course) for the East Asian people in question. All but two of my (many) cousins are older than me by four years to a couple of decades; most of them look around my age. If I were more statistically inclined, I could probably give you an entire Excel workbook devoted to the instances in which I and/or my (East Asian) friends have passed for twelve when they/we were actually fifteen, or been carded at bars when they/we were over 21 (and in a couple of cases, over 30). Granted, further investigation has shown that the Chinese women's gymnasts were indeed underage, but I still maintain that the media frenzy at the time of the initial outcry was utterly shameful. (Think I was overreacting? Take a look at the Karolyis' comments about the Chinese gymnasts, as compared with their comments about the US's other major competitors- Russians, Romanians, other Europeans. Tell me that the snideness, the derogatory terms, the utter refusal to acknowledge the Chinese gymnasts' talent and hard work- regardless of their age!- can be construed as non-racist.)

I also object, strongly, to the western media's voice-over fixation during the opening ceremonies. In their coverage of the most brilliant opening ceremonies in Olympic history, the one thing USian/European reporters focused on was Yang Peiyi, the little girl who was "deemed too ugly to sing," rather than the ten thousand avenues they had to learn (and educate people!) about Chinese culture and history. I am all for giving credit where credit is due, but I object to all the oh-so-enlightened white USians and Europeans babbling about China's focus on aesthetics, as if their own beauty standards aren't equally problematic- if not more so, as women of every color and nationality are also judged by their yardstick. (Of course white beauty standards should be the universal ideal; what are the rest of us thinking?)

In addition, I found all of the outraged "Lip-syncing! Shock! Horror!" reactions to be extremely disingenuous. Never mind the acute internal and external pressures toward perfection which shaped China's decision to present a flawless and united front; never mind that the opinions of the western world were an integral part of those pressures- tell me this sort of thing doesn't happen all the damn time in the west. How many performances do you suppose singers like Britney Spears lip-sync? How many singers sound just as good live as they do in their studio recordings? How many similar instances do you suppose are reported about USian/European artists, and how many of those reports are this extensive?

It infuriates me to this day that every time I looked at a western news source- TV, newspaper, and internet blogosphere- 90% of the articles about the Chinese Olympic athletes had to do with the gymnasts' looks and supposed ages, whereas the articles about athletes from every other nation were life stories or career histories or just plain stats. It drives me absolutely mad that despite the utter transformative incandescence of the Beijing opening ceremonies, the one thing that sticks in so many USian/European minds is the voice-over. Heaven forbid that the achievements of Chinese athletes and artists and people are ever dissociated from their government! Heaven forbid that Chinese people are ever looked upon as individuals rather than scary Communists or outsourced laborers or any number of other stereotypes!

I know that China is far from perfect, and there is clearly ample room for critique; I just wish that once in a while, its critics would analyze their own behavior as well. (Heaven forbid, indeed.)
the mighty pomegranatewhymzycal on July 29th, 2009 04:30 am (UTC)
The only remotely interesting (and non finger-pointy) article I remember reading about China during the Olympics was about one news correspondent who was pronouncing "Beijing" with the hard J, like people in Beijing do. That was the only one, though, and its focus was still very much on west-vs-east, heavy on the west (though at least it did a tiny bit of educating). Everything else was ranty or angry or finger-pointy or shallow, saying the same things about ten different ways.

It would have been nice to read about something that wasn't about the gymnasts or Yang Peiyi.
glass_icarusglass_icarus on July 29th, 2009 02:38 pm (UTC)
ARGH, I know, right? Anything that wasn't about either of those two things was covered once in the live TV reports, and never to be seen again! Thank goodness my mom was relaying news from the Chinese newspapers and TV channels, otherwise my head would have exploded with rage much more quickly.
Beckyruffwriter on July 29th, 2009 09:37 am (UTC)
I spent most of the opening ceremonies telecast shaking my head at all the, "LOOK YOU GUYS! THAT IS SO CHINESE! DO YOU REALIZE THAT RIGHT THIS SECOND WE ARE IN CHINA? HOLY MOTHER OF GOD." So yeah, the shallowness of the coverage in general was definitely iffy.

But you definitely summed up what I was thinking, and much more eloquently at that. (Then again, I have very little coherence left in me as of late. XD)
glass_icarusglass_icarus on July 29th, 2009 02:40 pm (UTC)
I was just astounded. All those comments like "Oh, look! China is throwing open its doors and welcoming us, YAY!" as if, you know, China hadn't been at all accessible to the west for decades... and then, not a week later, it all degenerated into the brouhaha over the scandals, and now barely anybody in this hemisphere remembers how fucking awesome and educational and epic the opening ceremonies were. -.-;;
Amysuch_heights on July 29th, 2009 12:15 pm (UTC)
Oh god, yes, THIS.
glass_icarusglass_icarus on July 29th, 2009 02:42 pm (UTC)

Catesheafrotherdon on July 29th, 2009 01:52 pm (UTC)
I paid very little attention to the Olympics, but what I could, if asked, tell anyone about the Olympics bears out your point - media saturation was such on certain topics that while I couldn't begin to tell you how many gold medals any team won, I could tell you there was a firestorm over women's gymnastics, over the opening ceremony, and that Michael Phelps swam a lot. Ugh. Your analysis here is so, so insightful. Thank you for sharing it.

I was forcibly struck, when I moved to the US, how different coverage of the Olympics is here to what I'd grown used to in the UK. While there's certainly a point of pride to the way Brits view Olympic competition - we want to know if we're winning anything - there's also a commitment to covering excellence. So if a Brit isn't particularly world-class at, say, the decathalon, but someone from somewhere else is great, there'll be coverage of that event simply in recognition of the fact that someone is a damn good athlete. When I got to the States I discovered that US coverage is largely about covering those events in which US athletes will do well. Speaks volumes, I think, to the way in which the US media approaches the Olympics - not as a celebration of prowess and achievement across the board, but as an opportunity to crow.
glass_icarusglass_icarus on July 29th, 2009 02:44 pm (UTC)
a commitment to covering excellence- YES. THAT is what the Olympics are about, recognizing everyone in the world, not just the athletes from one's own country! I mean, okay, national pride, yay, but ffs, is even-handedness in reporting too much to ask for?
Katekate_nepveu on July 29th, 2009 05:56 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this. I had a literal newborn at the time so didn't pay much attention, but yes.

(Last time I was carded to drink, I was 29.)
glass_icarusglass_icarus on July 29th, 2009 08:25 pm (UTC)
Thanks for stopping by!

(& ugh, I realize that bartenders are just doing their job, but damn does it get old sometimes.)
(no subject) - divabat on August 19th, 2009 09:17 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - glass_icarus on August 20th, 2009 02:25 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Rwanderlight on July 29th, 2009 09:07 pm (UTC)
YES, argh.
I didn't follow the Olympics coverage -- mostly because I ignore the Olympics in general -- but I hear you re. China & western news sources. Obviously, China isn't perfect, but god! North American media, please shut the hell up, open your eyes, and take a look at the same problems within your own country before setting up China as the enemy! The subtle egocentrism and Us vs. Them mentality is awful.
glass_icarusglass_icarus on July 29th, 2009 09:43 pm (UTC)

(I really must make that body image post sometime, I think; just writing this, I started to realize exactly how many issues I have yet to unpack.)
(no subject) - wanderlight on July 29th, 2009 10:17 pm (UTC) (Expand)
a particularly troubled Romulan: communicationillariy on July 29th, 2009 09:15 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this post. I didn't watch the Olympics (no TV) nor did I pay much attention to the media coverage here in Germany but I did notice some by reading LJ and linked posts during the debate and the insane body criticism and inappropriate constant comparisons to "standard" white bodies grated on me, too.
glass_icarusglass_icarus on July 29th, 2009 09:48 pm (UTC)
Thanks for stopping by! I figured I wasn't overreacting, but it's nice to know that I'm not alone.
(Deleted comment)
glass_icarusglass_icarus on July 30th, 2009 04:36 pm (UTC)
AUGH, the divers! That was another thing that really irritated me; the Chinese divers were brilliant. SO brilliant. The way the newscasters undersold their love for their sport and highlighted instead the other choices they had, their other hobbies, as if China's Communist government actually pressured them into choosing their own futures- UGH UGH UGH STFU. If you can't be arsed to learn about our goddamn history, you have NO right to judge our cultural values, thanks!
Dichroicdichroic on July 31st, 2009 03:19 am (UTC)
For the record, I am 5'2", wear a US 4 or 6, work out, am white, and live in Taiwan. I've pretty much given up clothes shopping here, because often even the large is too tight in the shoulders, arms, chest or thighs. I can find my bra size, because I wear a 32 band, but I've found they often still don't fit; the cups are set too close together - apparently even with the same band size they're supposing a narrower body.

A colleague has recently put on two kilos; she's not happy about it and wants to shed them but I've noticed that her shape is now *gorgeous* (and still skinny) by US standards. Even with the extra weight, I think she'd wear about a size 2, which is very hard to find Stateside.

Olympic coverage here sucked, though: very few sports were actually shown.
glass_icarusglass_icarus on July 31st, 2009 03:10 pm (UTC)
I am... not quite sure what you're saying, here? I mean, there are obviously various advantages/disadvantages to shopping in Taiwan with respect to body types, but my concern was mainly that in an Asian market, there's a focus on one specific body type for Asian women. And yes, I am sure you could say this of pretty much any place in the world, but when my friend- as a Taiwan-Chinese girl growing up in Taiwan- had/still has to buy all of her bras from Victoria's Secret because she can't find (non-imported) lingerie that fits her within her own country? That's a very different kind of problem than an Asian market not supporting the body types of non-Asian women, I think.

I am unclear on the Olympic TV coverage in Taiwan, but I do recall my mom talking to our relatives there about a lot of different sports. On the other hand, they might have a different cable package or something, or maybe some of them relied on the newspapers, I don't know.
(no subject) - dichroic on August 1st, 2009 02:17 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - divabat on August 19th, 2009 09:20 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - dichroic on August 20th, 2009 12:32 am (UTC) (Expand)
(Deleted comment)
DonKnodkwrkm on August 3rd, 2009 06:14 am (UTC)
Oops, sorry: deleting my first comment just to fix something.

Thanks for this. Now I'm extra glad I got to watch the Olympics while in Malaysia and didn't get that kind of commentary. [I was in the same time zone as Beijing but missed most of the Michael Phelps and gymnastics coverage because, US broadcasters apparently asked them to move (at least) the swimming to the morning so that they could shoot it back to the States for people's evening viewing pleasure. -_____- I did, on the other hand, get to watch sports I wouldn't have seen in the US because nobody here cares about them (ex. rhythmic gymnastics)-- didn't hurt that the local provider had 10 channels of English language coverage. ^^']

Anyway, back to those Chinese gymnasts: I thought they were amazing, and totally made me wish I could be a gymnast all over again. I'm too old now, but I'm definitely of their body type, and honestly, just glad someone was there to represent. (And seriously: a sport where short people have an edge on tall people? WOW. XD) And after China won the team competition, I went online to read analysis and squeeing in google news, but I guess I had my settings only got (English-language; didn't try Chinese, seeing as I can't really read it) articles that were 90% American sobbing 10% (one article had two lines) about the Chinese winners.

Disappointing, but I see that I wasn't anywhere near the real pile of vitriol: I knew the Karolyis were talking, but the Malaysian press wasn't as hopped up on it, so that I didn't even get to read what they said.
Yayoisubsiding_leaf on August 6th, 2009 09:27 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for this entry. My friend and I (she's from the mainland, I'm from Taiwan) spent hours and hours and hours hashing out our anger at the US (we're both in grad school here so that's the news front we're most familiar with) coverage of the Olympics. On YouTube, there are several video clips of the celebrities singing "Beijing welcomes you" with fake subtitles of one of Hitler's speeches. I thought I'd gotten it all out, but reading this...I want to cry. Sometimes, despite all the opportunities I've gotten and the friends-for-life I've met in this country, I just don't want to live here.
glass_icarusglass_icarus on August 6th, 2009 10:01 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you guys were able to talk it out; my parents were paying attention to Chinese commentaries & thus couldn't figure out why I was so often furious. (Most of my friends are apparently more thick-skinned than me, heh.)

"Beijing welcomes you" with fake subtitles of one of Hitler's speeches.-- WHAT. SERIOUSLY. I DON'T EVEN. *HEAD EXPLODES*

There's an awesome post from the last issue of the Asian Women Blog Carnival; this sentence? I still hope that someday, there will be a country to love me back. Yeah. That's exactly the way I feel.
(no subject) - subsiding_leaf on August 11th, 2009 05:39 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - glass_icarus on August 11th, 2009 11:16 pm (UTC) (Expand)
delux_vivens on August 20th, 2009 12:19 am (UTC)
In addition, I found all of the outraged "Lip-syncing! Shock! Horror!" reactions to be extremely disingenuous.

Seriously. For all those people who rose up in righteous indignation about that lip synching, I have two words: Martha Wash.
glass_icarusglass_icarus on August 20th, 2009 02:31 pm (UTC)
IKR? Thanks for the link! :)
ext_204960 on August 25th, 2009 09:05 pm (UTC)
Predictable American media coverage
Before the Olympics started, I thought the US media coverage would adopt a fairly hostile/nationalistic stance viz. China, and sure enough, the self-styled American Free Press did not fail to disappoint.

The "controversies" over the lip synching and Chinese women gymnastics were merely used as political/propaganda fodder for this agenda by the American media.

In the bigger picture, what drives this kind of media coverage is geopolitics. China is depicted by the West and America in particular as a "strategic competitor" (as George Bush would say). Thus, America's media coverage will reflect an instinctve hostility towards China.

This is nothing new. During the 1980s and early 1990s, you saw a similar type of American media coverage towards Japan, with the phenomena of Japan Bashing.

In the current War on Terrorism, American hostility towards Muslim and Arab nations is of course reflected in the media's coverage of these regions and nations.

And during the Cold War, the US media dutifully mirrored America's hostility towards the Soviet Union and Communist world.

The American media coverage of the Olympics in China was thus predictable in its jingoist xenophobia.

Even sports is not free from this tendency.