April 18, 2011

Attenberg (2010) - A film by Athina Rachel Tsangari

Set in a slow, coastal and industrial Greek town, Attenberg is a coming-of -age movie that explores sexuality and human nature.

The name, Attenberg, comes from the mispronounced name of the British naturalist Sir David Attenborough, who narrates many of the BBC’s documentaries. The protagonist under study, Marina, is a fan of Attenborugh’s series. She is fascinated by chimpanzees walking in the jungles and gorillas fighting in the woods. As a teenage girl, she is also confused about her sexual orientation, or if she has an orientation at all – being disinterested in boy’s and girl’s, or even her own, genital. To me, Marina’s character is, almost, schizophrenic –  a person who likes to observe animal having her most basic animal instinct, sex, sterilized.

Marina’s interests in animals and disinterest in sex make me ponder – to what extent should/would we suppress our animal instincts or nature to qualify us as “human beings”? We use the word “animal” to describe people with immoral or outrages behaviours. But aren’t we all animals after all? What animals do that we shouldn’t? Do animals deserve to be disrespected like that with that adjective?

Why have so many animal instincts been stigmatized in our world? Sex, sleep, eating raw food, having a connection with nature… and I am sure the list go on and on. I am not saying that we should all practice them as, for instance, a tiger does. But what is line that we shouldn’t cross? I should say that Marina’s sexual interest/disinterest is definitely a distorted one. Distorted by our human establishment (media, school, book, religion, political system, etc).

Is the suppression of our animal instincts a form of evolution, or devolution for us as a species – the homo sapiens?


By John Darkow

Lately, the social media is celebrated as the greatest innovation that mankind has ever made. In 2006, “You” was named the TIME person of the year with the inception of YouTube and the creator of Facebook Mark Zuckerburg earned that title at the end of last year. Unlike Enron or the .com craze in beginning of the last decade, the inventors of social media websites are the real leaders in the tech revolution – they have all become billion-, and soon, zillionnaires.

The “social” part of social media is indeed revolutionary. It changed that way human being interacts with each other, it made physical distance a non-issue in communication and it has made information travels faster than ever. This is where the “media” part comes in. With social media, information, namely news and knowledge, is no longer being disseminated through centralized and top-down channels. Anyone who are plugged into to the ever-growing expanse of the world wide web is able to publish information and create knowledge. The media are no longer dominated with the views of the reporters, columnists or pundits – increasingly, viewers are able to feedback through tweets and facebook, views of the minority gets heard, neighbourhood singing talents get discovered. These are positive changes. With the ingenious invention of social media, some even say that democracy as the Greeks envisioned it could finally be realized – the view of everyone should be heard and cared for.

This has created a shock to the convention news organizations. Major news organizations cope with the shock with “citizen journalists”, aka – us. As we send in our videos, photos, tweets and facebook comments, what viewers “like” (as in the Like button of facebook) has suddenly become an indispensable factor for a news organization to decide which story to run and which not to. Columnists, once express their OWN views on certain news events, would now report to you the social media’s take on certain news events and try to explain the reason for people on facebook or twitter having such a view.

Reporters and columnists could once, using their paid analytical minds and conscience for the society, direct the public’s attention to things that matter. But as the wall between conventional and social media crumbles down, the authoritative ability for media to lead the public discourse and rhetoric, is now lost. Compartmentalized, or worst, bigoted, visions of individuals could now get published or broadcasted in the mainstream media 24/7. Some would argue that the breakdown of the conventional media infrastructure is good news for democracy because ordinary people finally get to hold their government accountable with the help of facebook comments or tweets. But I would argue otherwise. One of the vital condition for a thriving democracy is an informed public, and for that, it requires fair and trustworthy news organizations.

When the trivial-est of trivia could make headlines (Charlie Sheen, Rebecca Black, Mr. Stanley Ho, Mr. Chan Chun-chuen, “Dangerous” Japanese food with normal/safe level of radiation) in the most trusted name in news (CNN, Ming Pao, etc.), the public is obviously far from well-informed. An ill-informed public is certainly ill-equipped to hold their own government accountable or even to hold anyone accountable as their opinions are mixed with personal sentiment and confined in a tunnel vision.

I am not putting the blame on the public, nor the social media. I am not suggesting that everyone should be expressing their views in an objective, analytical and comprehensive fashion like a columnist or a reporter; and the social media can do good, and I believe, with conviction, that it could provide tremendous assistance in perfecting democracy. However, what I am disturbed about the current state of the media in the “socialization” of the mainstream media, i.e. when the conventional news organization employ an ever-increasing amount of information from facebook, hkgolden forums or youtube as their source of news, or even, source of their so-called “opinion”. It is certainty not a good sign when what I read from the news is the same as what I over heard from a conversation of people sitting at the next table in a tea restaurant. (Watch the interview of Jon Stewart by Larry King, as Jon blasts the mainstream media for their increasing use of twitter materials.)

I won’t go so far as to deny the value of ordinary people’s conversation, as Jon did. Those conversations are to be heard in the media, and they should always be the primary source of news. But I believe the media has the responsibility to filter and to analyse that information for us, to inform us with the conversations that matter, especially in the age of information flooding. What is the point of reading the news when it becomes increasingly similar to what I get from facebook, twitter, youtube or discussion boards?

The problem with the sole dependence of information from the social media is that one would only hear from like-minded people. You read the news that your friends share, the video that a friend’s friend posts, and so on, you get the idea. It is true that in the age of Web 3.0, the internet has become diverse as never before; but sadly, the vision of internet users has become narrow as never before. Like-minded people could get together easily and create a “group” that is not interested in hearing a single piece of different opinion. However biased the opinion of these “groups” might be, I believe their voices should well be heard because they are a member of our community. It is, however, irresponsible behaviour to broadcast these opinions, unfiltered and unanalysed, to the public 24/7 for they would promote a sense of fear, hatred and discrimination. It would erode the basis of a well-oiled democratic society – trust, tolerance and love.

Is socialization of the mainstream media inevitable? I don’t know. But what I know is the consequences of that. I still believe that social media can do good, at least I am still using it to make a point.

East vs. West (cont’d)

April 10, 2011

A continuation of  the previous post.

Way of Life (Blue: west; Red: east)


At a party

2. Mobility

Mobility here refers to the easiness for one to move to another place to live. In both Hong Kong and mainland China, people tend to have lower mobility when compared with those in the west (the west here mostly means the English-speaking word: UK, US, Canada, Ausralia etc, due to my limited understanding of the rest of the west)

In Hong Kong and China, children live with their parents before they are married. In the west, that might not be the case. For those who are lucky enough to make it to uni/college, most of them would move out and start building their own homes after they graduate. For those who are not able to get into tertiary education, moving out is still the option for staying with the parents is a sign of weakness. The difference in what I’d like call the “parental distance” in the upbringing means that the coming-of-age process in the east is less adventurous than the west.

To add to that factor of family attachment, there are physical limitation to mobility in the east. In Hong Kong, a city having the highest housing prices in the world, it is impossible for anyone (except investment bankers, of course) to own a decent 500-sq-foot apartment before their thirties. In China, the hukou system (everyone is registered a hukou in certain city or province and he/she is only entitled to the social security from there) means that choice concerning where to live in is limited to one’s home city or province. Being free from the rocket-high house prices and restrictive population control measures, our western counterparts enjoy a higher degree of personal mobility.

I am not suggesting this is the case for every person in the east or west, however, I believe what I’ve described paints a general picture of what the majority in both sides of the world is doing.

The difference in mobility has profound consequences. The longer time it takes for people to “individualize” in the east means that they feel the constant need for solidarity. Parties tend to be more organized and people, in certain sense, are more connected. However, the lower mobility also means that people are less adventurous and less exposed to things that are out of the ordinary. Possible consequences: conservative personalities and low tolerance (not so much to different cultures/ethnicity/race, but to things that are out of one’s definition of “normal”).

I am not trying to say that the western way is better than the eastern one, or the other way round. I just want to keep the conversation going between the east and west so that people on both side of the aisle knows more about each other. For ignorance can sometimes hurt, even kill.

East vs. West

April 4, 2011

The following series of picture compares culture of the east and the west. They may look eurocentric to some, but the objectivity of these comparisons is substantiate by the background of the artist who created them – Yang Liu, born and raised in Beijing, moved to Germany and has been living their since her 20s.

Expressing Opinion (Blue: west; Red: east)


Problem Solving

(See the rest of the collection here)

There is no tendency in her works whatsoever about the superiority of either culture, and it is perfectly okay for not doing so. Nevertheless, for the audience, it is instinctive that we would fall for one (either the east or the west) over another, not necessarily because we think one is better than the other, but in doing so we give meaning to the art and ourselves, which, after all, it is ultimate purpose of art.

Being born and raised in Hong Kong, a city that takes pride in its east-meets-west cultural identity, I am instantly connected to Liu’s works as soon as soon as I laid eyes on them. But what I’m interested is not writing a “oh-yeah-this-is-so-true” kinda opinion about her art pieces. I am more into thinking about the “why” of her work. Why is there such a difference between between the east and the west? I have come up with several explanations.

To explain the difference in culture, one could never ignore the history of the people who embodied that culture, in this case – the Chinese people. However, due to my limited knowledge in history and the limited attention-span of blog readers (thank you for bearing with me), I am just gonna use my experience and understanding of the eastern society today to explain.

1. Personal space

Unlike in Europe and America, most cities in Asia are densely populated. While most of the people in the west live in spacious 2- to 10-storey houses or apartments, the majority of people in the east, most notably Hong Kong, live in apartments on 20th floor of crowded residential condos. This means that eastern people, in general, have less personal space compare to their western counterparts. The lack of personal space alone is responsible for many of the differences we saw in Liu’s work.

Having less personal space means that “me” often takes a back seat because “me” is constantly under surveillance. The expression of “me” that does not conform with the family’s values, tradition or culture is both consciously and subconsciously suppressed.  That’s why the eastern people tends to have small egos. This limitation in the modern living environment has also reinforced the preference for collectivism over individualism deeply rooted in eastern philosophy.

This lack of person space tend to spawn conflicts between family members, for obvious reasons. However, the concept of piety has long been preached by many Chinese philosophers and it is still considered as one of the most important features of the Chinese culture. Challenging your own family members, especially when they are your seniors (and even more especially when they are your mom and dad) is declared a taboo in the face of moral imperatives of piety and family integrity. Again, the thoughts and emotions of “me” take a back seat. Easterners will do everything they could to avoid confrontation with the family, and in doing so, undermines one’s ability to express him/herself. To extrapolate this philosophy into problem-solving ability in everyday life, we could easily explain why easterners tend to work around a problem but not face it head-on.

All these just because of the lack of personal space….

(to be continued)