Monday, 11 May 2009

A new cultural revolution?

Flicking through the Times today, I came across one of those articles written by politicians - you know, a puff-piece carved out of a cliche-riddled langue du bois - and before quickly averting my gaze, I caught the title: 'China and us - a new cultural revolution' (my italics).

As you've probably guessed it was some witless sales talk about how we 'must work together' with China to 'build a stronger future'. Well, that's all well and good, I suppose.

However, the headline. The first Cultural Revolution, as we must now preface it, is not now generally reckoned to have been a good thing, certainly not a satisfactory basis for building a strong, reciprocating future in trade and commerce, let alone human rights. It is clear now that millions of Chinese, Tibetans, Mongolians and others died as a consequence of the Cultural Revolution, often as a result of particularly vicious acts. As Mao said in defence of ferocity in service of the cause:  "This man Hitler was even more ferocious. The more ferocious the better, don't you think? The more people you kill, the more revolutionary you are."

You may think I'm making a bit of a hoo-ha of what is just an oversight. But how about something like 'Trade relations should avoid another Holocaust' in relation to, say, German-British intercourse? Not a hanging crime, but in bad taste.

I can think of a few explanations for such a balls-up in metaphor:

(a) Writer (A. Darling as it happens) didn't know what he was doing, despite being a lapsed Trot and so someone presumably versed in the crimes of the various socialist heresies.

(b) A. Darling did know what he was doing as he believes the first Cultural Revolution was actually a good thing (perhaps I've got Darling's history wrong and he was a Maoist rather than a Trot).

(c) Headline was written by sub on the Times who similarly didn't know what he was doing.

(d) Headline was written by sub on the Times who did know what he was doing and had a right laugh about it down the pub last night.

I think it's telling, and typical of the more puzzling actions of this government, that the most scary explanation is that it happened because the politico actually knew what he was doing. Applying this explanation to things from the McBride affair to Smith's banning of US shock-jocks produces a similar feeling of worry. I really hope they're just an incompetent bunch of shits.

UPDATE: This isn't a truly BFD. So, am I over-reacting? None of the 17 comments (so far) that follow the article online raise the headline as an issue. Perhaps no-one gives a shit about history. In any event, truly the victors write their own. Or at least persuade others to forget about it.


Gadjo Dilo said...

"China and us - a new cultural revolution" is indeed a totally tasteless headline and you're right to pick on it. I'm inclined to think that d) is the correct answer, and that the fact that we're discussing it, albeit disparingly, would please many a sub-editor. They market a vodka here in Romania called Stalinskaya. No memories, apparantly.

Bunny Smedley said...

Have you tried googling 'new cultural revolution'? It turns out that the Indie and Grauniad are repeat offenders when it comes to using the phrase in rather jolly headlines, while even Mr Murdoch's finest isn't immune. And then there's the chain of noodle bars in London called 'New Culture Revolution' [sic]. Whereas, it's actually quite hard to imagine a restaurant called, say, 'Kristallnacht', however mildly misspelled.

Personally, I do think it's a bit of a BFD, if only because the alternative comes close to saying 'there are an awful lot of Chinese people, China's a long way away and not really our problem, so what does the odd million matter?'

On the other hand I am currently struggling to write about the Constructivist show at Tate Modern without boring everyone by tactlessly pointing out that Lenin, for whom Rodchenko and Popova were such enthusiastic propagandists, killed something like 4 million people - admittedly dwarfed by Stalin's 20 million, but still, well, quite a lot. And yet Tate Modern's gift shop is doing a roaring trade in hammer-and-sickle tat of various sorts ...

Gaw said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks it right to have a moan about this sort of thing. As you both say, there's sadly a lot of this sort of forgetting about (or is it never knowing?).

Bunny, I'm delighted you're posting on the R&P exhibition at Tate Modern. I posted on it myself in April ('Double Nostalgia'). I wondered whether anyone would be annoyed at my description of Lenin as handsome and stocky and using his whole body to speak, this not being out-and-out condemnatory. (Of course, the unwritten coda is that this would have made him a more effective mass-murdering demagogue). However, there's few that would either know or care as we've just witnessed.

Whilst wary of a sort of moral didacticism sign-posting the dark political background to the art and design on display, I do think the curators erred in under-playing the politics. There were lots of mentions of people disappearing into exile for the rest of their lives but very little explanation as to why, as far as I remember.

The workers' club I found particularly interesting and, as with a lot of the other exhibits, ambivalent about. I still haven't resolved in my mind how one should feel about the (at worst) interesting and (at best) beautiful objects produced nominally in service of tyranny. But then I guess this quandary is a rather old one. Which I look forward to you resolving, Bunny!

Bunny Smedley said...

And there I was, hoping you'd figure it out for me, Gareth! ;-)