Sunday, December 7, 2008

The sky is falling

Everywhere you turn, the rhythm of the world is beating against itself. Beating against reason. Beating against sustainability. Beating against honesty and charity. What's got me down today?

Holes in the system and the people who exploit them

A couple of months back, I was reading about this old woman who had her licence revoked since the beginning of time. Yet somehow, she continues to drive - drive whatever she can. She'll borrow cars from people. Rent cars under alternate names. She almost invariably crashes them up, and one time she even killed a person by running down a pedestrian. When the newspaper tracked her down, she told them to go away and leave her alone because she was just trying to live her life. The story is not uncommon. We assume that people who have their licences revoked will respect our rule of law. But many of them don't. They're back on the roads instantaneously, and there's nobody to catch them until they crash again. How can we let people endanger lives once, twice, thrice... a dozen times and walk away? Run down a pedestrian and walk away? The fact of the matter is, people who do not respect the rule of law are breaking the rules for their own benefit - and doing it at the expense of those of us who do follow them, whether for moral or punitive reasons.

This man, Peng Sun, forges degrees - Bachelor's, MBA, PhD. Need a transcript too? Just a little extra. Student card? Letters from Chinese Embassy? Money can buy everything. You won't even be able to tell the difference between a real university grad and a fake one. Peng is a real graduate from York University, arriving in Canada as a visa student. Today he helps those who are too lazy to study get jobs that they are unqualified for. He spits in the face of the system and cheapens the value of our education. This man has been doing this for years, but he's still walking free and about.

People who continually fly in the face of honesty - who seek to elevate themselves undeservedly at the expense of all else - ought to face punishment of equal stoutness. Sometimes, laws and procedures are powerless to enforce what is plain to see.

A sustainable future and those who fight against it

We know the environment is not in great shape. We worry about how much oil we have left, and we also worry about the impact burning that oil is having. In the face of it all, the Big 3 (General Motors, Chrysler, and Ford) are still pushing the biggest of gas guzzlers, then crying wolf when their sales tumble. Why should we bail them out with billions of taxpayer dollars?

Picture this advertisement: A giant boat of a car glides across the road. Inside, a young man, alone in the driver's seat. "Why are hybrids always these tiny cars?" he laments. They don't have the space for him, he complains in overindulgent opulence. The Cadillac Escalade? Now that's the hybrid for him. It doesn't matter that this massive hybrid is still a gas guzzler. It doesn't matter that putting such a huge vehicle on the road is merely a compensatory mechanism for poor driving. It doesn't matter that in a collision, SUV's endanger the lives of fellow drivers.

This has been the strategy that the Big 3 have developed to save themselves - more big cars. Hybrid big cars. "Crossovers" - the new name for SUV's (although, technically a crossover should resemble more of a station wagon, clearly some of these brands have misappropriated this term). They deserve their just desserts.

The trouble is, of course, as they go down, so do a large segment of Canadian jobs. The factory workers didn't do anything wrong. They are skilled, trained professionals. But the question is, should we be saving these irresponsible companies for this reason? Will this lead them to be more responsible in the future? Maybe instead of spending billions to save these lame ducks, we ought to invest these billions to make our own jobs. Maybe it's time to create a genuinely Canadian solution to the automobile.

My pet peeves and the people who tickle them

I love Canada. I am as proud of my Western heritage as I am of being Chinese. But it hurts me how one-sided this love can be - not on a personal level, but on a cultural one. Hollywood continues to spit on East Asians, treating them merely as side-shows and objects of amusement. First, they bundle us all together - Chinese/Korean/Japanese. They're more than happy to cast our women as hot love interests or our men as comedic Kung Fu masters, but heaven forbid they cast an Asian lead in a film with any depth (lest they alienate their audience).

I'm not being overdramatic here. One talent agent in the industry declared in 2003, "There's still the 'whitewashing' of American and Canadian television. There isn't a noteworthy TV series or sitcom today with Asians as central characters. This isn't from a lack of trying. Broadcasters think the public isn't ready for it."

Sung Kang, one of the most successful Asian-American actors, was asked after filming Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, what effect the film had on his career. He replied something to the effect of, "You know people think that because I was in a mainstream Hollywood movie that suddenly I can pick and choose my work. That's not true. Sure, people see you in that movie and they say, 'Oh hey, that guy can act.' Then they file you in their brain under the category of male Asian lead actor, so that when they need an actor from that category they can call you... except that's a category that doesn't exist."

Think of all the movies where high powered Asian stars with successful overseas careers were recruited to play second fiddle to a Caucasian lead. These movies were essentially Asian movies, save for the main character, who was a requisite white. I cite The Forbidden Kingdom and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift just to name a couple. It leads one to wonder if the audience is getting some kind of chauvinistic pleasure out of watching a bunch of Asians be defeated.

Almost as troubling is Hollywood's obsession with ruining good Asian cinema. We can think of Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves' disastrous remake, The Lake House, of Korea's Il Mare. Or Martin Scorsese's, The Departed, which ripped off the blockbuster Infernal Affairs. In both of these movies, the ending was contorted to provide a much less compelling but ultimately happier close. As if to rub salt on the wound, the Departed was hailed as an "American crime classic" that only one such as Martin Scorsese could have concocted. It was introduced during the Academy Awards as having been based on a Japanese film, demonstrating the West's lack of distinction between the Japanese, Koreans, and Chinese (Infernal Affairs was a Hong Kong film).

Now Hollywood is poised to ruin another popular Asian franchise - Dragonball Z. Casting Justin Chatwin as Goku among a supporting cast of Asians, this movie is sure to delight. Because... Goku is such a Western sounding name. We all know a Goku... Smith...? And I won't even touch on the cars having wheels, Bulma actually looking like she's going to fight, and the introduction of this strange character named Mai.

Phew... felt good to get that all out of my system. Sorry for unloading that enormous rant. I'm just a bitter, bitter man.


Anonymous said...

Cadillac Escalade...Oy this is depressing.
I think most people don't really interpret the consequences to their actions in terms of impact over others and the world. I guess that's why we have to be advocates and spread awareness i.e. people like you.
Cheer up!

ah ling said...

hmmm, i agree with you that Hollywood and Western cinema in general binds Asian actors to a specific category of roles, and of course their disgusting remakes (i was furious when they said 'japanese' at the awards show). hollywood is a truly awful place.