Saturday, March 31, 2007

Misogyny? Censorship?

I just saw something on the news about the "Chocolate Jesus" scandal in New York City. Apparently, pressure from some Christians has caused the gallery to cancel the artist's exhibition. It brought back the memory of a discussion I had earlier this month on censorship and advertising -- the question posted was that are advertising becoming offensive to women and minorities, and does the government have the right and the obligation to censor these ads? In particular, the outcry centered on this particular Dolce & Gabbana ad, which many people interpret as a gang-rape scene and condemn it as being offensive to women. The reactions, by both men and women in that discussion, were surprisingly mixed. While most people did feel that the advertisers were walking a very fine line, many were neither bothered nor convinced that the ad portrayed harm to or disrespect for women. In a way, the advertiser succeeded in creating a highly sexualized but ambiguous campaign that are absolutely provocative, but may fall short of creating a real controversy.

I posted the following at AbsoluteWrite and I think it's worth repeating here:


Q: The question in the context of this discussion would be: had the studio not chosen to discontinue the ad campaign, should the government had stepped in?

My answer:

Of course not.

We can look at how MPAA works. They don't really "censor" anything, I don't think, or tell a filmmaker they can't make this film or that. But they will slap an NC-17 label on a film, and virtually make it lose its mass market appeal. So yes, in a way, they are telling the studios that they have to change the films if they want to get an R or PG-13 rating; but there is still a choice. Movies have been shown in their intended forms, with their intended contents (child rape, torture, whatever) with NC-17 rating because the filmmakers/studios don't budge. It's still about money. But no, the government shouldn't censor. It shouldn't be their job.

Now ads are different, I suppose. You can choose to watch a movie or not, based on its content and rating. But if the ad is on a huge billboard on the side of the highway, you have no choice. So it becomes a consumer's "right to choose" issue now. But once again, I don't think the government should censor, unless the ad content clearly violates the laws (for example, if the ad agency wants to put up an ad featuring child porn).

Still, the line is blurred between art/expression of ideas and reality. Murder is illegal, and yet it's prevalent in all kinds of art form, including video games. So where do we draw a line, or should we draw a line?

So, if Dolce & Gabbana has an ad that depicts, explicitly or specifically, gang rape, I think it can be argued whether they have violated any laws. But in the case of art, especially if it's vague and open to interpretations, it's hard to tell. Were Mapplethorpe's photography porn and did they violate sodomy laws, for example? Or were they just deemed immoral by certain morality watchdogs? That was the issue that Cincinnati faced a few decades ago. We gave an answer back then, but it seems like the questions are being raced again.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Children's Song

I'm not a big fan of children's songs -- blame it on childhood traumas! Actually, it wasn't too bad, but there was a kindergarten near where I lived when I grew up, and I heard these songs screeched by children all the time, so I kind of got really sick of them.

Not all children's songs or nursery rhymes are bad, I gather.

A few months ago, I went to see the exquisite period drama, A Painted Veil, based on W. Somerset Maugham's 1925 novel, starring Naomi Watts and Edward Norton. Well, I adore the film, which was filmed mostly in rural China. You can read my review here.

Near the end of the film, during one particularly heart-wrenching scene, they played this beautiful French song sung by little girls. It was stunning, especially given the effect it achieved in that powerful scene, and yet it was so delicate and eloquent. I was awed by it.

The song is a common French children's song entitled À la Claire Fontaine. A gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous song. The film version was performed by the Choir of the Beijing Takah. Unfortunately, the song wasn't included in the movie soundtrack -- an oversight -- and it's not available anywhere else. I was able to track down a YouTube excerpt of the scene in the movie, and also a spellbinding rendition by the Dale Warland Singers from the album, Harvest Home.

For those who are not familiar with the song, here's the lyrics:

À la claire fontaine

À la claire fontaine,
M’en allant promener
J’ai trouvé l’eau si belle
Que je m’y suis baigné

Refrain :
Il y a longtemps que je t’aime
Jamais je ne t’oublierai

Sous les feuilles d’un chêne,
Je me suis fait sécher
Sur la plus haute branche,
Un rossignol chantait

Refrain

Chante rossignol, chante,
Toi qui as le cœur gai
Tu as le cœur à rire,
Moi je l’ai à pleurer

Refrain

J’ai perdu mon amie,
Sans l’avoir mérité
Pour un bouquet de roses,
Que je lui refusais

Refrain

Je voudrais que la rose,
Fût encore au rosier
Et que ma douce amie
Fût encore à m’aimer

Refrain
The words are simple but breathtaking. Here's the English translation:

At the Clear Fountain

At the clear fountain,
While I was strolling by,
I found the water so nice
That I went in to bathe.

Chorus
So long I’ve been loving you,
I will never forget you.

Under an oak tree,
I dried myself.
On the highest branch,
A nightingale was singing.

Chorus

Sing, nightingale, sing,
Your heart is so happy.
Your heart feels like laughing,
Mine feels like weeping.

Chorus

I lost my beloved,
Without deserving it,
For a bunch of roses,
That I denied her.

Chorus

I wanted the rose
To be still on the bush,
And my sweet beloved
To be still loving me.

Chorus
Also, what strikes me is the similarity between this song and my own poem, which I wrote about a year ago:

Song of a Summer Lost (by Ray Wong)

Steeples of the evergreens
gently nodded at the silver sky
We ran through the quilt of flowers,
naked heels kissed by the sun-drenched grass
We lay in the fields of corn
as green as the youth in me

Around the corner of Bob & Jill's,
we knew all the mud-tracked paths
In the mist of heat we held our breaths
Your skin glistened white and gold
In the shade of a walnut tree,
we shared a piece of your lemon cake

When the cicadas sing for the second time,
I know to count the years gone by
Those months were the last we had
Now silence has my heart embraced
by dreams that were left behind
And the promises kept are mine

In both songs, there's this lingering wistfulness of memory and loss. There are differences, of course, but I was stunned by the shared imageries of the water, the tree, promises.

And a love that was lost.

* Sigh *

Monday, March 19, 2007

Chitty Chitty Chat Chat

Come chat with me this Sunday!

I'll be a guest speaker at Writer's Chatroom this Saturday (March 25) at 2 p.m. Eastern Time. It's going to be open format all questions are welcome (there is a moderator, so I don't think I can give out my number).

Check out http://writerschatroom.com for details and schedules.

March 25, 2007 @ 2 PM (EST)

See you there.

Elevator Music

ARGH!

Barnes & Noble has some of the worst elevator music, I think. Synthesized versions of classic music, or movie soundtracks. They are not so bad except until they keep playing the same tired strings and keyboard stuff, and over a period of time you just want to kill yourself.

At least Starbucks has some cool Jazz, Blues, classic rock and alternative. Panera plays classic music. And Borders have a nice variety, too. At least nothing as pervasive as that at BN.

Am I right, or am I just being cranky?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Novel vs. Shorts

I've been mulling over this for a while: novel or short stories? It actually is not that difficult to decide. I'll write anything, whether it's a long-form fiction or short. But my first love is novel. I like to take my time to develop characters and give them room to breathe and wreck havoc in their worlds. I like to weave multiple subplots together and build the tension until a big climax at the end. I like to give the readers a chance to take it slow and savor the words.

At the same time, as a writer, I crave the instant gratification of short stories. A complete story in fewer than 5000 words. For someone with a short attention span like me, it's perfect.

The problem is that I really would like to finish the first draft of my second novel, which I've been writing since 2004. It's time to finish that baby. And yet I've had all these wonderful ideas for short stories and I simply can't wait to write them, and they're all so short. In the past year, I've started on twelve stories and finished eight, submitted four and had two accepted for publication. I wanted to refocus on my novel, but these damn shorts keep coming at me, begging to be written. Just this week, I finished another 5000-word story and I was quite pleased with it.

But what about the damn novel?

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Languages

Being bilingual, I find languages fascinating. I love foreign films: if not for the intriguing stories, it's to listen to how people speak in their native tongues. I've spent my whole life trying to master two languages, and now I want to tackle another. I find Spanish very pleasing, and there's certain urgency in the language. I find French utterly romantic and beautiful to my ears. And how can anyone not love Italian after listening to a beautiful aria?

For me, the practical thing to do is to learn Spanish. Like it or not, it's becoming an official language in the U.S. If I can master Chinese, Spanish, and English, I have pretty much the entire world's population covered. A friend of mine tried to teach me Spanish in college, but I never picked it up. I was too busy trying to learn English. Now that I think my English is good enough, I really do want to learn another.

I simply love the French language. It's gorgeous to my ears. I don't know why. Some people hate it, think French is nasal and obnoxious. I think differently. I love French movies, and I love French songs. I love almost every French, from their cuisines to their arts to their architectures. It's a very strange thing: When I was in France, I felt very much at home, even though I could only speak limited, passable French. Maybe I was a dashing young Frenchman in one of my past lives.

Maybe I'm too familiar with the Chinese language; I don't find it all that exciting. Yes, Chinese is extremely economical -- you can say so much with just a few characters -- and it's gorgeous to look at (extremely difficult to learn and remember). But it's not that pleasant to listen to. In fact, most Asian languages are rather blunt and unattractive to the ears. Again, perhaps familiarity breeds contempt. I know it's an awfully unpatriotic thing to say, but I just don't feel the same way about Chinese as many westerners do.

I admire people who not only know, but can speak and write fluently in multiple languages. I think that's a gift, and I am seriously envious of that gift.

Jusqu'à la fois prochaine.