Friday, April 8, 2011

Pleasantville = Harmonious Village

Conservatives, whether of the Chinese Communist or American Republican variations, can be strikingly alike. When I assigned my class to watch the film, Pleasantville, (as homework, what a kind teacher I am) I was not struck by the film's portrayal of a mythical, white, 1950's utopia which American conservatives work so hard to return the country to. This much is as obvious as a toucan's nose.

I was, rather, struck by how closely this utopia seems to resemble the "harmonious society" which Hu Jintao has proclaimed as the Chinese Communist Party's goal to work towards: a world that works like clockwork, where the privileges of the powerful are unquestioned (patriarchs in either case), where sex is not acknowledged or even existent, where disaster (represented as fire or rain in the film; as milk adulteration or hit-and-run incidents in China) cannot impede upon man's utopia. Hu Jintao's "harmonious society" does not, as in the film, represent a humanly attainable ideal. This sort of harmony represents an ideal that if achieved would destroy the very humanity it sought to preserve.

Perhaps it is hyperbole to conflate an aspiration for harmony with a static, undead society. Certainly there is nothing wrong with hoping for harmony. Perhaps harmony is a virtue to work towards, but never entirely achieve. The journey, not the destination, is the valuable attainment. Right?

I wonder. Like in the film, China's harmony is less a harmony where all parties (both powerful and vulnerable) make concessions to the whole, and more a harmony where the powerful set the tune--however dissonant others may find that may be--and snuff out any divergent melodies. This is not a Confucian harmony, where great power begets great responsibility (yes, Confucius came up with that one before Uncle Ben). According to historians, no emperor of China has ever conceded fully to Confucian harmony. Likewise, The One Party--like the One Ring--concedes to no one. Thus, a harmony of complexities becomes impossible. Thus, Hu Jintao's harmonious future seems more and more like Pleasantville's: an empty paradise from empty platitudes.

One last thought the movie gave me: Color, like sex or rain, is a irresistible natural phenomenon. Color will come.

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