Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Multiculture Yes, Monoculture No

During the five-continent "running" of the Olympic Torch, the riots in London and Paris in the last couple of days have set a very high bar for sheer theatricality.

Certain local chauvinists like myself have prayed that San Francisco would be up to the challenge, and thanks to the Tibetan Golden Gate Bridge climbers, we've already come up with the beautiful nonviolent imagery of protest that trumped all others so far.

The best photos of that action are by Jim Herd, who has recently "graduated" from SFist and now has his own site called "SF Citizen," with photos that are way better the ones on this site (click here).

He still hasn't figured out quite what to write, but the site is new, and already his coverage of the entire Chinese Torch protest story is way ahead of anybody, including the commercial press, with all kinds of information.

I called my old girlfriend Heidi this evening in Santa Barbara, who has been a Tibetan Buddhist for the last 30 years, to get her take on what was happening.

"I'm sad," she said. The culture is basically being kept alive by its expatriate members who have merged very powerfully with the rest of the world.

We're in a major shift of the old cultures of the world: India, China, and the Himalayan Cultures, though you would never know it from the Western press.

Thankfully, there's no way that America can pretend to be morally superior at this moment with the well-documented atrocities our nation continues to commit in the Middle East.

But we're not really in America here, in California, and never has this felt more the truth. We're a weird international place where interesting immigrants from everywhere in the world have been attracted almost mystically. And our version of the Tibetans, Mexican Indios, have done their best to keep us honest while being treated like crap for the last century.


Chinese-Americans in San Francisco are quietly pissed that they don't get to have a joyous Beijing Olympics Torch ceremony, and I don't blame them. I also don't blame the Tibetans for doing everything they can to get their message out right now. Sometimes I feel like I'm living in the middle of Thomas Pynchon's most recent book, "Against The Day," which is about Tibetan/Mexican Indian wisdom and Western wisdom and how they march into the fateful maelstrom of World War One.


greg said...

What I love most about this frakked up nation of ours is that anyone, pro-Chinese Communist and anti-Chinese Communist, can express themselves and not get shot at by a cannon or a riot shotgun.

In other countries, just getting worried about the Torch would send you to the salt mines. And yet, we now have Americans who want to make sure no one expresses themselves, pro or anti Communist China, pro or anti "Torch."

What WOULD Ben Franklin and Tom Jefferson and Al Hamilton say ?

sfwillie said...

Very nice, Mike,

Re Multi v Mono: Other cultures tend to annoy me, like, let's all get on the same page here, people.

I've experienced monoculture (all white) and it's way creepy.

Viva annoyance!

Re Tibet: The torch/Olympics spotlight seems like Tibet's last best chance to preserve its identity. It's kind of pathetic.

On the other hand, what kind of goofballs in Beijing thought the world would let them shove their shit in out faces.

I look forward to your riot coverage.

pjwv said...

Another great post, nicely capturing the ambiguities. I was taking my usual walk around there at 7:30 this morning and there were about equal numbers of cops and pro-China folks already. The protesters must have arrived later. Lots of USA and PRC flags. It was great that the streets were blocked off -- they should ban cars from there permanently. I decided to avoid the crowd at lunch and went in the opposite direction.

Henry Holland said...

But we're not really in America here, in California, and never has this felt more the truth. We're a weird international place where interesting immigrants from everywhere in the world have been attracted almost mystically.

I would amend that slightly:

"But we're not really in America here, in San Francisco, Berkeley, Los Angeles along the 10 freeway corridor and the Hollywood Hills and some of the beach communities up and down the coast" because parts of this state are just as backwards and reactionary as any place in the South (see: Bakersfield, Okie paradise).

I've always loved Hunter S. Thompson's take, that California is the end of the line, the last place fuck-ups from shithole towns elsewhere can go before they hit the Pacific Ocean.

I really love it here, though and I'm really proud to be a native (Fairfield).