In Brief: On “Gutsy” Protest

This may be pretty much definitely is the nit-pickiest ChinaGeeks post ever, but something about this article just irks me.

It has nothing to do with the artist, or the protest itself. I think this is really quite clever; it manages to make a very clear point writ large without any kind of property damage. Moreover, readers of this blog know that I support Ai Weiwei’s release and consider his imprisonment a sham even though I don’t agree with everything he’s said and done with in the past.

My issue with the piece, really, is right here:

“It’s incredibly gutsy for Pavon to have gone right to the source to protest so directly.”

Come again? In what way is this “gutsy”? Doesn’t gutsy imply some kind of risk or bravery. I applaud that Pavon stood up for Ai Weiwei, but come on, what is he really risking here. At worst, his crime is projecting unwanted light onto the side of the Chinese embassy, and I doubt he faced any repercussions beyond a New York cop telling him to knock it off and move along.

Again, I know this has nothing to do with Pavon himself, who I doubt would call this piece of protest art gutsy. But I’ve seen rhetoric like this in a couple other places too, and I think it’s time to stop fooling ourselves. Honestly, if you’re just some random Westerner, protesting Ai Weiwei outside China isn’t brave. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t, but let’s be serious: what possible repercussions could you face? I’ve made a list:

  • Nothing
  • Blacklisted from being granted Chinese visa

Of those two things, the second is pretty unlikely, as it requires the Chinese government to care enough about your protest to spend time digging up your info and relaying it to the relevant departments of government that would need it. Most Ai Weiwei protesters abroad will probably find themselves sufferers of the first consequence on the list, though.

Which is fine. You don’t need to come to China and get arrested to make a point, and in fact, doing that would be kind of dumb. But let’s recognize that, especially when compared to the many Chinese people who have seriously risked their freedom by showing support for Ai Weiwei, these foreign protesters and supporters may be right, but they’re not really all that gutsy.

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0 thoughts on “In Brief: On “Gutsy” Protest”

  1. I bet if you put a picture of Mao in the projector, you would get the Rodney King treatment and get arrested for disrupting traffic on the West Side Highway.

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  2. http://www.artic.edu/artaccess/AA_Modern/pages/MOD_9.shtml

    Let’s see pug_ster. We have Mao posters, Mao teeshirts, Mao caps, Mao tattoos on celebrities, Mao in art collections and how many arrests? Zero — which happens to be the exact level of competence and knowledge you bring to every subject on every blog. Just sayin.

    I wouldn’t call this gutsy, especially by a exiled Cuban dissident artist, but PRC embassy thugs have harassed F-L-G offices and events in the greater New York area.

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  3. Project images onto other people’s buildings in this fashion would violate advertising laws. Though I pretty much doubt the artist would get sued.

    As much as I think AWW is being used as the newest tool for the sole purpose of China bashing by the media, the idea of using a projector to fill up an entire building to make a point is kind of cool.

    I am a little surprised Custer would get irritated by this though. People pat each others back all the time for little things.

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  4. “Cuban artist Geandy Pavon”

    Why doesn’t he do this on the Cuban embassy or in Cuba? It’s not like his fellow cubans don’t get arrested or anything.

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  5. @jc.yin: “Why doesn’t he do this on the Cuban embassy or in Cuba? It’s not like his fellow cubans don’t get arrested or anything.”

    Because–this may be shocking, so be ready–people are allowed to care about issues that occur outside of their own domestic borders!!
    For example, despite popular belief, people who are not ethnically Chinese are allowed to care about things that happen in China. Weird, right?

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  6. @Slim,

    Let’s see pug_ster. We have Mao posters, Mao teeshirts, Mao caps, Mao tattoos on celebrities, Mao in art collections and how many arrests? Zero — which happens to be the exact level of competence and knowledge you bring to every subject on every blog. Just sayin.

    You don’t see the Western propaganda going around glorifying Mao today. That Warhol painting of Mao was created in 1973 during the sino-soviet split when the Western Propaganda glorify China. As for the other Mao stuff, let me know when I can go to Times Square and buy some of that Mao trinkets. Seems like your specialty is to talk out of your ass rather than thinking with your head.

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  7. @ pug_ster: I think you are vastly overestimating the degree to which (1) most americans know anything about Mao and (2) give a crap about Mao. Or to put it more bluntly, most people don’t know anything about Mao and don’t care to. I highly, highly doubt projecting his image anywhere would get the kind of reaction you’re talking about.

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  8. C. Custer,

    Well, I don’t know about that. Go to PKD and you see numerous rants from Richard about Mao ‘starving’ 40 million of its citizens and see that kind of responses you get. However, but I do agree with you in the general context that Mao wasn’t hated as a person, but rather what he represent, which is communism. But I meant what I said in the first comment, the NYPD gave this guy a break because he beamed a picture of Ai Weiwei.

    I also thought that this ‘artist’ Pavon pulls this stunt in order to gain notoriety just like when Anish Kapoor ‘dedicated’ his art work to Ai Weiwei. Both of these artists don’t know Ai Weiwei personally so it is really not their fight. If it was Chinese dissident who does this would at least have some motive, but I do think what they are doing will be seen as foreign intervention to many Chinese netizens.

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  9. I remember when SFT started doing this, a year or two back, on the wall of the same chinese consulate IIRC. again, not really gutsy- but i still think its a pretty impressive way of making a point.

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  10. As for the ‘protest’, yawn, this has been done before in HK, where it might potentially have some consequences, and except for some veiled threats from the PLA after Ai Wei Wei’s face was projected onto their headquarters, nothing has come of it.

    Hell, during the run-up to the Iraq war people projected anti-war slogans onto the Houses of Parliament, and I’m sue it was nothing new then either.

    I’m just going to nip out and see if I get arrested for wearing my Mao T-Shirt . . .

    @Lolz – You may think that Ai is a ‘tool’, but the basic fact is that had he not been arrested for what I think we can agree were almost certainly political reasons, no-one would now be criticising his arrest.

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  11. It takes little guts to do advocate an idea which is already popular/common. It would be actually gutsy for the Cuban-exile crowd to speak up against the embargo, which is hurting the average cubans plenty while completely ineffective at ending Castro’s reign nor making the communists elites in Cuba suffer much.

    Pugster man, I see what you are trying to do with Mao but your example is bad. Mao is kind of a cultural icon in the US and I don’t think showing his image would incite much reaction. You could mention the rise of Mccarthyism and Sinophobia but still the image of Mao would not make a good catalyst. If you want to demonstrate the intolerance of the average American there are plenty of other examples. It could be something as simple as putting a bumper sticker depicting Chinese flag on your car. You see Italian flags, German flags, Brazilian flags etc on cars all the time but never Chinese ones. I bet that if someone did that the chances of that car getting vandalized would be pretty high in many cities (though probably not in NYC).

    Now, if you were to project say a smiling picture of OBL on a building in NYC, I can see yourself getting some heat from FBI not to mention angry mobs.

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  12. Even when I allegedly “talk out of my ass” I make more sense than you, pug_ster. I am trying to get you to raise your game, from sub-high school-level fenqing logic to something better, to stop you from being a total laughing stock everywhere you write except Hidden Harmonies. I shit more brain cells than you employ as you defile decent, serious blogs with your clueless mutterings.

    But you fail us again:
    “You don’t see the Western propaganda going around glorifying Mao today.”

    You never did, aside from some deluded leftists.

    “That Warhol painting of Mao was created in 1973 during the sino-soviet split when the Western Propaganda glorify China.”

    This is an ignorant comment on too many levels to even address for a person who can’t really read anyway.

    “As for the other Mao stuff, let me know when I can go to Times Square and buy some of that Mao trinkets.”

    What does this have to do with anything, or in particular,your claim that one would get arrested for flashing Mao on a building in New York?

    Your observations on China are questionable at best, but it is your observations on the US that make me wonder if you are getting enough oxygen to support proper brain functions.

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