Putting a four-year-old in charge

1999

So my wife and I rented "Kundun" this weekend.

Now, I'm willing to give just about anything Martin Scorcese does a try, short of narcotics, but I feel like I'm the only American who is not sympathetic to the plight of feudal little pisspots posing as utopias. I was unwilling to believe that Kuwait was a democracy until Sadam Hussein came along, and I'm not buying this line of Hollywood P.R., no matter what products the Dalai Lama endorses. I'm writing this on an iMac, but there's a limit to everything.

Tibet is presented as the baby harp seal of Third World nations, picked on by Big Bad China. I'm sorry, but while I have sympathy for the Tibetan people, any country that shares a border with China, cultivates no alliances with greater powers, and puts a four-year-old in charge is just asking to be annexed.

Judging from the movie, the kid's main qualifications for benign despot seemed to be that he was a very bossy little child who acted like he ran the house. If that's the case, then half my generation is raising future lamas. We are just going to be swimming in Buddhist wisdom when these little brats attain enlightenment thanks to Dr. Spock's book. What is the sound of one hand clapping? It sounds an awful lot like a spanking, which is something these kids need to hear -- and feel -- very badly.

The proof apparently, that he was the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama was that he pointed to everything the late lama owned and said, "Mine!" If that's all the proof you need, then apparently one of my friend's kids founded Toys R Us in a former life. Another one apparently used to own my glasses.

Sorry kid, you're going to have to talk to my HMO on that one. They were supposed to have ground these lenses from scratch and imported the frames from Italy, but apparently they stole them off a dead monk. Fancy that. We both have the same prescription. Is that karma or what? Maybe from now on I should go to Lenscrafters. They do the glasses while you wait. Sure, I'll look like a middle manager at Wal-Mart , but at least I can be reasonably sure they don't slip out the back and loot a saffron-robed corpse while I'm squinting at a copy of People magazine.

The audience is expected to accept that Tibet was some kind of Zen paradise before Mao came along. Warlords ran the show with the thumb's-up from serenely smiling, gold-and-silk-clad monks droning on and on about the unimportance of the material world. Every outdoor shot is a scene of desolate beauty. As viewers, aren't we supposed to wonder why a country without a natural resource in sight can afford to bedeck all their monks in gold and silk?

It does seem to be the universal law of religious institutions: the more someone tells you about the worthlessness of material goods, the more gold they're wearing. Kind of like how the Vatican denounces homosexuals at every opportunity but there the pope is, sitting on top of the world's largest collection of gay erotic art. He's going on and on about how they love the sin but hate the sinner (Yeah, yeah, try this on for size. I hate the priesthood but I love priests. I hate everything about you, but you I love. I want to destroy everything you hold dear, burn you alive, piss on your ashes and grind your bone fragments into fertilizer to grow pig food with, but when it comes to you personally, I love you. I'm practically Barney the dinosaur, I love you so much.) and everywhere around him I see lovingly detailed penises. Chastity, chastity, chastity, penis, penis, penis. There's more cock than a Mapplethorpe exhibit. If you really want to see sublimely portrayed male buttocks, you just can't beat the Vatican. You think the Greeks loved ass? Think again. The Greeks are practically ass-haters in comparison.

So you've got a country run by cloistered monks with next to no contact with the people. They only get out to look for the reincarnation of the last lama to kick the bucket. Now there's a system of government for you, selection of officials via reincarnation. Vote for me, I was George Washington in a former life. Shirley MacLaine would win the next election hands down. And probably every election after that until she achieves nirvana. Man, you thought Clinton has gotten it bad about his past affairs; imagine trying to run on your record as Plato and getting grilled about the boy thing.

"Hey, I wrote The Republic, for chrissakes . . . why does everybody want to talk about that thing with the kid? It was different times back then. Everybody was doing it."

"I tried to tell everybody true democracy would never work."

At least Patton had the sense to keep his past lives off his resume.

In one heartwrenching scene, we're told that the British and Americans won't do anything about the Chinese invasion. We're supposed to mutter "heartless bastards." But there's no mention of how the British used to have a treaty with Tibet, but the Tibetan warlords acted like the treaty meant nobody could cross their border, but they were as free as ever to raid their neighbors. That was part of the reason why Nepal wasn't about to help them out. National sovereignty, my enlightened ass.

What puzzles me about the success of Tibet's present-day PR campaign is how Americans who used to wear Mao hats are on the bandwagon. Ever since the Soviet Union collapsed and the only Chinese who could call China Communist and still keep a straight face died off, China-hating has somehow become the right thing to do. Suddenly Tibet has become an issue . This from a country that spread from Atlantic to Pacific in a century, had such catchy slogans as "54 40 or fight," and teaches Manifest Destiny but not evolution in all 50 states. Any country that actually used "They wouldn't let us own slaves" as a pretext for war shouldn't be picking sides just because one side dresses cuter. Let those who never wore a Mao jacket cast the first stone.

As soon as Clinton became president, Republicans suddenly remembered that China was the Red Menace (apparently either political handlers or acupuncturists were brought in to help them say this with a straight face) and berated the Democrats for delivering the goods the Republicans had promised the Chinese.

Nixon's fans would like us all to forget about Watergate and remember him as the man who went to China. Really. There's a country the size of the moon right on the border of our hated enemy, and the two don't get along anymore. Let's talk to them. What a brilliant idea.

As if Johnson had never thought of it. As if LBJ could have ever talked peace with the North Vietnamese or deviated in any way from the collision course Kennedy set us on without one party or the other barbecuing him alive for not keeping the faith. Geez, Kennedy is the Marilyn Monroe-banging patron saint of idealism, Kissinger is the master of Realpolitick, and Johnson can't do fricking anything without betraying somebody's idealism.

Get a grip, boomers. Just because they lost their idealistic cherry the day JFK got shot, Bobby Kennedy's death made them kind of likethis whole hero-dying thing, and they had some drug-induced sense of generational power the day Nixon resigned, that doesn't make them the arbitrers of history. Robert McNamara can mea culpaall he wants; they will never forgive him for wanting to drag their priveleged, postwar-fattened behinds from their bongwater-stained dorm beds off to some rice paddy. Some boomers teach history; thank the gods none of them are coherant enough to writehistory.

Part of Oliver Stone's bizarre JFK assassination theory is the belief that Kennedy wanted to end the war unilaterally. Sure. The man wouldn't pull out of anything even if he had an enraged husband in the room. He loved covert stuff. He thought the Bay of Pigs was a good idea. He wanted to blow the world up over missiles in Turkey and Cuba.

The main goal of the Republican Party in the last half of the century, along with undoing the New Deal and eroding the separation between church and state, seems to be shaking China like a hornet's nest until it becomes a superpower. George Bush said he didn't want to overthrow Saddam Hussein because that would have created a power vacuum in the Middle East, but there he was complicit in the plan to bankrupt Russia, leave nuclear weapons in the hands of brand-new, thoroughly pissed-off central Asian republics, and put as much high-tech potential into the hands of the Chinese as possible.

This is no mean feat. For nearly a thousand years the world enjoyed the insularity of Confucian China -- a country of a billion people and all you have to do to divide it up at the Great Powers swap meet is control the coastline. This was a country that invented gunpowder and used it for purely entertainment purposes. It took the Mongols, for criminy's sake, to show them it was good for blowing stuff up -- the Great Wall for example. This was a nation that sailed junks to Madagascar till the Emperor thought that having a sea-going navy would be a bad influence on the Chinese people.

"Knock, knock."

"Who's there?"

"Western domination."

"Western domination who?"

Now mind you, I am all for boycotting China, for the simple fact that they don't make a single thing we don't make better. We don't need their products; all our trade with them does is drive down American wages and give them a high-tech arsenal. They don't need our computers. Abacuses are just fine for counting shoddy goods, and you can't guide missiles with them. Marxists used to say that the capitalists would sell the rope with which to hang them. Now there are no Marxists, except in the U.S., but we sure are selling ourselves short.

© 1999 Randel Shard