I missed this one the first time around… but it seems to be making a resurgence in the blogosphere. A seventeen-minute film, “Ha Ha Ha America”, screened at Sundance to some acclaim in magazines like “New York” and video sites like “FilmThreat”.
The film is listed on the Sundance website as being “A translated harangue from China to the U.S.A. that laughs at our missteps.” It’s a series of images of contemporary China, intercut with images of President Bush and overweight Americans, over a techno soundtrack. The heart of the video is a pro-China diatribe, offered in subtitles in “Engrish”. It begins:
Ha Ha Ha America
China move fast
too fast for
So commence cry
as you not keep up
Too bad so sad
Already you behind
Ha Ha Ha
China giant blooming
Some bloggers are finding it “brilliant, compelling” or “both hilarious and profoundly meaningful”, and more than a few folks appear to be taking it at face value: “It’s a translation of a short film from the Chinese perspective about American political and economic blunders. It’s funny, horrifying, full of truth and outright lies, yet there’s a ring of truth to the whole thing that gives you a kind of queasy feeling.”
(Update: Sonny, the author of the quote above, makes it clear that he saw the film as satire. Apologies for my misreading.)
A commentor on Mefi asks, “Why does China hate America?”
So here’s the thing – the film is made by Jon Daniel Ligon, whose bio at his firm Improved & New Advertising, lists him as a former J Walter Thompson Senior Vice President with an MFA in creative writing from Brown University. In other words, it’s not the translated work of an angry young Chinese filmmaker, but the creation of an American author interested in using film as a writer’s medium, who has made “a film meant to be read instead of watched”.
So what? Film is fiction. What does it matter if an American ad executive and filmmaker presents himself as an angry Chinese nationalist with limited English skills? As a fiction author, can’t I write from whatever perspective I want? (Someone let James Frey know he’s off the hook…) Is it okay if I start blogging in Liberian pidgin and portray myself as living in Buduburam refugee camp west of Accra?
The blogosphere tends to amplify cool bits of media without much regard for their authorship. A comment by “braveheart” on the Videobomb site expresses a worry that I share: “The level of English shown is well below that of most Chinese who do have some English, and the taunting rudeness is just so, I hate to say it, North American….This could almost be a piece of black propaganda, intended to create ill will towards China. I fear it will be passed around as authentic Chinese taunting until the video sites post the creator’s name and country.”
(My worry is a bit more specific – that even with the authorship of the video in plain site, bloggers will take the frame tale – the translation of a Chinese rant – at face value.)
Of course, not everyone is falling for it. Shanghaiist, a blog populated by expats and Chinese writing from Shangai, notes “Are the Chinglish subtitles that serve as narrator for this 17-minute masturbatory farce really a translation of some nationalistic Chinese rant? Doubtful. Does the message come from China at all? Again, doubtful.” And Asiapundit found it “mercantalist, protectionist, and very loose with facts”. But as the blogger on Shanghaiist notes, “But what do we know? We both live in China.”
As much as I’d like to believe that everyone understands that this is a savage skewering of Sinophobic American attitudes, another video making the rounds – “Who Should We Invade Next?” – is a good reminder not to overestimate my countrymen’s knowledge of geography or international politics.