As you may recall, I was both impressed and dismayed by the opening ceremonies for the Beijing Olympics. I’ll quote the point I made that comes back again in this post:
They were gorgeous. They also reminded me very strongly of the public spectacles that socialist countries have always loved: vast numbers of people moving in tightly choregraphed formations. It’s certainly impressive, but it’s also a vivid, visual reminder of the socialist state’s ability to subordinate peoples’ individuality to almost robotic perfection.
It turns out that the impressions I picked up were dead on. First, the Chinese impresario who created the entire spectacle was trying to outdo North Korea — the most rigidly socialist state in the world — when it comes to mass people movement:
Filmmaker Zhang Yimou, the ceremony’s director, insisted in an interview with local media that suffering and sacrifice were required to pull off the Aug. 8 opening, which involved wrangling nearly 15,000 cast and crew. Only North Korea could have done it better, he said.
He told the popular Guangzhou weekly newspaper Southern Weekend that only communist North Korea could have done a better job getting thousands of performers to move in perfect unison.
“North Korea is No. 1 in the world when it comes to uniformity. They are uniform beyond belief! These kind of traditional synchronized movements result in a sense of beauty. We Chinese are able to achieve this as well. Though hard training and strict discipline,” he said. Pyongyang’s annual mass games feature 100,000 people moving in lockstep.
In other words, there was definitely a political element to the mass movement of synchronized people. And the only way to create that mass movement of synchronized people is to rehearse at an almost inhuman rate (emphasis mine):
Some students of the Shaolin Tagou Traditional Chinese Martial Arts School in Henan province who began training for the event last May were injured in falls on the LED screen that forms the floor on which they performed and was made slippery by rain, said Liu Haike, one of the school’s lead instructors.
While in Beijing, the constant exposure to the dizzyingly hot summer resulted in heatstroke for some students, particularly during one rain-drenched rehearsal that stretched on for two days and two nights.
The students were kept on their feet for most of the 51-hour rehearsal with little food and rest and no shelter from the night’s downpour, as the show’s directors attempted to coordinate the 2,008-member performance with multimedia effects, students and their head coach told the AP.
“We had only two meals for the entire time. There was almost no time to sleep, even less time for toilet breaks,” Cheng said. “But we didn’t feel so angry because the director was also there with us the whole time.”
Beware the socialist state, even when it looks pretty.
Hat tip: B.S.