Coverage Of Beijing Olympics In American Media Cultural Studies Essay

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The coverage of Beijing Olympics in American media made many Chinese people all over the world to feel anger and abuse. Unfortunately, many American media described the Olympics in China using the biased approach. They tried to present China as absolutely totalitarian state where the government creates the illusion of festival and holiday. Some authors claimed the China didn't change from the times of Chairman Mao. Some authors point out the computer model of Beijing Olympics opening. The authors in single voice claim that Chinese government tried to control everything to allow international visitors seeing the bright picture, far from Chinese reality. The productions were stopped, the flows of tourists were regulated, and even the emotions of Chinese people were under severe control.

Several common trends can be tracked in the articles covering Olympics. The authors of the articles tend to mention the actual problems of Chinese home and international policy, for example, aggressive foreign policy or environmental crisis caused with fast economic growth. This research analyses several articles related to Olympics in China, highlights the biased these and sentences, and proves that the growing economic and political power of China is the initial reason of media criticism. The author also points out the difference between Chinese government and Chinese people. The author is unsatisfied with the biased approach of American media to Beijing Olympics in particular and Chinese problems in general. Some articles under analysis show disrespect and intolerance to Chinese people, close to racism. The author is sure that media should avoid such trends in their coverage of Olympic Games in China.

As most Americans are well-aware, the Beijing Olympics was a significant event of the cultural life of the world's most populous nation. In particular, the Olympic show-case gave American news media the opportunity to discuss the country of China, its people and its place in the world. As time allows, the next several pages will discuss the stories emanating from the American news media vis-a-vis the nation of China - stories which emphasize such things as the Chinese people and China's place in the world as opposed to China's rise to pre-eminence in international athletics. Overall, it certainly appears as though the majority of American media types describe China in monolithic terms and tends to paint China as a country that is repressive and potentially dangerous to American interests. However, whether or not this appearance should be claimed as "racism" or in more specific term as "ethnocentrism", the real intention is not to make single judgement on either one country, but to explore the possible causes and behaviors beyond the coverage of China that American News Media made, during, prior to, and after the Olympics.

It is important to remember that the border between the criticism and other - "isms" is very vogue. It is rather hard to criticize the politic action of Chinese government without the tendency to some remarks that should be considered as ethnocentric. Thus, the media reporters should be very careful in their coverage of Beijing Olympics. Ethnocentrism is the type of intolerance that can hurt the Chinese people, and it characterises the American media in rather bad way.

Holland Cotter in his article in New York Times from September 2008 emphasizes how China is a country that is still deeply enmeshed in authoritarianism and in one-party rule. The article seemingly ignores the Chinese people, portrays China as a nation that must be viewed guardedly insofar as its recent economic gains (and the success of the Olympics) is not proof of further progress in other areas (like human rights). The article also claims that China is not terribly different from other authoritarian countries that need to put on a grand show for international audiences so as to deflect focus away from internal problems.

"Like the "history" paintings of the 1960s, with their programmed uplift and operatic heroics, the Olympics pageant was a populist confection that obscured the unsavory realities of ruling party power: repression in Tibet, suppression of popular dissent, culpability for the Tiananmen massacre of 1989." (Cotter, 2008)

Another article from August of 2008 once again illustrates American suspicion for the emergent Asian super-power. To wit, this article, appearing in the Washington Times, suggests that the Chinese did a marvellous job of hiding from view the country's pollution problems - via shutting down factories for weeks to clear away air pollution - and an equally good job of hiding from view the desperately poor; in fact, the article mentions how the Chinese actually steam-rolled slum neighbourhoods in the lead-up to the Games. Not to be overlooked, the article grouses over the Chinese efforts to limit the movements of visitors - and the government's attempts (apparently successful) at stifling dissent during the Olympics.

"…what open society could get away with bulldozing inconvenient and unsightly slums, shutting down factories and traffic for weeks to clear the air of pollution, silencing dissent, using computer generated images in the opening ceremony, and controlling the movements of visitors?" ("China's image," A17). As far back as 2008, the development of sports in China was far behind Western countries, for example, America. Even though I grew up in Beijing, The sports and famous athletes I know best are mostly Americans. The Beijing Olympics not only challenged "Beijing" as a single city, it challenged China as a country in ways that no other international sporting event has. After all, I am just one small member of the vast and overseas Chinese, which numbers anywhere up to 60 million worldwide, not even mentioning the other 1.3 billion Chinese living on the straggling Chinese mainland. Each of us, at the moment, holds a multitude of feelings and emotions about the Beijing Olympics, and how they relate to our core identities politically, nationalistically, ethnically, or culturally. It is important to remember that the significant part of Chinese population doesn't support the policy of current government. The Chinese government is known for its domineering federal force, it is discredited by many other countries in the world. This is the existing reality, which is very sad for many Chinese. Criticizing the China in general, media should make some difference between the people and the government.

A third article echoes the sentiments of the one above - and manifests the American uneasiness with China. Specifically, this particular item underscores how there were flashing signs in urban centers reminding people (apparently Chinese people) to smile and be friendly to everyone. In this way the author tells that the smiles of Chinese people were false. He wrotes about the laws passed which made spitting in public during the Olympics illegal. Besides, the articles stresses how a significant portion of the Opening Ceremony was computer-generated. The author tries to highlight the totalitarian power of Chinese government creating the illusion of festival and celebration, and forgets about the real Chinese people who were sincerely happy during the Olympics. Basically, the Chinese people are portrayed as the minions of a repressive regime wherein public relations supersede more substantive things (Posnanski, 2008). Probably writing about more substantive things the author means the environmental issues or other actual problems of everyday life in China. It seems that the author doesn't feel difference between Olympics coverage and everyday economical news. It would be interesting to compare media coverage of Beijing Olympics in Chinese and international media with the coverage of other Games. The coverage of Moscow Olympics in 1980 could be the good theme for comparison. However, this theme requires the separate research and can't be analysed in this paper.

During the midst of the Olympics, the dominant lens through which China was observed by American media types was that of geopolitics; in other words, the focus, again and again, came to be about China's steady rise to international power and prominence. Nicholas D. Kristof, for example, penned an article in the New York Times in which he described the Olympics as a celebration of China's return to international greatness - he specifically used the expression, "Middle Kingdom," to describe China - and noted how the Olympics are a means by which the Chinese can re-capture pride in the wake of two centuries of "humiliation." The article likewise mentions how the Games are merely an interlude between China's aggressive foreign policy in places like Tibet (Kristof, 2008). According to 80% of the articles and news related to the Beijing Olympics events I have seen, is surprisingly written or reported focusing on similar issues and perspectives. This approach could be percept as the complimentary, but the repetition of similar ideas in different media sources makes me thinking about the biased attitude, very close to racism. Robert Jensen in "The Heart Of Whiteness" defined the racism in the following way: "distinct from mere prejudice in terms of power. Prejudice -- negative or hostile attitudes toward members of a group based on some shared trait, perceived or real -- becomes racism when one group has the power to systematically deprive the members of another group of rights and privileges that should come with citizenship and/or being a human being. (Jensen, 13)

Dyer's essay "White" gives the base to understanding of this socially constructed idea. Dyer believes that the natural etymology of "black" and "white" concepts in Western society get the broader meaning. "The very terms we use to describe the major ethnic divide presented by Western society, 'black' and 'white', are imported from and naturalized by other discourses."(Dyer, 9)

It is tempting to say that the American obsession with China's growing might have become an increasing concern as the Olympics sped along and the Chinese medal haul grew. However, US criticisms of the China Games were rampant in American newspapers prior to the Olympics - a good indication that more than a few American writers and commentators wanted the Games to fail miserably because they were troubled by the expanding might of the Asian power. Christine Brennan in USA Today wrote on the eve of the Olympics that the "story line" was shaping up to be terrible for the Chinese because of the increased detention of political dissidents - and because the air still hung heavy with what she called the "pea soup" of pollution. In fairness, Brennan emphasizes that the Chinese people are efficient and generous; it is their authoritarian government which acts the thug in the people's name that Brennan finds so objectionable (Brennan, 2008). Despite the positive opinion about Chinese people, the author unwillingly confirms that the main trends in media coverage of Beijing Olympics were developed long before the Games; and these trends have almost nothing common with the Olympics in reality.

Finally, there is the fact that many American writers before the Olympics began were commenting on the massive scale of water diversion projects in the Middle Kingdom - projects ostensibly aimed at getting water from the flood-prone south to the drought-ravaged North; the article points out how Chinese engineers proudly proclaim that the project will be five times the size of the Three Gorges Dam project and will service 400 million Chinese (Macleod, 2008). Clearly, the focus is upon how the Chinese are building a massive infrastructure aimed at turning China into the world leader in many areas that demand cutting-edge hydrology and engineering. This is another evidence that the economic growth of China disturb the American media more that the real relationship of Chinese people and their government, civil rights, democracy, and other social trends.

To close, it is hard to overlook the fact that the American press mostly perceives China as a threat to America; those same individuals tend to be unable to differentiate between the Chinese government and the people who find themselves living under that government. As well, the Chinese government comes in for intense criticism - though there is a wider sense that maybe the Chinese people, by being docile and well-mannered, are not showing the necessary "gumption" to overcome their domestic oppressors. I don't want to say that media shouldn't cover the human rights abuse in China, like situation in Tibet. I just like to see less or more objective coverage of Chinese problems in media, without the biased approach and ethnocentric sentences. In any case, the recent US coverage definitely betrays a fear that cannot be lightly dismissed.