Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I Miss Radio Peking

Way back in the mists of ancient history (the 1970's, to be precise) I saved my money from an after-school job and bought a shortwave radio. It was a beautiful Panasonic portable with a large speaker and warm tone (and which still works... Hmmm...Now that I think of it, I kind of miss it. I should "borrow" it back from my mom).
Anyhoo, back in those pre-Internet-access days, one of the best ways to get international news was through international broadcasting. And many governments - especially those in the Eastern bloc (you know... the Commies) used shortwave's propaganda value to its fullest. Radio Moscow was omnipresent on the airwaves and other stations of the pinko variety (Radio Prague, Radio Tirana, Radio Kiev, etc.) were constantly blaring the party line to all who cared to listen. Among the stations putting forth their hardline socialist doctrine was Radio Peking. Before the beginning of their broadcasts, they would play an interval signal based on the song "The East is Red". (For those of you not familiar with shortwave listening, an interval signal is an audio cue distinctive to each station - usually in the form of a short musical snippet - to let you know you were listening to the right station and to allow you to adjust the tuning. In the days of analog tuners, this was a helpful device.)
Anyway, the years have passed, Radio Peking is now Radio Beijing and the once fierce Communist propaganda has been replaced by insipid imitations of Western-style morning chat shows more fitting what has become the manufacturing arm of Wal-Mart, Apple, Caterpillar and - well, hell, damn near every corporation in the West. While I certainly don't condone the past repression of the Chinese people by the Communist party, I'm not certain what has replaced it is all that great either.
To me, the collaboration between the new Chinese Communists and Western Capitalists seems like an "understanding" between rival gangs one might see in a mafia movie. Differences are put aside in the interest of making more money for those at the apex of both organizations. Why the fuck should Apple give a shit about internet censorship (and that of other media - e.g. - China's jamming of foreign radio broadcasts) as long as their workers make iPhones for cheap? Freedom? Naw... think different.
I know. I'm rambling. And since I'm being honest about that fact, I may as well ramble back to "The East is Red" for no particular reason. That particular tune, I'm told, is a traditional Chinese song which was repurposed for the glorification of Chairman Mao in the 1960's as part of a musical production of that title. The musical is awesomely, breathtakingly, over-the-fucking-top, horrible propaganda. Naturally, I love it. The opening sequence is by far the best. In the filmed version of the production, a choir of about 80-zillion singers belts out inspiring lyrics such as:

Red in the East rises the sun
China has brought forth a Mao Tsetung
He works for the people's welfare
He is the people's savior

(I'd like to point out as an aside that lyrics such as these seem to bear out the contention made by the so-called "new atheists" that these Communist nations were less atheistic than they were secular religions. God wasn't dead, he had simply adopted a new name and address. Okay, now back to the musical...)
As if things couldn't get any more drastic, bombastic and propagandic, hundreds of wholesome-looking fan-bearing Commie dancing girls swirl around the stage as the music reaches an orgasmic climax with lyrics such as:

The Communist Party is like the sun
Wherever it shines there is light
Wherever the Communist Party goes
There the people are liberated

The happy Commiegirls look dreamily off into the distance where they can see the bright future which awaits their offspring (their progeny making crappy Happy Meal toys in a shitty sweatshop in the outskirts of Shanghai perhaps wasn't what they were expecting, though).
Compared to this iron-fisted slab o'propaganda, anything Broadway has done since the history of forever is complete shit. THIS is a REAL musical, dammit! True, anything after the first six minutes is disposable crap, but that opening number redeems it a thousandfold. Watch it. Be amazed.
And that, I suppose, is why I miss Radio Peking. Back then, China was... you know... CHINA. Something different. Exotic. Even strange, in a way. Not the place name stamped on countless pieces of cheap plastic crap. Not the place to where all our manufacturing jobs made a long march. Maybe someday China will be truly free and not merely a source of cheap labor. In the meantime, though, we can always look back on these relics of the past. I mean, after all, if you're going to live in a repressive totalitarian nation, you may as well do the propaganda right.

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