Wednesday 16 August 2006

The Breakdown of Idols

It's not just "the twilight of idols", it's "the breakdown of idols" to be exact.

Below is a paragraph I translated from my favourite book "Repentant Motherland":

"Of all articles about Nguyn Mnh Tường I have read so far, none did not refer to his two doctor degrees, and that was all what matters. Apprently, that he won two doctor degrees was the most important thing about him to many people, and that was enough for them to conclude he was a genius and all what he said was sublime.

I had a chance to meet Nguyn Mnh Tường at the home of one of my friends. Our talk was long, and I confess now that I found nothing interesting. He said many right things to which I had no reason to object, but all of which were just normal things. "

"I have (also) read a lot of articles about Trn Đc Tho, and all these articles referred to him as Doctor of Philosophy, PhD. Some of them went farther to say he would dispute with Jean-Paul Sartre once or twice. However, all the writers failed to tell what he argued about and what he said. It seems all of them just revered his PhD degree, and his debate with Sartre was quoted as an example to illustrate his “level”. I also read an article written by Hoàng Khoa Khôi, a self-taught worker and my beloved revolutionist, who argued untolerably with Trn Đc Tho and showed no prejudice biased the PhD. Trn Đc Tho’s PhD thesis was about phenomenology, but abstract thinking is never of my interest, so I did not read any of his works. I just read a short book, or more precisely, a long essay by him, titled “Un itméraire” (French for “An Itinerary”), in which he described in brief his itinerary of thoughts through years. Admittedly I felt it was a mediocre meal, even a sub-mediocre one. However, the fact that Trn Đc Tho was Doctor of Philosophy was enough for many to guarantee the values of what was written by him."

I like the way the writer broke down the two big monuments in the so-called Vietnamese philosophy.

I’ve been thought to have a mutinous soul since I was a little child. Possibly it is because I am not accustomed to setting an idol for myself to revere, and it’s not like me to join any teenage trend in idol adoring. I was born with such haughtiness. Mother said haughtiness made me “one colossal solitary mass”. When small I was in real misery with such thinking, blaming myself why I could be so arrogant. On growing up, however, over time I’ve discovered an evil way of thinking which I call a “malignant tumour” or an “inborn defect” inside Vietnamese psycho. We Vietnamese all are born to hold reverence for someone or something without asking why he or she or it should be revered.

A writer told me, ‘In my life I just venerate three women. The first is Thu Uyên, the second is Ta Bich Loan, and the third is my mother.’ Two of the three, the two formers, are TV stars, or ‘talents’ in television terms, although they may not be talents in fact. Many people I met also show high respect for Uyen and Loan. Well, I find it to be a normal sensation to respect someone. The only thing that matters to me is I don’t know why Uyen and Loan are so highly respected. Is it because they are really talented? What did they do and win? People say Uyen was a talented world news editor at Vietnam Television in 1990s, she built up a good TV program on world politics, she is beautiful and dynamic, with a good command of French and Russian, etc. With a terrible taste of beauty as mine, I must accept that Uyen is a beautiful and attractive woman. But a TV program on world politics has nothing to do with such qualities in a woman editor. Moreover, its contents came not from her mind, instead she took it freely from the air, meaning from TV stations elsewhere in the world. What she did was to “add values” to the orginal products imported from abroad, and the values themselves were not always high - her Vietnamese language must be too bad for an editor. I must say so without any grain of envy; in fact, why should I envy with her? And why could I?

Then Uyen moved from Vietnam Television to VietNamNet, the then-VASCorient, where she worked as managing editor. Once more, she was a good example showing me how vanity and vainglory works in Vietnam. Everyday she made young editors at VnExpress (my office then) burst into laughing with naïve articles she called “letters from Hanoi”. I did not join the laughing, I just wondered why she spent time on doing that (meditations on leaderships, hahahaha…). My workmates made jokes very often about Uyen and her “letters”, even about the long and tongue twister “VASC-orient” that VietNamNet then adopted. And I kept meditating on leadership and how people can be called “talents”.

The case of Ta Bich Loan is not much different. She is known to many as a really talented woman with a PhD degree in communication, she builds up a popular TV talkshow called “The Contemporary Figures”, she is intelligent and charming. I believe that the latter is right - Loan is intelligent and charming. I also am sure that she has a PhD degree. However, that she builds up the TV show is not enough to describe her as “talented”. I would agree to most people on her talent if Vietnam Television is a television mighty power where ideas originate from. In fact, nearly all of the ideas those “talents” suggest come from big heads in the west. Is there anything special about “The Contemporary Figures” except the wrongly named title? Its idea was copied, or euphamistically speaking, imported from some US televion shows, its contents were the result of a time-consuming process of team work, its quality is so-so. For sure, the show is very popular with the Vietnamese audiences, who are familiar with living in a closed country. Most importantly, it is popular because it has no rivals at all.

I must be arrogant to think of Thu Uyen and Ta Bich Loan in such way. But why do I have to respect them when I don’t even know what they have done to deserve their reputation? Because they are TV editors and talents, their work is to produce good TV programs and present them to the audience. So if they, to some extent, create good programs, audiences have no reason to pay respect or gratitude to them. At best we just can say they are good staff. But there is a big chasm between being “good” and being “talented”. Anyone with a few good skills working in their position can do the same, even better than they have done. It should be ridiculous to describe Uyen and Loan as two talented TV stars who make huge contributions to the nation.

The inborn defect inside Vietnamese psycho is not characterized by just the case of Uyên and Loan, of course. There are many more examples to make us know that each Vietnamese person is born with a slavish mind. Too easily we accept what the majority says. Too easily we worship someone or something without any wondering why they should be so. We probably often confuse “good” for “talented”. A good leader/artist/scholar/scientist/employee, etc. just means an efficient leader/artist/scholar/scientist/employee, etc. who fulfills his job. But he is not necessarily a talented one.

Finally, haven't we the right to doubt when we have not yet seen the grounds to believe?