Wednesday, 28 May 2008

One brainfart leads to another: Sharon Stone's bad karma

Yesterday the Chinese Internet exploded in a bubble of hate when Sharon Stone's comments about the earthquake was published. I thought, at first, it was the typical hysterical response of people who can't fully comprehend English.

Today Google News carries 281 English entries, with names like "Sharon Stone blames China's earthquake on karma".

It's one thing when the sensitive Chinese "blogosphere" goes apeshit because of a limited comprehension of English: it's quite another when the "western" media jumps in and ... oh wait. Am I learning something about the western media here? (Nothing new.)

Here's what Sharon Stone said. You can also see it here on YouTube.

"Well you know it was very interesting because at first, you know, I am not happy about the ways the Chinese were treating the Tibetans because I don’t think anyone should be unkind to anyone else. And so I have been very concerned about how to think and what to do about that because I don’t like that.
"And I had been this, you know, concerned about, oh how should we deal with the Olympics because they are not being nice to the Dalai Lama, who is a good friend of mine.
"And all these earthquake and stuff happened and I thought: is that karma? When you are not nice that bad things happen to you.
And then I got a letter, from the Tibetan Foundations that they want to go and be helpful. And that made me cry. And they ask me if I would write a quote about that and I said, “I would.” And it was a big lesson to me, that some times you have to learn to put your head down and be of service even to people who are not nice to you. And that’s a big lesson for me."

So, ostensibly this sentence is the one that pissed everyone off:

And all these earthquake and stuff happened and I thought: is that karma? When you are not nice that bad things happen to you.

Can you see the question mark? Of course, she didn't SAY the question mark, but she inflected pretty efficiently. It's a question.

I can rephrase this sentence:

... I thought: is that the will of God? When you are not nice that bad things happen to you.


... I thought: is that Allah's will? When you are not nice that bad things happen to you.

Or even:

... I thought: are they being punished? When you are not nice that bad things happen to you.

Would she have been lynched if she'd said: I thought, since I'm a Christian and I believe everything that happens is the will of God, that maybe the earthquake too, was the will of God.

As it happens she is a Buddhist. This means she does believe in karma, as do millions of people even inside China. When this kind of thing happens, people from all religions ask themselves if this kind of suffering has a meaning.

The obvious difference that English-challenged people seem to miss, is that she then goes on to criticize her initial train of thought, relating how she was humbled by the Tibetans request for assistance for the victims.

This is like a Christian saying: I thought: Is this the will of God? But then I thought, God teaches us to be kind to everyone, even people we don't agree with, and I learned a valuable lesson.

This thinking, however distasteful to atheists (as I am), is still pretty much part and parcel of what religions do. But leaving that aside, she is actually, however superficially it might be expressed, telling a story of personal enlightenment. "Once I was an idiot, and then I learned to stop being one."

It's like telling the story only halfway, up to the point where the protagonist is a really bad person, stopping just before he learns his lesson and becomes a good person. Then burning the book because he's a bad person somewhere in the beginning.

Actually, this is hard to write, because it's so bloody clear: she didn't do anything wrong. She doesn't have to apologize.

The earthquake might well be seen as karma, by people who believe in karma. It might have been the will of God, for people who believe in God. It might have been the movement of a great, submerged noodley appendage for all we know. But Sharon Stone didn't insult earthquake victims in any way. If you can't get that, it means your English is simply not fluent yet.

She pissed off China because she supports the Dalai Lama.

Why did she piss off the western media, though? Is it because she was a Scientologist? Maybe it's karma for Basic Instinct. Maybe bad things happen to you when you expose your opinions.

Could this also be a clash of legal systems? The way she phrases her comment introduces, in my mind, doubt about her intention of "blaming the earthquake on karma". In other words, it is possible for me to interpret her words as a rhetorical device to eventually refute her initial reaction. Legally, this doubt leads to the legal concept of "Innocent, until proven guilty". I therefore grant her this innocence from a cultural bias in favor of a legal principle.

This principle isn't universal, and therefore Chinese cultural bias might favor a position where the responsibility now rests on the accused to prove herself innocent, and she is presumed guilty until such time as she does.

This principle also influences my view of the Jack Cafferty/CNN case: I could conceive of him honestly referring to the Chinese government, and not the Chinese people, therefore my basic instinct (ha. ha.) was to grant him innocence. I also knew immediately that both his and Sharon Stone's comments could be "clarified" by them after the fact, if they wished, to support such an "innocent" reading, and thus hold, in themselves, no basis for legal conviction.

Maybe Chinese culture doesn't grant innocence instinctively. Could we internalize legal traditions to this extent? Or do our legal traditions simply reflect our cultural biases? I think I know the answer to that one, but what do you think?

1 comment:

  1. some medias did all such a time, not all the person can calm down and think about what she really means...most of Chinese and Sharon are hurted.