Public art display causes panic in Shaghai

The Olympics fast approaching, the moral character of the Chinese at large has come under a lot of scrutiny of late. On one side of the debate: the event should be about the athletes, not the politics of the host country; on the other: it’s our moral imperative to boycott everything the person with the loudest-yet-most-righteous voice in the room can shame us into boycotting. Such debates all too often work their way around to the sorts of questions that, in 1984, led Sting to question if the Russians love their children. As it seems we’re likely going to see some manner of Artists United Against Something fundraiser between now and the lighting of the torch in Beijing in four months, it’s refreshing to see a story like this, courtesy of Ananova:

According to the report,

But passers-by mistook them for real people perilously clinging to the buildings, reports News Morning Post.

One grandmother reportedly required hospital treatment after the shock led to a heart attack.

Police say they received several calls about reports of people hanging from buildings and looking like they were preparing to jump.

Everything seems to be in order here, right? While the article is silent on what happened to Liu Jin, the perpetrator of this stunt, the story has all the elements of a properly executed human interest story as visualized by Currier & Ives. Lifelike naked people hanging from the ledges of buildings. Calls to police. Heart attacks by the elderly. An orderly response by trained security professionals. Not only a textbook example of how to respond to public art stunts, but a ringing endorsement that the Chinese are just regular folk who probably do indeed love their children.

Segueing into a separate rant, this story reminded me of a similar event in Boston not too long ago, during which a number of Lite-Brites hung around the city caused a panic not seen since Orson Welles reported Martians landing in New Jersey in 1938.

In the case of Hysteria vs. Aqua Teen Hunger Force, the response went something like this: sighting, panic, media alert, further panic, investigation/revelation of the facts, outrage, arrests, flippant response by perpetrators, further outrage, lawsuit, passage of new law making it illegal to “place a hoax device that results in panic.” I’m just waiting for the next case where the prosecution is tasked with defining what constitutes a ‘hoax device’.

I don’t bring this story up to embarrass Boston, but as an example of cultural solidarity. It’s really just the details that differ. In China, they see people hanging from buildings, call the police, and go into cardiac arrest for fear that some poor, naked stranger might be in peril. In America, we panic, call the police, and take legal action when it turns out we completely over reacted in the first place, in the hope that making people take their shoes off in airports will keep them from wanting to blow things up. They like to panic, we like to panic.

As a control group, I point to the Brits. When notorious street artist, Banksy, painted this little doozy across the street from a children’s hospital public outcry was quite different:

Critiquing the artist’s attention to detail. Where’s the panic? Where’s the outrage? Inhuman, those Brits.

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