Memoirs of a Superfan Volume 13.2:
There is an uncomfortable, at times painful, continuity of souls in our union of space and time. We touch each other. We support. We impinge. We claw, hurt and kill. We save. “We are who happens to us, and what we make of the happening,” I write in Facebuddha: Transcendence in the Age of Social Networks. Thoughts, emotions and stories emerge. Judgments, criticisms, blame. Knowledge and wisdom. Culture, in every sense, is what we create together, out of our complex and fractious beings. CAAMFest is about to start again, and I’m ready. It’s been a long day. At 50, there are times I grow tired of being myself, of seeing the world through my eyes alone, and I need to shed this patina of identity I’ve acquired (or that has been painted on me) and let go into the fullness and beauty of our human spirit, the life force of Asian America. I want a reset, an antidote, a cure. Let this be CureFest, CompassionFest, CultureFest. Let us come home, to each other, make home for each other, an oasis on our lonesome, refugee travail.
I’ve been getting a taste of CAAMFest36 in screeners and other festivals. A bounty awaits. MINDING THE GAP and ULAM: MAIN DISH both screened at SFFILM, and will be worth your time. Notably, MTG premiered at Sundance, netting the coveted Jury Award for Breakthrough Filmmaking for director Bing Liu and crew. Bing and his friends Zack and Keire are united in their love of skateboarding, but also share dark histories of abuse. The contrast between that weight and the airy, boundless freedom of the skateboard releases joy and hope. I found a deepened appreciation for the hidden stories we all carry, and grim recognition of the more primitive and all-too-common failings and aggressions of masculinity. Of all the things society has become ‘woke’ to in the last couple of years, this latter is among the most pressing. Liu said in the Q and A at SFFILM that “demonizing abusers won’t solve the problem.” What will? Perhaps the light of attention. Liu says he found control and a voice with his camera. It seems like a way to be mindful, observant, and perhaps a bit detached while remaining engaged, floating above it all just a bit, like skateboarding. He bought his first camera when he was 14. Near the end of the film, Keire joyfully smashes his board. It’s less aggression than it is mastery and transcendence. After all, even the Buddha said his teachings were like a raft. Not meant to be carried onshore once you reach the other side. Here’s hoping that all the ‘boarders reach the other side, to that place of freedom and peace we all seek.
Hao Wu’s THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF DESIRE is a must-see for anyone interested in contemporary Chinese or internet culture. Winner of this year’s SXSW Best Documentary Award, the film reminded me of Jiayang Fan’s recent New Yorker article (“China’s Selfie Obsession,” December 18/25, 2017). In Wu’s film, 20-somethings preen for internet celebrity, live-streaming for tips and gifts from patrons and fans, some earning $40,000 and up per month. It is, needless to say, better monetization than YouTube. It seems like a kind of internet gold rush, Black Mirror meets Las Vegas. There are nearly a million live-streamers and perhaps 100-300 million fans. No doubt there are the thrills and pressures of competition and creativity, but underneath it all, a kind of desperate longing on the part of both fans and celebrities. Comic star Big Li says “in real life, things are out of reach, but online, your dreams are possible.” Lonely workers making $15 a day spend their spare moments catching up on 22-year old Shen Man’s latest songs and flirtations, sending her their spare change. I got a sense of how powerful even online connections can be. We see an internet gold rush for money, but it’s really about finding love and belonging. We spend our lives excavating the world for traces of the primal love of infancy; we feel our rapture reflected back to us in a celebrity’s fame. When loving we feel loved. Fans get an empathic response from the target of their affection. I prove this to myself by smiling at babies, and being smiled at in return, in a kind of exultation and absolution. It’s a lot to live up to online – and ultimately frustrating, I think, giving rise to a torrent of misogynistic abuse that Wu painfully documents as a running sidebar in this virtual world.
I was also very touched by THE REGISTRY. I don’t think I remember any time in my life when more films and works of art have been called “necessary.” When hatred and ignorance rear their heads, our necessary antidotes include history, knowledge and understanding. THE REGISTRY fits the bill, showcasing Japanese American men who served in the Military Intelligence Service during World War II. Even though they and their families were placed in concentration camps, they chose to volunteer and help turn the tide of war. One of them, John Okada, wrote the seminal novel No-No Boy, portraying tensions of culture and ‘loyalty’ in the aftermath of the war. When Mas Inoshita discusses his humane questioning of a POW, and contrasts that with the misdeeds at Abu Ghraib, you’ll know what’s most necessary: conscience. Roy Matsumoto, with roots in Hiroshima, reminds us of the human connection that war and ideology rips asunder. And another vet teaches a lesson in awareness when he voices his gratitude to “ABCD – Allah, Buddha, Christ and the Devil” – they all helped him out at some point in his life. Now that’s a pretty good summary of our human psyche – we’re pretty much “E: All of the above.” What a range of reality this man has experienced! No need for a virtual world of celebrity – I’m already his Superfan.
Tune in for more hot picks – but you can’t go wrong with CAAMFest36. It’s necessary. You’re necessary. Let’s join, and make each other, create culture in every sense, and amplify the track of togetherness. See you soon!
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Ravi Chandra, M.D. is a psychiatrist and writer in San Francisco. His full-length nonfiction debut, Facebuddha: Transcendence in the Age of Social Networks, won the 2017 Nautilus Silver Book Award for Religion/Spirituality of Eastern Thought. His latest longform essay on gun psychology, Guns Are Not Our God! The NRA Is Not Our Church! is available now. He also leads compassion and self-compassion workshops. More MOSF posts can be found here.