Synch or Swim

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

It is now known that organizers used doctored graphics and had a young girl lip-synch during the Olympics opening ceremony. But how much of that can be explained by "cultural differences?" Jeff Yang, columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle weighs in on whether it's particularly Chinese to try and keep up appearances.


Jeff Yang

Comments [38]


Dear WNYC staff: please provide an alarm to your guest hosts to warn them that they are say 30 seconds before the scheduled end-time.
Many listeners must cringe when guests are so rudely cut-off in mid sentence.

Aug. 15 2008 04:23 PM

(For the record: the notion of a Potemkin village goes back to the late 18th century Russia, before communism.)

Aug. 15 2008 04:21 PM
jt from Long Island


Interesting. I guess the medical tourism procedures would be counted against the country where they were preformed so its hard to know the real numbers. Sometimes the web can clarify just how murky the data is.

Aug. 14 2008 12:41 AM

jt, been surfing around, there doesn't seem to be a standard for defining "plastic surgery" so the stats are inherently screwed up. And if you're offering experienced rhinoplast-focused surgeons in Lebanon and Greece for $1500 a procedure, which is a lot less than it would cost you here, then you're looking at a lot of Americans (possibly with roots in those countries) headed on a surgery vacation. Check this out:
page 2 of the website is devoted to plastics. Hmmm. I'd agree that vanity isn't exclusive to these shores, but I live in one of the plastic surgery capitals of the world (Texas and California were for many years #1, at least for breast enhancement stats) so lemme just say when I've been in Cyprus or Greece, I don't see so much of it - either that or it's done more subtly over there. Some of these California procedures are real hatchet jobs, and the people would look better without. Let's not even get started on reports of those leaking breast jobs. But I gotta run to my massage appointment - they say it prevents wrinkles!

Aug. 13 2008 07:33 PM
jt from Long Island


I'm sure the same cosmetic enhancements are done all over the world. They quick and highly profitable for the doctors and vanity isn't exclusive to these shores so I can't see why these procedures aren't common overseas.

I root for a few athletes but I keep my expectations in check in case they do use performance enhancing drugs. With all the money and pressure you just never can tell who is clean.

Aug. 13 2008 07:14 PM

sorry, but reviewing those stats you offered - if Cyrpus, Lebanon and Greece are each individually outdoing the US in plastic surgery procedures, then I definitely think you have to ask 1) how individual countries are defining plastic surgery procedures, and 2) how many of those procedures are the result of medical tourism.

Aug. 13 2008 07:05 PM

I'm looking forward to watching Dara in the 50 free this Friday. I don't want to believe either of them are using anything, but the sad thing is that athletes I once believed in (Zabel, et al) have been found to have used all sorts of stuff, regardless of what country they're from. But I don't assume the worst of my country. I feel as nervous cheering for American swimmers who either are or are not doping as I feel nervous watching the Chinese Olympics when I know how many people are suffering in China because cash was taken from the GDP to pay for this extravaganza, and that's going to hurt a lot of people.

Aug. 13 2008 06:47 PM

Wow, those are some surprising stats. To be honest, I'm a little skeptical...I wonder if other countries are qualifying procedures as "plastic surgery" that would not be counted here? A lot of cosmetic enhancement here is done in dermatology (fillers like restylane - my dermatologist is making a killing doing this, though not out of my pocket, thanks) and so it doesn't count as "plastic surgery."
As for Phelps, the swimming is absolutely beautiful, and I agree the pressure must be phenomenal. But I think the worst pressure is on that chinese hurdler (?) I mean, we know what goes into Phelps' pressure - we don't know what combo of carrots and sticks are used on the Chinese athletes.

Aug. 13 2008 06:46 PM
Steve from Clifton NJ

Good show. Yes..there's quite a bit of off the mark picking on China in the midst of Olympic reporting. There is always some amount of carping about the rediculous hoops that host countries jump through to host the games. It happened in Montreal, Athens, Atlanta, LA and virtually every host country. The US got slammed for the goof-ups at Lake Placid. Lip synching....subbing "cuter" kids.....didn't we invent that stuff in Hollywood 100 years ago. Which brings me to nother point. I am concerned with the model of the 21st century as "China's century". With all of the low wages coal powered and highly polluting industrial infrastructure isn't China just offering the consumer based industrialized West a "do over" of the 19th and pre- T Roosevelt / income tax early 20th century?
The opening ceremony was a "wow". I can't wait til the Chineese buy Vegas. I may even take peyote for it.

Aug. 13 2008 06:16 PM
jt from Long Island

I also want to point out that if Phelps was more subdued after winning each gold medal people would then complain that he's arrogant.

Aug. 13 2008 04:44 PM
jt from Long Island


I see what you're saying, but Phelps is doing something that a lot of people think is impossible. Imagine the pressure on him. To me it looks like he's letting it all out.

Regarding plastic surgery, I did a quick search on the web and according to this web site the US is #19 in plastic surgery per capita:

It's pretty surprising to me that Cyprus, Lebanon and Slovenia are way ahead of the US. Anyway, it seems to me that a lot of Americans assume the worst of their country. It annoys me when some research can show that a lot of the assumptions made are wrong.

Aug. 13 2008 04:39 PM

I get your point, but failing to take the french swimmer's comments in context is bad journalistic ethics. Part of the issue was also a poor translation.
And the largest number of plastic surgeries take place in... the US. We may not have "invented it" but we're number 1 in that regard. No one ever claimd that everyone in the US "does all three."
As for cheering on the home team, I am cheering for Michael Phelps and Dara Torres, both of whom are accused of drug taking. Having said that, I would prefer to see Michael not jump around like an ape after winning another gold. Understatement is the mark of some of the best champions... then again, if I pulled off what he did, I'd also be jumping around like an ape. So who's to say? But some of us think it's bad sportsmanship to act like trash-talking other teams and countries is "part of the norm." I don't want to see us end up like Britain or some Latin American countries, with all those soccer hooligans, and mini-wars erupting over soccer games. Just because Britain does it doesn't make it right.

Aug. 13 2008 01:18 PM
jt from Long Island

The opening ceremonies are a spectacle so I don't think it's a big deal that they went all out to make it huge.

I'm really surprised by all the comments that just say America is worse. According to some of you America invented lip syncing, plastic surgery and performance enhancing drugs and everyone in the country does all three. Go to Wikipedia and you'll see that athletes from all over the world have been disqualified for doping:

And as far as cheering on American athletes, have you guys ever seen any kind of competition? People cheer on their favorite or local team all the time. Soccer fans used to beat each other up because they were fans of competing teams. It seems that the Chinese crowds erupting when their athletes do well is pride but the American cheering is arrogance.

And finally, if you can't criticize anyone for doing something that you have done then we are doomed. Every country has blood on their hands and has cheated in some way. To make purity a requirement for criticism is ridiculous.

Aug. 13 2008 12:38 PM
mk from rockaway

everyone knows the Olympics is really just about the uber-race taking clothes off anyway

Aug. 13 2008 12:03 PM
Carly from east village

#18 - Pheobe good point about Tibet & China...

But few care about Tibet.

Here's a good explanation why that's so:

Aug. 13 2008 12:02 PM
w from Manhattan

Agreed, Sophie and eva, and all the others commenting here. The first time I heard this as "breaking news," I was just so baffled about why anybody would care or be outraged by this. Am I too jaded in our corporate and ad-obsessed culture? This whole issue of authenticity, especially with China, is ridiculous, considering China's been playing catch-up by following Western trends and modes of advertising, etc. I really can't help but laugh at all the incredulity being expressed by the media. The questions they raise are so simplistic, condescending, and hypocritical, I can't believe they're not at all embarrassed to raise them.

Aug. 13 2008 12:00 PM
spencer from queens

Just because the US "invented" lip synching and values superficiality, doesn't mean that China shouldn't be called out for it. We should feel free to criticize them as much as we do ourselves.
This kind of thing is ugly, whether done by us or them.
And China, becoming a world power and stepping out on to the world stage, needs to get used to more criticism. Just like the US rightly endures.

Aug. 13 2008 12:00 PM

When I saw the little girl in the red dress I thought: "What a sweet voice." And yet, I couldn't help but wonder if they went out of the way to find a very presentable-looking child. And I thought this BEFORE I heard of the controversy.

My second thought was of the video for the Korean group Big Mama's song "Breakaway." In the video four slim and pretty girls lip-sync on stage while the real singers who--by their society's beauty standards--aren't as attractive, sing backstage.

Aug. 13 2008 11:59 AM

The third caller is correct that Zhang Yimou now makes blockbuster, grandiose spectacles. But he rose to prominence with unbelievably beautiful small films that were banned by the Chinese government for their direct criticism of the cultural revolution and the current government. Watch his "To Live" with Gong Li, the most damning indictment of the Chinese government.
It is really interesting that the Chinese government chose him.

Aug. 13 2008 11:58 AM
Dan from new york

China is the 51st state. A red state, Republican, capitalist and a part of greater America. The cheerleaders at the opening ceremony dressed and gyrating like the USO go go dancers of Apocalypse Now. The Beach girls at the volleyball. Bagpipe music for the parade of nations. They like us ! They want to be like us! They are not a threat. They are on board for Team America!USA!

Aug. 13 2008 11:58 AM
Phoebe from NJ

Maybe this should be discussed in relation to the Chinese olympics:

Aug. 13 2008 11:58 AM

I think that if the chinese thought that a good looking girl matched with a good voice (even if they are different people) would make the best show. It was a theatrical production and therefore don't see anything wrong with the situation.

Aug. 13 2008 11:58 AM
mk from rockaway

I agree with the caller who thinks your method "a priori" is about Red China bashing...if some Euro radio show critisized "American Idol" along the lines of "look at the ridiculous yanks" would we call them LIBERALS or just trash-talking

Aug. 13 2008 11:57 AM
Tenzin chakdor from nyc

Well, I will be disappointed if my daughter get replaced during the performance after hard work for years and while they use her telent in this case her voice during the show -- Auesha and Tanya!!

Aug. 13 2008 11:57 AM
Carly from east village

yes....remember no matter how bad any country is America is always worse....

it's always "blowback" -- you can always find an angle to blame it on America or to say America is the sourcfe of all the bad

--The America Bashers

My country wrong and wrong!

And, umm, remember too - dissent and America bashing is patriotic! (somehow)

Aug. 13 2008 11:57 AM
Robert from NYC

Are you all not aware that although much of the world doesn't like us, they has adopted our corporate culture and use it to their advantage and unfortunately it works. I really works. If it's monetary worth is small or nill, then it's, well, completely worthless!

Aug. 13 2008 11:55 AM

Agree with the second caller - Why was the little girl FRONT PAGE news on the Times website yesterday? I'm completely embarrassed by the nationalistic coverage of the Olympics, including how the French swimmer was quoted entirely out of context.
If you want to criticize China, there are legitimate criticisms to make. But lip synching? Pot, meet kettle...

Aug. 13 2008 11:54 AM

I find this conversation a bit condescending. Why is this being portrayed as a Chinese trait? That's such an orientalist point of view.
For god's sake - this happens all over the world all the time.
1. Why is this being covered as news?
2. Why is this being portrayed as a Chinese cultural trait?
One would think NPR would be beyond this. Come on. This is really pathetic.

Aug. 13 2008 11:53 AM
Hugh from Crown Heights

Well, of course, NO American athlete has ever taken steroids!

And no American official has ever barred the people from seeing, say, political candidates. Never barred dissenters from approaching the action.

Aug. 13 2008 11:52 AM

If the caller thinks it's a communist issue, why is sports doping and lip synching so prevalent in the US?
We're our own potemkin village, folks, much more so than China.

Aug. 13 2008 11:51 AM
Robert from NYC

Yes Marco, you are right. It's corporate fascism after all. Don't forget the IOC consists of many old fascists especially of the Franco era; Samaranch was personally know Franco and a staunch supporter of him.

Aug. 13 2008 11:50 AM
Tanya from Hollis Park Gardens

Why is the host appalled with the notion of Chinese preference/ when the USA is a "Culture" that bases everything on looks!!!

Aug. 13 2008 11:47 AM

I don't know why the host is so appalled at the fact that the Chinese used a prettier girl to lip sync at the opening.
That happens all the time in the US - TV shows, name it.
I don't see why everyone is so appalled by the Chinese. Let's not be so hypocritical and point fingers as if this is such a horror and a crime.
The Chinese kicked a** when it came to the openings...let's give them credit for it instead of being jealous and nit picking on stupid things like the little girl!

Aug. 13 2008 11:46 AM
Hugh from Crown Heights

Notice how we largely hear about events that Americans win, especially swimming?

Remember John Williams's pathetic, insipid composition for the Los Angeles games?

Remember questions raised about Americans using drugs for which there is no means of detection yet?

Ever notice hysterical American flag waving, chest beating, war drumming?

And how about American incredulity when the rest of the world doesn't buy American delusions about the US being the leader of the free world, the greatest democracy, the greatest defender of rights?

What distresses Americans is that China is so like the US.

Aug. 13 2008 11:46 AM
Marco from Manhattan

The Olympics represent the absolute worst of capitalism and control-freak communism.

Aug. 13 2008 11:38 AM

You've got to be kidding? As if Americans don't spend millions, if not billions, of dollars on plastic surgery and teeth whitening? And what is our credit crisis all about if not, in essence, keeping up appearances?
Please, Mr. Yang, don't indulge white people in thinking the Chinese are essentially any different. And please note how many parents across China were outraged by the refusal to give the girl with the best voice the job of flying, too. I think in the US, the split decision would simply be accepted. For God's sake, we INVENTED lip synching in the west. As for doctored graphics, has no one worked in corporate America?

Aug. 13 2008 11:37 AM
hjs from 11211

doesn't entertainment always involve tricks and

Aug. 13 2008 11:31 AM
PP from Queens

I don't watch the Olympics this year but I do read some of the news online. I just read that the Windows "blue screen of death" made an appearance at the opening ceremony - that's priceless.

Aug. 13 2008 11:05 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.