Monday, November 03, 2003

Space Oddity
I've a distinct sense of deja vu following the success of China's taikonaut, Yang Liwei. It's May 1962 and I'm thrown back to Miss Doak's 3rd grade class room as we watch a fuzzy black and white broadcast of local boy-made-good, Scott Carpenter launch for three orbits in Aurora 7. A short time later Boulder gave him a hero's welcome with a parade down Pearl Street.
That feeling is new here, but Yangmania is everywhere on TV and recently in Hong Kong where he made a four day tour with Chinese politicians, local dignataries and Jackie Chan. Folks were standing in line for 24 hours to simply view his space suit and capsule during an exhibition that also was open around the clock for four days.
He's all over TV, or at least endless reruns of his launch, orbits and and return are. Last night I watched a truly bizarre variety show featuring Yang and chorus members of the People's Liberation Army, a troupe of modern dancers and folk and pop singers mostly dressed as if they were going to an Iowa high school prom where the theme was Gone With the Wind.
The highlight for me was the androgynous dancers, clad in electric blue body suits, arms waving, bodies weaving and generally doing their best Martha Graham moves in front of footage of the liftoff as Red Army soldiers flanking the video screen sang some kind of strident, booming number praising the latest Great Leap Forward.
While it's brought a sense of national pride here, I can't help but feel slightly patronizing whenever I'm asked what I think about it.
One almost wants to say, "Yeah, yeah, good job. You got a man into space. What's next? Tang? Super Balls? 8-track tapes?"
What's been missing are the endless commercial tie-ins. No Yang T-shirts, posters, mugs, backpacks, hats, instant noodles or model rockets seem to be hawked here yet. There've been a few TV ads with kids playing taikonaut, but other than that, nada.
The explanation for this missed commercial opportunity is probably government control. Everything regarding the Shenzhou V mission has been carefully controlled, scripted and under wraps since inception. The launch, of course, was only broadcast nationally on tape delay after it was successful. Word was that if it failed the powers- that-be feared "social disorder."
Hell, I thought at the time. The USA has the guts to fry its astronauts and school teachers live and in color on multiple networks and there are no torch and pitchfork wielding mobs storming the White House gates.

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