Friday, August 15, 2008

Lip-Syncing Actress

There was a beautiful nine year old girl in China's opening ceremonies, Lin Miaoke, who belted out "Ode to the Motherland". We've since discovered that she was not singing, only performing. The real singer was seven and hidden behind stage because her appearance didn't make the final cut.

Yang Peiyi, like most seven year olds, is still getting her front teeth in, so they're not smoothly, Cheshire cat perfect. Most seven year olds would be able to relate (remember when you were seven?) Knowing that she was seven (not nine) and belting out a beautiful song in her unique way, with real breaths and deep sustained notes would have increased my amazement. (What talent and so YOUNG!)

But Chinese officials pulled her from the stage at the last moment. A senior Communist party official decided her looks were not suitable.

The ceremony's music director, Chen Qijang said, "It was for the national interest. The child on camera should be flawless in image, internal feelings and expression." To read the LA Times article go here.

Picture has Yang Peiyi on left and Lin Miaoke on right.

The Wall Street Journal's article "1 Song, 2 Girls" quoted spokeswoman for Bejing's Olympic organizing committee, Sun Weide, explained, "We decided to let Lin Miaoke to sing on the stage, and to use Yang Peiyi's voice, because Yang Peiyi has the best voice, while Lin Miaoke is the best actress."

Nice spin, Weide. Best actress is a thinly veiled euphemism for "best face." When you're actually singing, you don't have to act.

I can't really blame China as if they have a unique problem, because we do this in America, too. We dub beautiful voices into beautiful actors mouths. It's been happening for decades, for instance Audrey Hepburn's voice in My Fair Lady is actually Marni Nixon.

It's not just that these unseen singers don't get accolades or noticed or appreciated, it's more than that.

It's the implicit belief that children with new crooked, front teeth are flawed. This attitude makes many stages of life flawed, (a sort of Goldilocks trial for beauty, you can't look too young, you can't look too old, you must look just right). Hiding Peiyi is a symbol of hiding so much of our lives, when in reality very young girls and very old women are each flawless (they perfectly represent themselves at that stage) examples of their uniqueness at that age. To refuse to celebrate Peiyi is to refuse to celebrate a human being as she looks at age seven. That is essentially inhumane.

I'm so tired of women being forced to look perpetually cute and young (but as Peiyi has taught us, not too young).


Finally and most discouragingly, this substitution perpetuates the myth that flawless (read Hollywoodesque) people are also good at everything else. For a few days we all believed the nine year old Miaoke was flawlessly singing. In the days that followed we compared her face to Peiyi's. What's interesting is that no on has actually heard Miaoke sing. Wouldn't that be interesting to compare her voice to Peiyi's?

We have to shoulder on against this myth that beauty means goodness, beauty means talent, beauty means perfection. We must face the actuality that people with perfectly straight teeth are just as deceptive, ashamed, broken, manipulative, confused as people with crooked teeth.

But we've taught Miaoke and many others that she is flawless. And what about Peiyi? I wonder how she'll feel about her teeth for the rest of her life...

One artist, Oleg Dou, helps me battle this tendency to make every human squeeze into a manipulated version of flawlessness. He uses the same airbrushing techniques used in high fashion for a different purpose.

Dou photographs, and then heavily manipulates his model's faces. At first glance they all look superficially similar (see his series Sketches click on "eng" and then "art" then select "sketches"). But, if you spend more than 10 seconds looking at each photo, you’ll enjoy an unnerving and beautiful experience (notice especially his Naked Faces series) His models are very different, but we have to sit with them long enough to notice and then appreciate the difference. Dou lets us discover the differences among these women in hopes of showing that each woman’s face is worth this time. To read more on this Russian artist see "Surrealism and Issues of Identity"

Dou is teaching me new ways to see women others might call flawed or freakish (see his series on Freaks). He's helping me see that individual "looks" are worth noticing, preserving, celebrating, not hiding behind the stage.

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