Please do me a favor, before we proceed with this post, by looking at the following picture and delaying your political interpretation. For I promise you that it’s not meant to be politics, that I’m writing here for diacritics and that there will be actually media texts you artists may (dis)like.
This was an ad I came up with for my Visual Language class. Asked to do a hypothetical print ad campaign, I thought of introducing something about Vietnam. I started with the image of the country’s national flag, which was finally completed by an association with Uncle Ho, one of the most famous Vietnamese and also the person I’d acquainted myself with for the entire eighteen years.
As for that specific yellow component, one in a series of seven pictures whose colors ranged from violet to red, I named it “Labor is glory.” Applying all the basic visual principles—plus a bit of eagerness—I tried to say Uncle Ho and agriculture were not the past; instead, they, with special love for manual work, laid the foundation for and thus rightful transition to Vietnam’s current industry.
Which was decoded in an interestingly different way by my teacher, who wrote the following:
I still find it amusing to read those comments. While I meant “Labor is glory” and that it was something more than survival, he coupled it with “Labor is free” and that it embodied murder. This is understandable though, for my teacher is a real old American and I am a fine young Vietnamese.
I recently saw two, or maybe more, stories in a music video, which is not a result of being Vietnamese and American as such, but of a cohesive whole—me. For a five-minute break, let’s watch it (and pay attention to the rap if you would).
I guess my teacher, if seeing this video, would say that it contains an awful lot of symbolic images, especially the one in which young Vietnamese, all dressed in blue shirts, raise the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union’s flag and another one that represents the Green Summer Campaign, under which students from Vietnamese universities reach out to remote communities and help local people with agricultural work or teach them ABC lessons. The highlight to me, however, is the section where a member of the campaign parodies the famous song We Will Rock You, proudly identifying themselves, “We are we are Green team.”
It’s so postmodern you know.
Or it’s “the cultural logic of late capitalism” you know.
And if you still know, it’s interesting to see how the Youth Union’s members master such an American cultural logic.
I read a while ago that Vietnamese today tend to ignore the weird marriage between capitalism and communism. More explicitly,
Thái độ của tuổi trẻ đối với kinh tế thị trường gắn chặt với mong chờ rằng nhà nước sẽ ra quyết định đúng. Rằng vai trò của giới trẻ là đi theo chứ không phải lãnh đạo, là làm giàu từ kinh tế thị trường nhưng đừng tra vấn các quyết định của lãnh đạo đảng.
[The youth’s attitude towards market economy is closely tied to the hope that the state will make proper decisions. The role of young people is to follow, not to lead, and they’d better find ways to benefit from the market economy instead of questioning the leading party’s decisions.]
(If you speak Vietnamese, please read the full article by Le Si Long on BBC Vietnamese).
Such an attitude doesn’t make much sense, given that at all Vietnamese universities, students have to devote 12% of their study hours to gaining good command of Marxist sciences and Ho Chi Minh thought. In fact, those young men and women won’t bother to discuss the socialist aspects of the music video just mentioned above. Only people like me, those that struggle to understand what their political education (or “moral education” as many teachers would tell us) means, may feel surreal and bitter watching thousands of students get immersed in the Green Summer Campaign.
I’m aware the music video, an excerpt from a film depicting Vietnamese students in rare and beautiful moments of their lives, is a product of the media and thus mediated. Unfortunately, I also know it’s based upon the fact that every year, countless houses, roads and bridges are built by those enthusiastic volunteers. And many more language lessons are distributed, I should add.
They look exactly like my friends, candid young faces, who sneak into the hamlets of the Mekong Delta, every summer.
And what is more, they are the image, just two or so years ago, I thought I would become. I find it very difficult to feel disillusioned altogether with socialism or something of this sort, in which many Vietnamese have succeeded doing once gaining a full understanding of democracy or something of that kind. It’s thus always a mix of love and hate, or better still—nostalgia, when I see those contemporary Vietnamese, yes I mean real Vietnamese, rush into campaigns like the Green Summer one.
I never had formal political education, so I’m not talking about politics. The need to make sense of what my friends are doing and to feel being in touch with them has resulted in several overheard ideas, such as that Marx thinks capitalism is totally irrational to leave everything in the hands of markets. In order to be rational, he would say, we’ve got to plan not only our life but also others’, which non-Marxists have no support for. Thus, if you wish to spare yourself from Marxism, please worry less about Vietnam. If they choose to be stupid, volunteer for the Green Summer Campaign, and hold the Youth Union’s flag, please let them do so. I, however sadly, have chosen to write this post for the smart, the intellectual, and more importantly, the diacritics.
I’m perhaps spoiled or simply naive. Either way, it’s hard to denounce such values as “humble, truthful, and brave,” which is the last (and also my favorite) of the five articles taught by Uncle Ho—the thing I learned from moral education in primary school.
So dear readers, I know most of you are academics, formally or informally, and here I’ll end with a quote originally found on the first diacritic’s facebook profile:
It doesn’t matter which (academic) discipline you are in, just as long as you are ashamed of it.
– Bernard Cohn
(It’s sad the Harvard/APA referencing guide doesn’t teach us how to refer to facebook statuses.)
Vu Thi Quynh Giao is a third-year undergraduate at RMIT Vietnam, studying Public Relations and Advertising on a full scholarship. Her life-time goal is to run an open-education program where everyone can learn from each other and decide on the best way to live. Besides that, she wishes to connect thinkers and doers to help tackle climate change, especially in Vietnam, before it is too late.
Did you like this post? Then please take the time to rate it (above) and share it (below). Ratings for top posts are listed on the sidebar. Sharing (on email, Facebook, etc.) helps spread the word about diaCRITICS. Thanks!