Someimes its difficult to get your head around how things change, and how fast. A few years back, Liu Xiaobo part authored and helped circulate a painfully earnest document calling for China to be established as a constitutional, democratic republic. Sympathetic media overseas gave it a helping hand but, basically, it died on its arse. Nonetheless Beijing decided that it had enough of Liu and jailed him for a decade for incitement to state subversion. A bunch of elderly Scandinavians gave him a Nobel to try and shame Beijing into releasing him, but no joy.
A few years later Ai Weiwei releases a spoof heavy metal video which I believe is called in Chinese ‘Stupid Cunt’: by a nice irony this had to be self-censored into ‘dumbass’ in English to get the level of publicity to which his interventions are accustomed. Rather than getting him in trouble, he can be more-or-less assured that it will keep him out of jail because the publicity makes him too hot to handle.
Dissent clearly aint what it was and much though I found Charter ‘09 naïve and plangent, it was obviously further up the intellectual food chain than a spoof heavy metal video called, um, dumbass. There’s not nothing there. As the post at the link points out, several hundred thousand people have now seen an accurate depiction of what residential detention by the Chinese state is like. But the problem with Ai’s brand of provocateurism is that it isn’t really replicable. If the Nobel people had managed to lever Liu out of prison it would have been a general invitation: intellectuals, start your engines. Manifestos from all over. Movements started, maybe. But if someone else comes along and builds a giant Xi Jinping out of dead pigs, he or she will just be written off as an Ai Weiwei imitator. Been done, mate. Boring. The logic of publicity-friendly conceptual stunts militates against solidarity because the basic proposition is how you can entertain me.