Sunday, June 1, 2008

SHARON STONE AND THE YANG OF NATIONS


For once, Sharon Stone has got herself into trouble for mouthing her point of view. A few days back, she said something with her trademark candour about the devastating May 12 earthquake in the Sichuan province of China which has claimed almost a hundred thousand lives, still counting. Speaking on the Red Carpet in Cannes, Sharon Stone is reported to have remarked: "I'm not happy about the way the Chinese are treating the Tibetans, because I don't think anyone should be unkind to anyone else. And then this earthquake and all this stuff happened, and then I thought, is that karma? When you're not nice, that the bad things happen to you?"

Do you see anything wrong in that honest, even somewhat perplexed query about Karma, the elusive, complex Law of Cause and Effect of Human Thought and Action that mankind has been trying to figure out since almost the beginning of time? Don’t we all ask similar questions whenever tragedy or misfortune strikes an individual, a nation, a region or even the whole world? Are not ordinary Chinese themselves not wondering similarly about which collective Karma caused this tragedy?

Unfortunately for Sharon Stone, she is not an ordinary person. Being a celebrity, particularly American, has its pitfalls, especially when your views tread on the overly sensitive toes of some big nations. Her rather innocuous remarks have somehow got the Chinese politico-moral machinery into overdrive with the state run Xinhua News Agency going bonkers, to the extent of calling her the “public enemy of all mankind.” That is not all. Her films have also been banned in China.

Sharon Stone chose the wrong nation to loudly wonder about the ways of Karma. Had she chosen India, in the context of, say, the quake in Gujarat and the situation in Kashmir as well as terror attacks elsewhere in the country, nothing even remotely similar would have happened.

What do you think would have been India’s response? The government would not have reacted at all, paralysed as always by the fear of reactions, both domestic and international, that a Chinese type of response would most certainly have generated. The media would, on the other hand, have gone into everdrive. There would have been endless prime time debates and chat shows on TV and editorials in all newspapers.

The dominant thread would have been about how right Stone was in linking the quake tragedy to the nation’s Karma. Most anchors and columnists in India are angels of morality when it comes to the question of what the nation should do while fighting separatists and terrorists. Stone’s remarks would have given them just the excuse required to pillory the state for not showing the necessary sensitivity towards the human and political rights of Kashmiri Muslims and for driving Muslims in other parts of India towards Islamic extremism by not doing enough to improve their lot even though they were lagging behind along almost all parameters. And on and on and on, the debate would have gone on, making Stone believe that she had got her nebulous thoughts about India’s Karma dead right.

Politicians, depending on whether their parties are ‘secular’ or ‘communal’, would have either admitted that India needs to improve its human rights record in Kashmir and its treatment of Muslims or would have criticised Stone for ‘interfering in the internal affairs’ of India, with an advice to first look at the Karma of her own country. Some would have said that the Karma was because India had not been tough in dealing with terror while others would have argued that it was due to extra judicial killings, police atrocities on Muslims etc.

Forget the establishment. No one of any standing in India would have had the guts to call Stone the “public enemy of all mankind.” Banning her films wouldn’t have been on the agenda even if she had said something truly preposterous; freedom of expression comes first always and every time here. In fact to prove our often misplaced commitment to this freedom, we love inviting secessionists and known anti India elements to openly abuse the country in our TV studios on our soil. Sharon Stone has said nothing even remotely as offensive as what some of these guys say with impunity without drawing even a murmur of protest.

How has Sharon Stone responded to the Chinese fury that has greeted her statement? For once, she has been forced to take a big step back and tender an apology to assuage the needlessly hurt feelings of the Chinese:"Due to my inappropriate words and acts during the interview, I feel deeply sorry and sad about hurting Chinese people. I am willing to take part in the relief work of China's earthquake, and wholly devote myself to helping affected Chinese people."

Many years back, flush with the sweet taste of success after years of the bitter after taste of struggle, Sharon Stone had said famously about Hollywood: “If you have a vagina and a point of view in this town, then that’s a lethal combination.”

Had an Indian actress or any Indian for that matter, made that remark about Bollywood, all hell would have broken loose, bringing together politicians, women’s organisations and the numerous moral brigades always on the lookout for an event to violently protest against the erosion of Indian morals and values. In Stone’s case, however, not only did Hollywood accept her candid words without a whimper, the whole of America actually applauded the Basic Instinct star for saying what she felt with a punch.

There is another Stone quote, a caustic and hitting observation born out of her experiences in life: “Women might be able to fake orgasms. But men can fake whole relationships.”

Applied to nations, it is true that nations not only can but almost always do fake relationships with other nations. This flows directly from the clichéd truth that for nations, there are no permanent friends or enemies; there are only permanent interests.

The lethal combination that Sharon Stone spoke about is metaphorically lethal not just in Hollywood; it works like magic in most professions where competition is tough and guys are desperate to get ahead fastest.

But, when it comes to nations, something entirely different happens. Nations that try to exploit the lethal Stone combo that works for individuals remain fringe players, little heard and often used, with absolutely no possibility of becoming one of the great nations of the world. Only nations which have and use a phallus to drive home their point of view are able to do so. And only they have any realistic chance of becoming great. Of course, if libido becomes the dominant driving force, great destruction and suffering sometimes is the result, as history has repeatedly shown.

China’s response to Sharon Stone’s Karmic query and India’s only imaginable response had it been about India, starkly drive home the point missed completely by India as a nation and Indians as a people that big, self respecting nations cannot get anywhere by being apologetically accommodating receptacles of everything thrown at and into them.

Yin may appear to be comfortingly non-abrasive and non-provocative. But it is only Yang which will get other nations, groups, even individuals, to listen to and respect your country in a world where nations “fake whole relationships” all the time. We can keep criticising China for its hyper reaction to what just one well known foreigner has said about its Karma, but the stark fact that Sharon Stone has herself quickly realised is that when dealing with Yang flexing nations, entirely different rules apply.

This is something that a huge country like India needs to learn in a jiffy if it wants to take a realistic shot at joining the club of the great nations of the world without much further delay. Holier than thou debates in TV studios and the print media advocating the Yin approach are certainly not going to get the nation there.