I love this GIF.
This was President Barack Obama’s reaction to Xi Jinping stonewalling New York Times reporter Mark Landler, and it captures — in two inches of movement, half a second, a tilt of an eyebrow — so many of our feelings about Chinese politics and journalism: yeah, it’s opaque and dreary and venal and debasing to common intellect, but what are ya gonna to do? Eh? Not like revolution has historically been any better, so best to leave em to their devices. Or as New York Times reported:
“The Chinese say, ‘let he who tied the bell on the tiger take it off,’ ” Mr. Xi added, in a somewhat enigmatic phrase that was not immediately translated into English. It is normally interpreted as “the party which has created the problem should be the one to help resolve it.”
But man, that shrug — a shrug without budging the shoulder, a shrug that belongs on the Mount Rushmore of shrugs, a ladleful of amazing, pure poetry of body movement, what Chinese politicians can’t begin dreaming of attaining because that would require they sleep, because then we’d have evidence they were human beings, humans able to express basic bafflement, irony, lighthearted acquiescence – that shrug is a fucking mynx.
ABC News has a video of the above: basically, Xi Jinping’s central processor shutting down before our eyes as he removes his earpiece and turns toward the obsequious Chinese media while others in the press corps chuckle at his face with tactful viciousness.
Outside of all the obvious things we can say about this, I’ll humbly submit: it wasn’t even a hard question. Landler, possibly understanding he wouldn’t get a response anyway, asked about visas. Not censorship, Hong Kong, or human rights… just journalist visas, which was apropos considering the US just relaxed its visa policy (10-year visas now available to Chinese travelers).
But Xi – adhering to his weeklong, surely deliberate (and deliberated upon) strategy of staying as aloof as possible, like a 13-year-old hipster at a family picnic, way too cool for those gauche monkey bars – gave his best sulk-and-simper, mope-and-dope, and pressed his “system restart” button. You can easily envision the look without seeing it, how it begins in the eyes, the frumpy old ayi of his soul throwing close those windows and loudly latching them from the inside, muttering under her breath a curse of the self-imposed prison to which she owns the keys; how it spreads, like the widening radius of an infestation, into his brows and cheekbones, causing skin to sag with the weight of profound understanding and grievous regret that life exists and living things live; followed by, finally, a resigned acceptance that the adult world outside his magic fort abides by a set of conventions set through human concert, human strain and effort; oh what the crippled heart will never know; how our eye level can seem like a mountain’s peak to the quadriplegic. We know the look too well.
How fortunate, then, that the cameras focused on Obama, and that reaction, and that GIF. Goddamn I love it to bits.