Gnomicon 214

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Introduction to Gnomica.

Gnomicon  214
Wednesday 12 December 2012
Read gnomica 1-200 here!

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 An actor is only merchandise.
Chow Yun-Fat (18 May 2012 –  )

A Hong Kong icon of the sometimes laconic, sometimes wise-cracking Chinese tough-guy genre with lots of brutal action, this entertainer – collaborator with the great directors Ang Lee and John Woo –here expresses a fittingly no-bullshit truth about a narcissistic tribe of outrageously self-indulgent and very, very lucky poseurs.

I like it.

Forget about all that preposterous crit-cant nonsense regarding ‘art’ and ‘sensitive this’ and ‘nuanced that’.  Given great physical beauty, great script writers, great directors, great voice coaches, great trainers, great prop people, great location scouts, great carpentry crews … given all that, a monkey could (and has) starred in more than one film.  This is not to come down on film (or actors) as such – people who have been following this blog for a while know that I am huge fan of TV drama and film (cf., e.g.) – but on the absurd pretentiousness of some of its major players.  And I think Yun-Fat got it absolutely right:  like any piece of attractive merchandise, when it no longer suits a fickle consumer’s ephemeral fancy, people just stop ‘buying’ it – all the actor’s maahhvellous ‘art’ and ‘sensitivity’ to the contrary notwithstanding.

Now, those violent high-octane Hong Kong versions (e.g., here, here and here) updating forties L.A. noir may not be exactly your cup of oolong, but there is something refreshingly honest about their unashamed self-indulgence, their absolute reveling in hard-core violence and preposterous setups.  Just love it!!

And this whole notion of an actor as ‘only merchandise’ – which is what caught my eye – set me to thinking about another notion, like this: “A university professor is only merchandise.”

Now, as with my comment about not ‘coming down’ on actors and film, I make the same categorical confession in this connection too:  I am not coming down on university professors (I’ve known and still know a great many truly wonderful people who are university professors), nor, certainly, am I coming down on their most directly visible ‘merchandise’: their teaching of students.  Their less immediately accessible ‘merchandise’ that is their research and publications may (especially in the humanities) at times merit second thought, but I would most definitely not discourage its continued production.  After all, who can possibly know when today’s academic and scholarly fashions (e.g., deconstruction) fade and become today’s amusing curiosities, or when today’s scholarship now deemed ‘not serious’ takes tomorrow’s center stage and is retro-deemed ‘ahead of its time’.

But, getting back to Yun-Fat, professors are in that sense just merchandise – their fame, their lists of publications, their popularity with funding agencies – bought and sold just like football coaches (whose merchandising coin of the realm is football games won) and Hollywood thespians (whose merchandising coin of the realm is box office take) … although, it must be admitted, at substantially less kingly sums.  To be sure, tenure is, short of egregious moral missteps, a kind of protection against willful firing, although even that practice is currently under fire and viewed with skepticism in some quarters — and will not (in my personal view) survive.  Still, there are contracts, benefits, vacations … all the usual baggage involved in up-town hiring.

And as for that, even when it comes to jobs like janitors, clerks, dish-washers, secretaries, and that vast invisible down-town world of hired help, they too are essentially just merchandise – even if individually of a much more obviously precarious status.

Admittedly, as you yourself surely recognize, all of this is a very constricted, a very limiting view of what human beings in any job are all about, and I’d like to think that even Yun-Fat would agree that there is more to actors than just being merchandise.  But, as far as it goes, his comment doesn’t seem entirely inaccurate — even when applied to professors.

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2 Responses to Gnomicon 214

  1. Al Cram says:

    When I was a Professor at the University the Hospital and the College of Mediicine made it clear to me that they considered the patients I would see and treat as “their” clients, and I was indeed just hired mechandise, whom they could replace at any time. I on the other hand felt the patients had come to see me and they simply provided the “set” in which I provided my diagnosis and treatment and thus I considered the patients “mine”. Fortunately for me, when i left the University many of my paitents did continue to see me in my new “set”, but I was replaced, several times now, by new providers of similar services at the University. So i guess that although I was just merchandise I feel that I was good merchandise and I think that just like the actors believe the people come to see them I still think the patients came to see me, not the set. By the way, my high school English teacher had some real strengths but I find that if there is a clear rule about when to use whom vs. who I failed on my side to place it in my memory vault in a safe and recognizable spot. Can you help me? In fact, I’m sure she would often be distraught with my lack of precision in following the basic rules of grammar. Your blog is serving as a strong stimulus for me to improve my day to day use of language.

  2. laohutiger says:

    An excellent real-life validation of Yun-Fat’s point — I guess even the president is ‘only merchandise’ these days, and ‘sold’ the way merchandise is today.
    On who/whom etc, check here:

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