Posted Jun 28th 2012 10:00AM
The recent kerfuffle over David Mulroney's car is a strange one, mainly because the kerfuffling car in question is a Toyota Camry, a vehicle that seems mostly unlikely to offend anyone. Though perhaps that was part of the problem. In case you haven't heard, Mulroney, Canada's Ambassador to China, recently posted pictures of his silver Camry on Weibo (sort of a Chinese Twitter), looking quite fine in its Camry-ish way. The response he received was basically a collective appalled gasp, followed by wave upon wave of mockery. Apparently, if you drive a Camry in China, you're expected to hide it like a shameful secret... until someone else outs you on Weibo, anyway. But you don't out yourself. That's crazy.
Read more after the jump.
One Weibo user wrote, in one of the most widely quoted comments posted on the site, "A Chinese mid-level cadre wouldn't lay an eye on your car!" Way harsh, Weibo user.
Another wrote, "Even in my village the leaders have VW Passats." That's you put in your place, Volkswagen.
What should a high roller like Mulroney be driving, you ask? "A vice-minister in Beijing drives the Audi A6, which costs over 500,000 yuan (about USD$80,000), and they also have a full-time driver," yet another Weibo user helpfully posted. "A local township official might drive a Benz."
It's worth noting that the status conferred by fancy cars is not your standard compensating-for-my-inadequacies or if-those-jerks-from-junior-high-could-see-me-now kind of ego trip. It's a much more tangible thing. The New York Times quoted a Beijing taxi driver of 18 years' tenure on the respect due to the luxury model. "Audi is still the de facto car for government officials ... It's always best to yield to an Audi - you never know who you're messing with, but chances are it's someone self-important." That's no small advantage in a city that, in 2010, saw a traffic jam that extended for 99 kilometres (62 miles) and lasted eleven days.
More interesting than the original story is the impassioned debate it's inspired on the various forums and comment sections of the sites that have reported it (though the term "debate" may elevate the exchanges to a higher level of dignity than they merit). And while they use different terms, the many hundreds of comments recycle the same themes over and over.
In fact, a full review of the comments suggests strongly that most of them were made by the same small handful of people, posting under a variety of handles to show popular support for their own point of view. Below is amalgam comments sharing a common pet theme, sometimes paraphrased or rephrased in the interest of brevity or clarity. The names of the posters have been changed to project their inanity.
Person Who Is the Voice of Northern Restraint: "Canadians are sensible. Camrys are sensible. Mulroney owning this car is sensible. China, be sensible."
Person Who Alone Is Willing to Expose Western Hypocrisy: "What a joke - Canadians, sensible? Canadians are as materialistic as Americans and we have been duped by Mulroney and his Camry."
Person Who Is Not Afraid to Take a Side: "The only reason Chinese people care about high-status cars is because they are shallow and soulless and materialistic and dead inside."
Person Who Is Not Afraid to Take the Other Side: "By materialistic, do you mean that soon we'll have all the stuff and you'll have none? Hope you've enjoyed your little ice fishing and maple syrup parties because we are about to BURY you."
Person Who Alone Is Willing to Expose Eastern Hypocrisy: "What a joke - China, global superpower? China has been cheapened by our pursuit of cheap Western values and soon this house of cards will collapse on our heads. Thanks a lot, West."
Person Who Really Wants to Use That Degree in Semiotics: "Why can't you all understand that these cars are symbols of where we stand in the great arc of history? China is on the ascent, so values symbols that represent its aspirations. Canada and the U.S. are on a plateau or decline, so they value symbols that connect them to their roots. Wait, come back, don't you want to hear how the automobile symbolizes our drive for national autonomy?."
Person Who Wants to Have a Totally Different Conversation: "Why is everyone so obsessed with cars anyway? What's wrong with bicycles and public transportation? And scooters? And roller skates? If you loved the earth like me you'd go everywhere on a pogo stick."
Person Who Posts on Every Forum I Ever Visit: "You are a sad bunch of #@$% and you should all go *&^% before I #$% you myself."
Person Who Wants the Internet to Be Happy: "Why don't the Chinese just get the cars they like and Canadians get the cars they like and we can just forget this whole thing?"
One thing is clear from the comments of these very busy nine Internet mavens: people take the symbolic significance of cars very, very seriously. Because of all the bizarre notions expressed on these forums, the one question not considered anywhere is whether Mulroney likes his Camry. It seems taken as given that his only reasons for choosing a car would be to "send a message."
No word from Toyota on how they feel about this free advertising, which may be about to test the maxim that there's no such thing as bad press.
News Source: Evergeek
Video Source: YouTube