Tuesday, June 15, 2010

tomorrow, when the war began and the myth of the imminent invasion

So, the remake of Red Dawn, where USAmericans beat up Chinese Communists, has been delayed indefinitely. I'm totally cool with that.

A movie project that has not been delayed is the Tomorrow, When the War Began movie. It comes out later this year in Australia. I had thought that maybe I would have to explain for ages and ages my issues with this movie, but then I found an article to explain it for me:
“If I named a country, it wouldn’t be that book; it would be something else entirely. What the book and the movie are about is these eight teenagers and what happens to them when their country is invaded, not who’s doing it or why. The ethnicity just makes common sense. If anyone is going to invade Australia, it’s not going to be Europe, and it’s not going to be Africa. It won’t be Antarctica or New Zealand. It’s going to be someone in Asia. It’s the logical thing. It’s common sense enough for an audience to say ‘ok, that’s who it would be’” he explained.
Okay, wait, here is my explanation: as much as I loved this series for giving me a young Asian-Australian who wasn't 'exotic,' who was just struggling with stuff and living his life and having romantic teenage entanglements with people who weren't Asian, I hated this series for giving me an agressor who fed into the Australian zeitgeist of imminent invasion by the yellow hordes to the North.

This idea that permeates this country, imminent invasion by the hordes to the North, is not new and it's not yet gone; Prolonged Symptoms of Cultural Anxiety: The Persistence of Narratives of Asian Invasion within Multicultural Australia is a paper that looks at just this idea. It's a good read, and highlights basically everything I dislike about the genre (including his use of racial stereotypes, and his erasing of Indigenous Australians with White (settler) Australians), and this series in particular;
The popular reception of Marsden’s invasion narrative signifies the historical continuity of Australian invasion anxiety within changing cultural contexts.
Shouldn't we be past this by now? Can't we be past this? I've had to deal with this for so long, and this idea is a key element of the undertones of xenophobia so many of us have to put up with (regularly or irregularly), and it's so frustrating that it's the basis of this Australian classic that doesn't even have the excuse of being written during Federation or whatever. It was the big text when I was a teenager, when I was trying to figure out what it meant to be Australian and Chinese and all the rest of it.

If you think this is an over-reaction, that people don't seriously believe this stuff - well, check out the comments on any online Australian paper when there's an article on immigration, any country in Asia, or border crossings. Or sometimes crime involving people of Asian descent. It's awesome reading.

At least we always had the ambiguity, in the book, teeny tiny though it was.

And now we get the whole freaking movie.


  1. I couldn't agree with you more.

    *Spoiler warning*

    I also found it ridiculous when in the book, it implied the invaders were Indonesian and simply jumped on every barely seafaring boats they could find and crossed the boarder (zomfg boat people invsaion anyone?). I find it difficult to believe a horde of Chinese army can invade undetected with a massive fleet of fishing boats.

    I think they can also make a story called "Yesterday, when the War Begin", about how white settlers invaded Australia and continued their armed occupation and colonisation.

  2. Couldn't agree with you more!
    If we want to talk about who really has the history and tendency of invading Australia, it's a Western imperial nation like the British. And they were not a "neighbour" of Australia. They sailed patiently all the way from the other side of the globe and yet they still invaded Australia. So the logic that says that just because you're a neighbour you are more likely to invade is elementary school immaturity.

    The only nation that has ever invaded and conquered Australia was the British not any Asian country. Not even Japan even though they bombed Darwin. They never ended up colonising the Indigenous of Australia. Only the British Empire did.

    China had enough maritime expertise and power to land in Australia in the 1400's which was about 388 years before James Cook reached Australian shores, but the Chinese never even touched Australia. And even if they did, they would never have exterminated the natives because that was not their foreign policy. Proof of this is because the Chinese did not invade and conquer any other country they went to by ship.

    Australia is now a civilised and multicultural society. How dare any Australian portray "Asians" as intending to "invade" "Australia"?

    Any text that attempts to paint "Asians" as the "enemies" is xenophobic without excuse.

    So in conclusion, "yes", we should get over this. And anyone who writes a book like this should "grow up" regardless of "intentions". It's what one says that has the potential to hurt fellow citizens. Not what one "intends". "Intentions" even good ones are invisible. They only become evident when you express them in one way or another. And portraying "Asians" as enemies is not showing any goodwill to Asians anywhere in the world. And yet Asia is our largest trading partner.

    There is no excuse for writing a novel that mentions "Asians" as our enemies unless it is based on historical fact.

    If it was a genuine fantasy novel, why doesn't it have truly fantasy characters like in Avatar?
    And if there was no intention of xenophobia, then why paint the enemies as "Asians" at all?
    Why not portray them as just aliens from out of space?
    Why create an imaginary "regional conflict" with a group of people that already exist when the world would be better off not having a conflict with any group of people in the world?

    As a post white-Australia policy society, we really have to wake up to this cultural blind spot within ourselves before we can continue developing our national consciousness.

    Although I do not see Marsden's book as racist, it is obvious that it is a piece of literature that is xenophobic in nature. It is either genuinely xenophobic or it desires to capitalise on tacit xenophobia that still exists within our society. Which ever the case, it is not an expression of goodwill to "our neighbours". No gold medals for guessing why the film didn't become a success "overseas" in Asia.