Watching Andor in Beijing

2022-11-26 ☼ cultureChinablog

Recent Big-IP blockbusters have approximated the texture of Trump-era America without actually confronting its politics. Spider-Man: No Way Home reimagines J. Jonah Jameson as an Alex Jones figure, but makes no attempt to explain the mechanics of how exactly his face has ended up on video screens all over New York. The Batman has the Riddler orchestrating a QAnon-style conspiracy without providing any convincing explanation for his appeal. Andor seemed to be doing something different, directly engaging with the substance of fascism beneath the surface of A Galaxy Far Far Away.

everyone else writing a Disney+ Star Wars show: the thesis of my show is I played with action figures as a kid and now I get to make my favorite characters do cool things :)”

Tony Gilroy: the one way out of fascist rule is armed revolution”

— Max Rebo’s Roadie (@KevKoeser) November 9, 2022

In the words of Fiona Shaw: Andor is a great, scurrilous [take] on the Trumpian world.” In fact, there are occasional moments when the angles of reality poke out a little too far through the fabric of the show, like when characters at a cocktail party talk about how Palpatine, for all his faults, is at least a leader who says what he means”.

So at first I thought Tony Gilroy was being disingenuous when he denied that Andor has any direct political intent:

It’s fascinating to watch all these people try to… adopt the politics of the show for their particular politics, because we’re not trying to be contemporary in any sense. Anything that is contemporary is just a fact that people aren’t looking at history — slavery, colonialism, imperialism, oppression, frustration — these are three-thousand-year-old issues…

But my opinion has shifted after watching the the season finale of Andor in Beijing, on a night when WeChat is an endless torrent of discontent; when communities, districts, cities are in revolt against the faceless, white-clad minions of authority; when popular discontent feels sharper and more palpable than at any other moment in all the years I have been living in China; when even watching the World Cup, the most strenuously apolitical of sporting spectacles, feels like a subversive glimpse into a world without COVID-Zero.

Andor has nothing to do with China, but feels like it was specifically created for this exact moment in this exact place. Nemic’s manifesto could have been written to be overlaid onto the montage of the shaky Douyin videos from Zhengzhou, Urumqi, Nanjing, Lanzhou, that everyone is now watching on repeat:

There will be times when the struggle seems impossible… Alone, unsure, dwarfed by the scale of the enemy, remember this: freedom is a pure idea. It occurs spontaneously and without instruction. Random acts of insurrection are occurring constantly… And even the smallest act of insurrection pushes our lines forward. And then remember this: the imperial need for control is so desperate because it is so unnatural. Tyranny requires constant effort. It breaks, it leaks. Authority is brittle. Oppression is the mask of fear… The day will come when all these skirmishes and battles, these moments of defiance will have flooded the banks of the Empire’s authority, and then there will be one too many. One single thing will break the siege. Remember this. Try.

A great work of political art — which is what Andor is — can feel viscerally relevant anytime, anywhere, regardless of the local conditions that (consciously or unconsciously) shaped its creation.

(I have many more thoughts on Andor! Here are some of them. Here are some more.)