Thursday, July 23, 2009

Thoughts on Tibet

I'm in the middle of watching a documentary, "10 Questions for the Dalai Lama," and I'm having trouble stomaching it. I've heard that putting someone on a pedestal is the same as putting them in the gutter, and that's exactly what director Rick Ray does to the Tibetan people.

I cringe when filmmakers and photographers stick their cameras in the faces of lower-class people without getting permission to film them, especially if the people are tired or don't want to be filmed or are in the middle of doing something private. One cut has a man working on some prayer beads who looks up at the camera as if he doesn't want to be filmed, then returns to the beads. Would you want a foreign film crew randomly filming you if you were in the middle of lighting a candle for your dead grandmother in a Catholic church?

Ray never interviews any of the faces he portrays--it's just shot after shot of people who live a supposed "noble life" because they live in Tibetan exile. So the first part of the film is dedicated to the Dalai Lama's history and the people of Tibet, but not from a very informative standpoint, from a much idealized standpoint.

I finally got to the point in the movie where Rick Ray is interviewing the Dalai Lama, and his first question is, "Why do poor people seem so much happier than rich people?" I'm embarrassed to be a white person when I hear such questions. You only need to walk around a poorer area of the United States to know that poor people are not necessarily happier--in fact they might like to go on a cruise. I had to turn off the movie for a minute.

I don't believe that poor people are necessarily happier than rich people, and I don't believe it's something to aspire to. Simplicity is noble, sure, but also important are adequate health care and human rights. Anyone who believes poor people are nobler probably never spent much time out of the educated upper class.

My parents visited Tibet this summer, and they showed me a picture of a Tibetan farm family. "Guess how old this woman is," said my father. A woman with a tan, wrinkly face--I guessed fifty-five. I was sure my father would say she was seventy, and I'd be so impressed with some traditional diet and spirituality that was keeping her young and vital. "She's thirty-five years old," he said. The lack of a healthy variety in the Tibetan diet was contributing to her aging prematurely. Is this something to aspire to?


Anonymous said...

Well said. I think people comfort themselves with the thought that poor people are happier than rich people. IN fact those who have a lot need to provide for those who don't. It's simple. Our gifts are collective. We need to share our good fortune with others. We all need to be aware of how our own actions impact those of others. Indifference is the real crime of humanity.

Carol Maskus said...

Thank you.