Russia Today: dangerously enjoyable

Remember when we deconstructed this puerile-but-amusing gag from Russia Today, involving adding the Pink Panther theme to footage of an awkward guy trying to eavesdrop on a private conversation between Obama and Putin?

Awkward spy

Turns out we weren’t the only ones in stitches. It was picked up by Have I Got News for You (fast forward to 9:06). Check out the BBC and RT logos in that screengrab above.

If you don’t know what Have I Got News for You is, it’s kind of like the British version of the Daily Show but more politically neutral. It’s extremely popular and very influential.

This is all the more interesting because the show has regular digs at Russia in general (later on in that episode they get a good five minutes’ worth of material out of a story about cheating Russian athletes). The lesson for any PR professional is clear: no one can resist funny internet videos. No one.

If the Russian team had complained about poor security at the G20, mostly no one would have listened, maybe one or two people would have accused them of paranoia. Putting a gag video on the internet makes sure everyone knows.

Don’t mention the war

The Japanese internet has been amusing itself lately with these photos of Prince Andrew, the Lord Mayor of London’s wife and some Arab guy apparently bored witless by Xi Jinping’s speech at the London Guildhall*.

Xi Jinping, Prince Andrew

Xi Jinping, Prince Andrew

To be fair, the speech was nearly half an hour long, which is a good strong dose, even for the most consenting of adults. It’s not surprising that at some point both Gillian Yarrow and Air Miles Andy would have let the facade slip a little.

What’s interesting is the spin put on it by the Japanese viral content aggregators at Buzz Media. Translated:

Visiting England, China’s President Xi Jinping addressed both Houses of Parliament for the first time on the 20th. [T.N. This is obviously incorrect, but we’re not looking at Pulitzer-class journalism here.]

He pointed out that both countries had fought against the “Japanese aggression” in World War Two.

Xi’s unrelenting criticism of Japan was not limited to that remark, coming as it did after the formal opening of the banquet during which he once against stressed “Japanese brutality” during the War.

The effect of China’s constantly harping on its anti-Japanese historical viewpoint can be seen in the following photographs…

For those of you who persist in caring about such trifles as facts, Buzz Media has, in fact, confused its speeches. Xi brought up Japan at the Buckingham Palace dinner, which did indeed take place on the 20th. The Guildhall event was on the 22nd. I have no idea whether he also brought it up at the latter dinner. (You surely don’t expect me to actually listen to the thing?)

The Buzz Media piece goes on to tease Xi about his apparent ignorance of the convention that one does not air one’s grievances at mealtimes. It also speculates that the fact that Prince Charles was not present was a subtle snub on the part of the British establishment (unkind wits may well suggest that a far greater snub would have been to oblige Xi to sit next to him, but there…), and quotes a twitter post listing other real or imagined slights towards Xi on the part of the British. Namely: the Queen kept her gloves on to shake hands (she always does this), and that they had him give an interview in front of a poorly screened toilet door (which, admittedly, is pretty funny).

It also compares pictures of the Pope addressing a packed house at the UN and of Xi addressing a large proportion of empty chairs.

*Yes. Guildhalls are a thing that we really have. No dragons, warlocks or dire wolves though, sadly.

An Everyday Story of Country Folk…

David Cameron finally got round to taking Xi Jinping to a pub. A typical British pub with a cheery coterie of regulars who are in no way, shape or form secret service goons poorly disguised as The Archers.

David Cameron, Xi Jinping, pub

Evening all. Jolene, Kenton, 007…

David Cameron and Xi Jinping in a pub

That’s the quality of pint you get when your barman spends his days destabilising small African countries.

David Cameron and Xi Jinping goe to a pub

Xi unimpressed by a friendly local’s description of precisely how one hides a tracking beacon about one’s person when sneaking behind enemy lines.

Feel free to compare this with Angela Merkel’s famous Caxton Street selfie.

The Plough, incidentally, is the pub where Cameron famously forgot his daughter after an afternoon on the sauce.

More on Xi Jinping’s visit to the UK

Xi Jinping, Charles, Camilla

The Chinese media continue the build-up to Xi Jinping’s visit to the UK. For a selection of video reports, click here.

The third video, which I would embed if I could, is particularly interesting, listing as it does the schedule for the visit and a proportion of the official protocol involved. Of particular interest is the pageantry-to-serious business ratio, which seems to be a good bit higher than for many official visits.

There’s a very good reason for this. Namely, that Britain only has two sources of income left: its accomodating financial laws and its Gross National Quaintness. Clearly they intend to push both of them as far as they can during this visit. Note Cameron’s comment about Britain having an “open” economy in the second video; we won’t ask you where your money came from, huddled tuhao masses.

Moreover, contrary to what you might expect from a (theoretically) communist country, the Chinese have no principled objection to monarchy. From a Western point of view, wherein there is a tendency to rank foreign countries based on how closely they stick to values that we approve of (democracy, human rights), this may appear unexpected. However, the Beijing consensus is not merely a matter of international posturing: they genuinely could not care less how other countries run themselves. If the British want a monarchy and it looks cool on tv, then sure, why not? Let’s have lots of pictures of gold carriages and Kate Middleton on the evening news. It’s more fun than Li Keqiang visiting a fertilizer plant in Anhui.

Moreover, the British diplomatic corps has had ample chance to make note of this. A few years back David Cameron did a live chat on Weibo, and rather than asking about trade relationships, studying in the UK or the future of NATO, netizens by and large just wanted to know when the next series of Sherlock would be out in Chinese, and whether Cameron could do anything to speed up the process.

So in other words, the protocol here is directed not so much at Xi himself, although obviously it would be embarrasing if Britain was not able to give him as grand a welcome as other countries have taken to providing, as for the millions of Chinese citizens sitting at home watching on the evening news. It is effectively a display of Britain’s soft power superpower status.

What’s more, we’ve seen this happen before. In 2008, everyone was blown away by the overwhelming Beijing Olympics opening ceremony, but it was also a moment of reckoning for the British. They were scheduled to host the Games in 2012, and knew full well that they would never be able to match the spectacle produced by the Chinese. (It’s not just a matter of cash either; if you tell 15,000 British students that they have to spend their whole summer researsing cultural dances, their reply will begin and end with an F.)

So they decided to take another route. Not having a hope in hell of matching Zhang Yimou’s show, instead they had Daniel Craig push the Queen out of a helicopter while Mr. Bean played the piano. It was arguably just as effective as the Chinese production, and even – in an understated, British sort of way – managed to subvert it: “You used 15,000 dancers to create a media sensation? Well we can’t do that, but we can achieve much the same thing by means of Daniel Craig and a hairy stuntman wearing a dress and a tiara.”

Of course, none of this actually means anything until it translates into concrete economic and political gains…

Doing it wrong

Another one for the “not Asia” files, but I couldn’t resist, particularly since it’s an ancient post on body language that gets me most of my hits here.

If you’re reading this from the UK, you’ll probably already have seen that photo of George Osborne.

Yeah, that one.

Guido, however, has an explanation:

This rather odd photo of Osborne standing on stage before his speech yesterday is doing the rounds, with less kind elements of the Twitterati suggesting that he looks a bit weird. Guido can offer an explanation behind the ungainly pose. Top storytelling and speaker coach Peter Botting reveals:

“The broadening of the shoulders, the slow breathing and pumping his chest out, standing with his legs apart for stability and on the balls of his feet – it’s a confidence thing he is using to get himself in the zone – ready for his speech.” 

And you thought it was just because Thea liked him to do it like that. Method behind the madness…

Which is a fair point. They’re all good tips. But – and I in no way wish to cast doubt upon Mr. Botting’s storytelling abilities – here’s the thing: it shouldn’t be obvious to the audience that that’s what you’re doing. And it certainly shouldn’t look like you’re about to participate a in ski-jumping event.

Want to see some people doing it properly?

Royal Family

Prince Philip gets a lot of flack, but by God he receives it with excellent posture. No one can stand in one place like the Duke of Edinburgh. Always a pleasure to watch.

Whenever Putin walks away from something

True story. And you know why? Because he stands up straight.

Actually – it’s the balls-of-the-feet thing that’s most observable here. You’ll occasionally even notice him bounce up and down once or twice, which I believe is a judo thing. (In martial arts they say that you should just be able to slide a single sheet of paper underneath – take note George.)

Of course, the second he sits down it all goes to hell and he’s slouching all over the shop with his legs wide apart like a long-lost cousin of Boris Johnson’s, but ho hum, you can’t have everything.

Junichiro Koizumi yasukuni

Junichiro Koizumi. Actually, I could have picked pretty much any Japanese politician here. They’re generally much less agressive in their posture than leaders from other countries, but they’re so precise about it that it has a similarly intimidating effect. Which is not something you often hear said about a man wearing toe socks.