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Date Posted: 10:34 18/02/2005

Lord, if the Chinese didn't put Saddam on a slipper

Running Dog guest columnist spots another manifestation of the Saddam brand

by 'Ernest Hemingway'

A TENET of faith I have long clung to is the belief that at least one thing happens to each of us every single day that is worth remembering for the rest of our lives. Sometimes, for sure, it takes a little digging to realize what that thing was, and other days they clobber you over the head with it.

Imagine the thought of wearing Saddam Hussein's face on fuzzy yellow bath slippers. My dumb ass was giddy on seeing that shoe.

I had come upon the single fuzzy yellow slipper walking through the supermarket across the street from my apartment in uptown Shanghai. Quickly, I searched through the metal bin of slippers for another shoe to make the one I already had a pair. Finding nothing, I recruited two middle-aged lady store clerks to help me look, but never found a partner for the slipper. On top of that, the store refused to sell me the one shoe that was left, as there was no price tag or any sort of serial number on it. In the end, it seemed, the fuzzy yellow slipper, like the man whose likeness graced its lid, was a despot that did not play by the rules, that could not be bought or bargained for, but had to be stolen.

All the same, thievery is not something I am proud of. It is a loathsome and offensive act, and in this specific case, would to some of my fellow Americans be made even more so by the fact that the object I coveted enough to steal was the image of a man who by all accounts was a heartless and cruel dictator that would have wreaked havoc on the United States if he had had the means. Beyond that, I am sure the idea of celebrating a man such as Saddam, by for example putting his face on footwear, is unsettling and even revolting to many Americans. Footwear honors are reserved for athletes after all. But outside the U.S. for non-Americans in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, Uncle Sam is not always a benevolent figure. For these men and women, a man like Saddam, who stands up to the world's only superpower, can become somewhat heroic.

China is of course no different. This country, after all, home to the Osama Bin Laden Barbeque restaurant, a place where the press mourned the spiritual leader of Hamas when he was blown up by an Israeli missile, and where a business man from the city of Wenzhou registered the likeness of a bearded Saddam as a protected trademark. Do the Chinese hate the U.S.? No. Tom Cruise, Levis, Friends, and Coca Cola sell better than hotcakes in China. The truth is that the Chinese are afraid of the U.S., just like a lot of other folks in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Case in point: the 'accidental' bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade by American warplanes during the air campaign against Serbia in 1999. The Chinese were fuming. Angry speeches were given by top officials, newspaper editorials damned the those yankees, and Chinese protestors broke windows at their local MacDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken. But the truth was there was nothing substantive or substantial that China could do in response to that bombing. They could not put trade sanctions on the U.S., that would have been economic suicide, and they sure as hell could not take military action. And so, all that yelling and all those broken windows was really like a man getting chewed out by his boss, then going home and taking it out on his wife by beating her up. The Chinese are afraid of the U.S. because deep inside they know they cannot stop the U.S. from doing what it wants.

In the light of such fears, men like Saddam become admirable. Putting his face on slippers or registering his likeness as a trademark, meanwhile, is really nothing more than capitalism at its best. If the fear of the U.S. makes Chinese consumers feel somewhat warmly for Saddam, then make some money off it. When people are afraid they will buy all sorts of stupid shit. The Chinese have learned this quickly, and they have learned it from the country that perfected selling fear, the good old U-S-of-A.

An entire industry in the U.S. was created around providing people with emergency supplies for the end of the millennium. The gun industry helps to protect your home from the millions of psychos in Rhode Island. Look at who got rich off the cold war. And now, the fear of China is beginning to raise its head in the U.S. Just this week, the Director of the CIA told a senate committee that China's build up of weapons was shifting the balance of power in the Taiwan Straits. Well then, Taiwan should buy more weapons from the U.S.

I think capitalism is a great thing though. What's wrong with the desire for a better life? What's wrong with ambition? So what if we play on people's fears to sell stuff? We already play men's libidos by showing them sexy girls to get them to drink more beer. Hell, we even supersize hamburgers to get overweight people to eat more. Fear is just as much a natural human emotion as the desire to reproduce and keep ourselves fed. Smart businessmen make money off of it. The Wenzhou guy who registered Saddam's likeness took advantage, as did the individual that produced the Saddam slippers. Fear is not going away, so expect people to keep on making a profit off it. Well, unless everyone goes around stealing. 'Why would they give it to us for free,' a friend said to me yesterday, 'if we could get it ourselves for nothing?'

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