Friday, January 27, 2006

Extra, extra: Baby boomer admits to feeling concerned for his generation’s legacy

I'm extremely concerned that we're leaving to our children and grandchildren the worst legacy that any generation has in history.

says former late-60s uni student and now documentary film-maker Nick Torrens.

Of course, even as he admits his concern, he (inadvertently, probably) twists the knife into a good chunk of GenX. For the millionth time – there is a large cohort out there, including me (b. 1964) that is NOT baby boomer, and is NOT the children (or grandchildren) of boomers, nor is even a sibling of boomers.

Anyway, Torrens’s doco, “The Men Who Would Conquer China” – which aired on ABC the other night – should be left to speak for itself, which it does quite well. Out of the several binaries the doco turns on, including boomer capitalist (American Mart Bakal) vs Xer capitalist (Hongkong Chinese Vincent Lee), I’d say the most striking is the non-binary for New Yorker Bakal, around 10 vs 12 September 2001.

Setting the scene: Bakal is filmed sometime before 11 September 2001, speaking from neon-lit central Beijing, and feeling expansive, having noticed just how many American brands are up in lights:

This is just like being in Times Square in New York. Globalisation’s working; it’s getting rid of the enmity; it’s getting rid of the sense that it’s them-and us. We’re all together, we’re one people around the world.

That’s what globalisation’s about – it’s the combining and communications. That we watch the same things on television, that we can all see CNN, we listen to the same music, we watch the same movies.

The American way of life and its sense of freedom and the opportunity to make money is good for citizens of all countries around the world. It’s terrible that there’s so much resentment against the United States today, because it’s the greatest place on earth.

[cue footage of World Trade Centre tumbling down, etc.]

Needless to say, there is no suggestion in the doco that Bakal would resile from a single word of the above, post 9/11. Which, for me anyway, rather suggests that that day’s atrocities, as a wake-up call, still uncomfortably exist in snooze-button land, meaning that the alarm will and must go off all over again, sometime in the future.

Possibly, Bakal’s being effectively cast as the Ugly American from central casting is unfair to the real-life guy. But a snippet of what has to be the latter, real McCoy does emerge in a later vignette.

On the verge of finally doing a long-awaited Big China Deal, Bakal is being told at the last minute that the target – a Chinese tyre factory that has gone broke – is not available for purchase unencumbered: the tyre factory’s management want “in”, too. Specifically, they want first to buy the asset themselves (via a management buy-out) ,and then on-sell it to Bakal and Lee’s cashed-up joint venture.

Bakal – who apparently made most of his money in Eastern Europe in the early 90s, where and when management kleptocracy was all the rage, as long as the Western carpet-bagger got his cut – can’t, for whatever reason, stomach this when it comes to the Chinese:

I don’t think it’s very fair that the management team thinks that they can talk the government into selling [the tyre factory] to them for essentially free, and then sell it to, us for a much higher price . . . We’re going to talk to the government, and stop these guys from trying to be crooks.

I’m at a loss the comprehend Bakal’s sense of morality here. Maybe, a la the Marquis of Queensberry calling Oscar Wilde a “posing [sodomite]”, there’s an important inflection in Bakal’s “trying to be crooks”. As in – no new entrants permitted to our little game.

How very boomer of him– and how nice that, in China at least, Bakal gets done like a dinner.

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