Last Night's TV: The Lost World of Tibet, BBC4; The Fake Trade, Channel 4; Damages, BBC2
Instant karma with the Dalai Lama
Tuesday 04 March 2008
Of all the world's religious leaders, the Dalai Lama has always seemed to me the least holier than thou, the least self-righteous, the least given to earnest moralising, and yet he is the only one forced to live in exile from his homeland (the Archbishop of Canterbury is Welsh, but that doesn't really count). Even as a Buddhist, he could be excused the odd bit of fire and brimstone.
That homeland as he once knew it was the subject of a modest gem of a documentary, The Lost World of Tibet, which showcased some rarely seen colour film, recorded before the Chinese invaded Tibet in 1950. This would have been interesting enough in its own right, but what made it really compelling was the involvement of the Dalai Lama, himself, whom we watched watching the pictures on a laptop. It was ever so slightly unsettling to think of this as the Dalai Lama's own laptop, but in this day and age there's no reason why spirituality and megabytes shouldn't mix.
Whatever, it was immensely uplifting to watch His Holiness (he also answers to Gentle Glory, Ocean of Wisdom, Wish-Fulfilling Gem, Saviour or just Presence, which makes it all the more remarkable that he seems devoid of self-regard) deriving such pleasure from seeing 70-year-old footage of himself and his family. "Oooh, my father!" he exclaimed, pointing at a man who, he later told us, liked to use bone marrow to smooth his moustache. He was similarly delighted to see the pedal-car presented to him in 1940 by the British envoy to Tibet, Sir Basil Gould. But it was his older brother who got to sit in the car first, just to make sure it was safe. "Sometimes I jealous," recalled the Dalai Lama, with a laugh that lit up my whole evening. His eyes twinkled. "Sometimes," he added, "I bully."
In 1950, his responsibilities as temporal and spiritual leader of Tibet became a whole lot more onerous, with the arrival of 40,000 Chinese troops. He sent messages to Britain and the US asking them to intervene. They declined. Similarly, the United Nations turned the blindest of blind eyes. The Dalai Lama had to deal with the situation on his own. He was 15, just a few months older than my daughter is now. The only situation she has to deal with on her own is the occasional late arrival of the 16.48 train from Hereford to Leominster. Split ends as well, on a really bad day.
In 1959, the Dalai Lama – who has never known the annoyance of split ends – escaped to northern India, where 80,000 refugees joined him, and where he has lived ever since. He got out in the nick of time; it seems that the Chinese were planning to have him bumped off. They also imprisoned thousands of Tibetans in labour camps, sacked the monasteries, and forced nuns and monks to marry one another. The Dalai Lama was none too pleased with any of this, yet he continued to assert one of the tenets of Buddhism –"one's enemy is one's greatest teacher". As the credits rolled, I was sorely tempted to make a robe out of a bedsheet and shave my head.
The People's Republic of China did not emerge from the evening's television schedules with much credit. The Fake Trade is a documentary series about the global counterfeiting boom, and apparently it booms loudest in Shenzhen, a fishing village 30 years ago, but now bigger than New York City.
That is a genuinely astounding fact, but the rest of the programme struggled to match it. Ominous background music, which all too often became ominous foreground music, accompanied dire warnings about the counterfeiting industry constituting the biggest, most fiendish criminal enterprise in the world, as though the greatest threat to life as we know it is a fake Gucci handbag. The implication was that Fu Manchu, were he alive today, would be flooding the world with ersatz Nike trainers.
Of course, if this series convinces me that counterfeiting relies more than any other industry on sweatshops, that for every fake Rolex there's a gang of Chinese children working 12-hour-days for a pittance, then I might manage to crank up my indignation. Until then, a summit meeting of CEOs of some of the world's leading multinationals, discussing how to deal with this dreadful blight on their profits, is simply not a spectacle that pricks my tear ducts. Still, I somehow managed to stay with The Fake Trade until the end of the credits, and saw that it is written and directed by Nick Hornby. The real one, do you think?
Either way, as an exercise in nothing and no one being quite what we have been led to believe, The Fake Trade can't hold a candle to the thrillingly bewildering Damages, which continues to enthral and last night even hinted at some sapphic interest beween Ellen (Rose Byrne) and Patti (Glenn Close). The most troubling mystery of all, though, is why it's on so bloody late.
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