The Cultural Audience in Hong Kong

Ordinarily, I like to read an apparently interesting news story in as many different newspapers as possible -- or, if you will, the meta-analysis of the news coverage.  This is often more interesting than the original story.  The following is a report in Yahoo! News, and its source is attributed to "Various Reports."  In other words, someone there has already summarized and reconciled the reports that appeared in various newspapers.  Still, it is possible to tease out three different views of the same story:

The first story came in the form of an email that was sent to several media.  There was an allegation that about two weeks ago, a group of secondary school students from Hong Kong Queen's College went to the French Impressionist painting exhibit at the Hong Kong Art Museum and someone engaged in improper conduct.  The email alleges that one student used an infrared laser pointer to illuminate the paintings, and that other students left obscene messages in the guest book.

A responsible media organization would have to investigate the matter before reporting.  So who better than the school principal?

Queen's College principal Lee Lok-yin was interviewed yesterday and admitted that the teachers of the school took about 200 students to the Hong Kong Art Museum two weeks ago to view the French Impressionist paintings.  During that time, one students was advised by the museum security staff to cease and desist from using an infra-red laser pointer as well as being disorderly.  He emphasized that the pointer was not directed at the paintings and that the museum did not request police assistance.  He admitted that students left comments unrelated to the exhibit in the guest book, but he denied that those were obscene comments.

Lee Lok-yin emphasized that the school takes this matter seriously, and he has spoken to the student and his parents.  At a morning assembly, he has reminded everyone that "students must watch their deeds and words, in order not to damage the 140 years of reputation of Queen's College."

Lee Lok-yin said that the school has written a letter of apology to the Art Museum, and the specific student has designed a postcard to apologize personally to the museum director.  He was concerned that this affair would affect the reputation of the school adversely, even though it was the act of naughtiness by one individual student.

But what does the other side have to say?

A Department of Leisure and Cultural Affairs spokesperson said that two weeks ago (March 11), a certain group of students from Queen's College attended the French Impressionist paintings exhibit.  At that time, the security staff observed that one student used an infra-red laser pointer to shine on the paintings.  The student was warned to cease and desist.  Shortly after, the student was observed to repeat the act.  At that time, the security director asked the student to remove himself and then spoke to the teacher about the matter.  The teacher then reminded all the students about the museum protocol.

The spokesperson said that the museum thought that the student did not intend to damage the painting, and since there was no damage, they decided not to call in the police.  Afterwards, the school has written to the museum to apologize.  The spokesperson said, "In the opinion of the director of the Cultural Artifacts Preservation Group, the power of infrared lasers is too low to cause any damage to the exhibited items."

The spokesperson said that there are many comments left in the guest books every day, and obscenities account for less than 1 percent.  Since comments are usually anonymous, it is difficult to confirm the identity of the writers.

So this is an almost perfect consolidated report in which all the angles were covered.  Of course, nobody went and knocked on the door of the home of the student, but we should all be grateful for that.

This incident inspired an editorial in Sing Tao Daily that connects to the debate over the West Kowloon Cultural District.  Whereas much of the WKCD debate is over the hardware aspects, the software aspects (related to the audience receptivity, attitudes and behavior) are sidelined.  So this incident serves to bring out that other part of the discussion.

What is the deal here?  Hong Kong may be able to offer world-class rates to ask the top artists to come, but those artists would take less money to go to London or Milan instead.  A first-class opera singer would rather perform at Milan's La Scala opera house because that audience is more knowledgeable as well as demanding, whereas in Hong Kong, it would be like "playing the piano for the cow."  Thus, London and Milan can afford to bid lower rates and get better quality.  By comparison, there are performance artists who swear that they will never go back to Hong Kong no matter the amount of the money because of the rudeness and inattention of the audience.