May 05, 2012

Vitas: Diplomatic License


One aspect of old China that Vitas stongly reappropriates is Asian spirituality, philosophy and religion- the most controversial of all. But things in China have been changing. I have read that the government does not bother the Christian churches springing up everywhere (although for the most part they are state-controlled), and most of the major monasteries have been restored. I have read that the government doesn't mind so long as it doesn't, from their perspective, get out of hand (eg Falun Gong).

Vitas dressed as Buddhist monk 
in video 'Opera 1'
In one video shot in Thailand, called "Opera 1," Vitas, head shaved, is dressed as a Buddhist monk and worshipped like a Buddha at the temple, which I found startling. When Vitas goes away (that is, not on tour), they say it is to Tibet. While there, he met with Indian monks who told him what reincarnation he is. Rumor has it that on the death of his mother he went there for some time, to recover. He belongs to a service organization the Daili Lama belongs to.

"We always want more than we have. . ."

He says his favorite book is the Bible. Although it is said that one of his parents is Jewish, from his songs he seems to be a practicing Christian; it appears from at least one song, Russian Orthodox. I would venture to guess that he has found for himself a comfortable mix of Christianity and eastern spiritualism.

The irony is, I believe his attraction to spirituality and religion actually increases Vitas' popularity; it helps the Chinese to feel in tune with him, as they are themselves reconstructing and piecing together a way of life simultaneously new and old.

Vitas is originally from Latvia 
and grew up in Odessa, Ukraine

In what strikes me as controversial, Vitas wrote a song "Forgive Us, Lord," which outright apologizes to G-d for the churches having been destroyed in Russia. From the reference to the tzar, I cannot think this is anything other than an apology for the Russian Communists- like China- banning religion.

Some of the lyrics to "Forgive Us, Lord":

I shall wash myself with the holy water
And stand praying at the icon.
I ask God to absolve Russia from sins.
God, please forgive us for everything:
For the crosses that were pulled off the churches,
For the killed tzar,
And for the burnt icons...


Vitas plays the Russian revolutionary Voitinsky, 
for Chinese movie 'Foundation of a Party'

Vitas good-naturedly participated in China's controversial star-filled propaganda blockbuster "Foundation of a Party" last year. He played Voitinsky, an early Russian revolutionary who was sent to China in the 1920s to help the new republic find its direction. Just as Vitas has come to China from Russia. Significantly, Voitinsky stayed only a few months and left China before Mao rose up.

Participating in propaganda as a founding Communist seems in contradiction to the other things I've said about Vitas, his spirituality and neutrality, and the song "Forgive Us, Lord." It's like he's coming at China from all different directions, simultaneously.
Catholic church in Dali, China

An artist is someone who is allowed to cross borders, bridging the distance between his culture and the host culture, making peace. The artist has, as it were, "diplomatic license" in what to say and do. A sort of "backdoor diplomat."

Vitas said in an interview, "I always return to China as if I return home."

I think Vitas' controversial 360 degree view actually makes him more popular. The new China is looking in all directions too; she is looking to reconcile the old with the new. It must be a confusing time for China as she opens up and yet stays the same. To me, Vitas is mirroring back to China not only her pride in herself, but her own tangle of new attitudes.

I have taken much liberty with my guesswork. Please let me know anything that I have gotten wrong.

1 comment:

Grauben said...

Social proceses going on in China as well as in Rusia are pretty complex. I know from fact that most of young people in Rusia are mostly confused and dissapointed. While a lot of things about comunism are said in places like the USA, truth is that comunism placed Russia in the top of the world for quite a time. It had good things and bad things. Russia is open to trade now but is also in ruins. It's like a post traumatic time for their population, especially for young people. Some ways they developed to "run away" from reality include an excesive religiosity, among othe things. Ortodox church has much power and money nowadays. I don't think this is good, but well. China is improving so fast. I think you got it right the fact they are trying to join the many aspects of their culture as they develop faster than any other country in the world. I worked with a chinese team of doctors a while ago. It's be too long to talk about comunism in China here, but basically, I got the feeling they are still proud of it and they are aware comunism, as everything else, has to evolve in order to be coherent with our times. People in Russia can't really tell whether Vitas is nostalgic with the past or regrets it. General feeling is as most good real artists, he's able to cross lines as you well said. He's performed many many times in events dedicated to the Great Patriotic War and Veterans and these tend to be full of comunist references such as athems, songs, symbols, flags and he seems to feel it well in the heart, but he also asks for forgiveness for religious shut down. His grandfather and father are known to be the nostalgic type.