Losers can teach us some valuable lessons in life

Hongkongers need to rethink their blanket worship of the rich, famous and overachieving

PUBLISHED : Friday, 31 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 31 May, 2013, 4:13am

It should come as no surprise that the History of the Eagles, the new DVD from the band that defined the "California easy" lifestyle of the 1970s, is topping the bestselling charts the world over. Who wouldn't be curious about the story of a group that has sold more than 120 million albums?

Everybody loves a winner. But I find Hong Kong people's worship of the rich, famous and overachieving sometimes bordering on the ridiculous, hence the city's most successful businessman is known as "Superman". Every time he opens his mouth, local journalists are transfixed and dutifully report any banalities he utters as legitimate, if not front-page news.

Every year when the results of the public examinations are announced, all eyes are on the best performers, dubbed variously "genius", "prodigy" and "No 1 Scholar" by an admiring press.

And after Sarah Lee Wai-sze won bronze in the women's keirin at the 2012 London Olympic Games, the community at Ngau Tau Kok Lower Estate, where she grew up, christened her "Cycling Goddess". Apparently, her "humble" beginnings served only to make her triumph more complete and dramatic.

And if you judge a city by the covers of its gossip weeklies, Hong Kong's celebrity worship approaches a fixation.

Such an obsession with winning can have serious cultural consequences. Each movie, magazine, performance, show and book must either be a winner or a loser, a flop or a hit, a success or a failure, depending on how well it sells.

Take for instance The Great Gatsby - director Baz Luhrmann's kinetic adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel that is now showing in Hong Kong. It tells the story of a loser - who ultimately loses both his dream and his life. Fitzgerald would not have written sentences like this if he had not been able to fully inhabit the state of mind of a loser in despair: "He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon scarcely created grass."

New Yorkers are every bit as mad about success as Hong Kong people are, but that doesn't prevent them from looking at losers in a sympathetic, romantic and sometimes even heroic light. Woody Allen and illustrator Robert Crumb are two of the more notable examples of the artist-as-loser in New York. The best of their work speaks with what Fitzgerald calls the authority of failure.

As for Londoners, they love losers and see them as "one of us". Indeed, British artists have a special talent for making heroes out of losers and underdogs, whether it is the drinking, smoking and overweight Bridget Jones, or the four people on the roof in Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down.

So move over, winners; it's time we started listening to the losers.

Perry Lam is a local cultural critic