In his recent newspaper article, local academic Hui contents that when trying to understand Hong Kong (“HK”) political controversies surrounding such issues as Mainland-HK conflicts, the crisis of the rule of law, Old Age Living Allowance, and LGBT rights, it may not suffice just to look at the people’s judgments and beliefs from a cognitive and ideological perspective. In a city undergoing affective turn, affect and emotions play an important role in mobilizing people’s political participation. For instance, the fear of fundamental rights being corroded as a result of the post-1997 political changes may account for HK people’s care for freedom, the rule of law, the June-Forth Massacre and the “suicide” of the mainland activist Li Wangyang; the hatred of “foreign enemy” from mainland together with the worry of local resources (jobs, benefits, opportunities etc) being unfairly allocated may account for the people’s strong action against mainland pregnant women and new immigrants; and the fear of students being “brainwashed” may be a decisive factor in driving people to protest against the Moral and National Education subject introduced by the government.

While studying the changes in America’s political atmosphere during recent decades, Lawrence Grossberg suggests that the New Right (the neo-conservatives) by recycling and appropriating the readily available postmodern sensibility (a sense of doubt, hopelessness and helplessness) in popular culture, quite successfully promoted a kind of affective politics, rendering politics confrontational in nature (via formation of frontiers), one resorting to fanaticism, wanting of serious debates on public affairs, and one which discourages people’s investment in normal political activities. As a result of cynicisms generated by such politics, the New Right de-politicized politics, shrinking it into concerning only about matters within everyday life, for the convenience of advancing their own conservative political agenda. In the course of such argument, Grossberg analyzed the various strategies deployed by the New Right and explained why they were successful in constructing such a conservative-friendly environment.

Putting Grossberg’s analysis into the context of HK, and seemingly echoing Hui’s claim of the society’s affective turn, we do see an increasing appeal to affect in the political arena, increasing fanaticism and simultaneous cynicism, and an increasing politically aware yet de-politicizing society. We also see the rise of a confrontational politics in which frontiers separating not only the government and the people, but also the different groups within the “anti-government” (pro-democratic) bloc are formed. In addition we see the various strategies that were used by the Grossberg’s New Right being deployed today by different players in the HK political theatre. However, Grossberg’s analysis provides us with just another pair of spectacles to look at the HK political phenomenon, letting us see things from a different perspective, regrouping conflicting findings under a different umbrella. Factors underlying those phenomenon and findings are not able and supposed to be revealed by this Grossberg spectacles. After all, the political environment of America for the past decades and that of the post-1997 HK are two entirely different worlds. Blurs such as the authoritative nature of the mainland government, HK’s lack of democratic system, and the different mediating agents within the HK society facilitating affect’s proliferation require the use of other spectacles to render visible.

Hence in this paper, Grossberg’s analysis on affective politics and cynicism will first be laid out. Then by using this spectacles, the renewed “view” of the current situation of HK will be presented. Finally views that are beyond the pane of this pair of spectacles will be cursorily displayed.

Recommended Citation

CHOW, Pok Yin (2013). Looking at Hong Kong politics through a pair of affective spectacles. Cultural Studies@Lingnan, 33. Retrieved from http://commons.ln.edu.hk/mcsln/vol33/iss1/1/