Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Apologies to My Censor by Mitch Moxley

I bought this book randomly in 2018 and read it randomly this year; I have no larger story to tell or connections to make. It's a memoir of six years spent as a journalist in China, more or less, and was five years old when I found it.

Mitch Moxley is a Canadian, about a decade younger than me, and he was a mid-twenties journalist in 2007 when everything went to shit. Jobs were scarce, his life wasn't looking all that exciting, and so he took a strange opportunity when it came his way: to live in Beijing for a year as a reporter for the state-owned China Daily.

Six years later, he moved to New York and this book, Apologies to My Censor, was published. He does not make a connection between the two events; I would not be surprised if there was one.

He presents himself as a slacker in Apologies, living on remittances from his parents as much as his own freelance journalism and other odd jobs available to white North Americans in China (music video and movie actor! voice recorder for training audio! plausible-looking man in a suit!), and doing so for more than half a decade. His accounts of his life also keeps mentioning hangovers and partying and keeps avoiding talking in depth about any long-term friendship or love relationships. (He did have a semi-serious girlfriend for the first couple of years, and then silence descends.) He did manage to write this book, so he's not a total slacker, but, on balance, I think he makes a good case for himself as a terminally arrested adolescent; he turns thirty in the middle of this stretch of time, and keeps on living like a frat rat.

Moxley became mildly famous, and probably got on the path to this book deal, from his short article "Rent a White Guy" in the Atlantic, in which he explained for the rest of the world something white guys in China like him knew: there was a big market for pretending to be the executives of random (presumably fictitious) companies for building openings, ground-breakings,  other ceremonies, and apparently also some day-to-day operations. Moxley insists this is not the Chinese thinking Westerners are superior, but there's clearly some level of cargo-cult or con-man thinking: if we pretend to have this thing, that will make everything better!

It's very clear that Moxley did very little in six years in China: a few freelance clips, a lot of drinking in bars and working out in gyms and watching pirated movies alone or with fellow drunken expats. He took an intensive program in the Chinese language at the end of his years there, so he came out of it with better language skills: that's possibly the most telling factoid from this book. It sounds like a horrible, soul-sucking existence, and I can't tell if Moxley's repeated declarations that it was wonderful to be in this foreign city with a bunch of random losers and drunks is meant to be true or just him psyching himself up.

Apologies to My Censor is a pleasure to read; Moxley did some silly things, and writes about them pleasantly. It's not a book to think deeply on, though: the more time you spend looking back at it, the sadder you get for Moxley and all of the other men like him wasting years they can never get back.

No comments:

Post a Comment