Surveillance and spectacle in Bùi Anh Tuấn’s Z.28 novels
in The unimagined community
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Chapter 6 proposes a reading of one of the most successful examples of South Vietnamese popular culture: Bùi Anh Tuấn’s Ian Fleming-inspired Z.28 novels. The novels’ primary source of appeal was the language of advertising employed in the prose, a phenomenon that became pervasive during the war. The novels consist of narratives of surveillance modelled on commercials for name-brand commodities. In the series, however, the character of the spy also appears as a symbol for the Republic. The frivolous tales of high mass consumption also suggest a reflection on the place of the nation within the Cold War balance of power. In the Z.28 series, the Republic appears as a state that is undermined by its ally, a nation threatened by its dependence upon its superpower patron. The American government is portrayed as both an ally and an object of political enmity. The Vietnamese spy, then, appears as a figure who opposes an ambivalent ally through the act of consuming American aid in the form of brand-named commodities. In the novels, therefore, the celebration of consumerism implies both an endorsement of US neo-colonial consumer culture, as well as a repudiation of the dependence on American aid that created this culture.

The unimagined community

Imperialism and culture in South Vietnam

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