Coup d'etat Aerobics

The coup in Myanmar brought us an unlikely viral video. Should we introspect, or just dance?

In the early hours of Monday February 1st, the Myanmar military seized control of the country from the ruling National League for Democracy party. In the process, the country’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior government figures were detained. Flights were halted, the internet was shut off, and critics of the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military, were locked away.

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Whatever system of government, democracy or otherwise, was in place in Myanmar before the coup d’état, was swiftly replaced by a military dictatorship. If you were a Myanmarese in favor of election integrity, peaceful transitions of power, and a general sense of order, as a great many are sure to be, things went sideways in an instant.

As news with any event goes, word of the coup reached citizens at different times. No more was this delay more apparent than in the video taken February 1st of a Myanmarese gym teacher recording an aerobics workout video in front of Myanmar’s parliamentary building while a military convoy herds through the gates.

The teacher, Khing Hnin Wai, often films in that spot. Given her familiarity with the location and the focus she’s displaying, it’s easy to understand her obliviousness to the events behind her--she’s doing what she needs to do, despite the bad things going on around her.

Wouldn’t you know it, there are parallels to be drawn between Khing’s life and our lives here stateside. First, people in the U.S. also enjoy using at-home workouts. Second, we also recently experienced our own--albeit less drastic--government upheaval which occurred on January 6th.

Finally, both countries have their respective issues with discrimination. Myanmar has been accused of genocide against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority. The U.S. is still reckoning with the ramifications of a slave trade that began before it was formally a country, over 400 years ago. Most prominently, inequality and discrimination that breaks along racial lines.

These are just a couple of the main bad things that are happening in each country that are similar. There are lots of other bad things happening as well, but for simplicity’s sake we’re just doing big parallels. Doing big parallels sounds like a euphemism for cocaine.

Whether you’re a person, or an unrepentant doofus like Marjorie Taylor Greene, there’s common ground held on the idea that things, in places, could get better. That’s about as specific as we can get because which things and what places will always be a matter of debate.

While not deliberately ignoring the toppling of her country’s government, Khing Hnin Wai had her back turned. She couldn’t have stopped the convoy, much less the coup. She was also helpless to undo decades, possibly centuries, of military-rule inertia in Myanmar. She may have been listening to music and in the midst of a routine, but her video highlights the daily decisions we have to make as to whether we’re going to pay attention, and if so, how much.

There’s no answer to this question and for anyone with even a scintilla of empathy, this vagueness is partially what makes it challenging. The frequency that the question is raised also makes it difficult to deal with. You can’t leave your house, read the news, engage with the world without gaining new knowledge of something awful. Each new crumb of knowledge raises another question about what could or should be done on your end to help mitigate the bad.

The crumbs pile up, becoming an impediment to our ability to think about what’s best for us and our own lives. If a Saturday is free, should it be spent doing something better for others? If you decide to go that route, how many crumbs will be swept out of the way once you’re finished donating your time? A cost-benefit of your time versus the good you’ll create arises. It’s a ledger which is impossible to balance. Given that, who can blame Khing for just wanting to dance?

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