Starlet and Tycoon

I guess for most people the most eye-catching words in the headline of a recent SCMP news report would be the name Richard Li. If the sole purpose of the headline were to catch eyeballs, the name alone would be more than adequate. But the words that jumped at me are “starlet” and “tycoon”. One would not doubt that the oxymoronic use of these two words was meant to give stunning effect. To me, though, the deliberate juxtaposition of the two words seems to project a kind of mentality that the Hong Kong society has always had.

The word “tycoon” hardly needs any explanation. Its literal meaning in the dictionary is “a wealthy and powerful business person or industrialist; a magnate” It implies wealth, power, privilege, face, success, leadership, larger-than-life social status, and perhaps everything that Darwinism stands for. It is also primarily used to describe a masculine person who is in an authoritative position of command.

On the other hand, the word “starlet” has a pitiable, weak, powerless, struggling and even dolorous, echo to it. The suffix “let” denotes smallness and submissiveness. The word literally means “a young actress who is publicized as a future star”. Much uncertainty is written into the term “publicized as” – the starlet’s fate is at the mercy of the publicists and those powerful bosses who pay them. She is in an untenable position of subjugation.

When the two words are taken at their literal values, there is an unmistakable inequality in the relation between “starlet” and “tycoon”, with the latter representing the overbearing oppressor and the former representing the oppressed. But the perceived imbalance is somewhat neutralized by the verb “splits”, with “starlet” being the action taker. The starlet is not such a helpless, albeit still weaker party.

So, it is not so much unequal treatment of the two parties in the headline that is at issue here. Rather, the problem is that the headline takes an unnecessary judgmental snipe at the weaker party by labeling her a “starlet”, a word that makes her look like someone who is a miserable failure vis a vis the “tycoon”. It smacks of condescension and discrimination against actresses who try to build a career in the film industry. The word itself is full of demeaning undertone.

However, the choice of words does seem to mirror society’s fawning regard of the wealthy and subtle disdain, if out of hypocrisy, for females who have amorous liaison with the wealthy.

A great part of Hong Kong society has always subscribed to the value of prostituting to money. Everything has a price and anything can be bought. A believer in such value, be it a he or a she, would view love between spouses or partners and affection between parents and children as items having price tags. When parents impart such value to their children, and casually brush aside higher moral values such as respectability, integrity, decency, sense of justice, trustworthiness and honesty, can you blame girls for incessantly dreaming to become lucky Cinderellas? When there are a sufficiently large number of such believers, will the institution of marriage even hold?