“Planking,” or the act of lying face down for a photo op in weird and wonderful places, has actually been around for a number of years. It carried on largely unnoticed until recently, gaining popularity in Australia and New Zealand. Since then it has rapidly become the latest Internet craze.
Dedicated Web sites have been springing up online and newspapers have been awash with stories of young people planking in ever more bizarre and dangerous locations.
The young people of Taiwan have also jumped on the bandwagon, with Reuters recently running a feature on Karren and Jinyu — two Taipei women who have made a name for themselves “planking” around Taiwan — that was picked up by newspapers around the world.
The duo have even given a political edge to their planking by promoting causes, posing next to Taipei sights to promote tourism and planking with stray dogs to highlight animal welfare.
However, advocates of the phenomenon were forced to take on a more circumspect attitude last month after a young Australian man fell from a balcony mid-plank to become the craze’s first recorded fatality.
Politicians were forced to step in, with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard speaking out to warn young Australians of the dangers of planking.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key also got involved, albeit unwittingly. Key was recently caught in the background of a photograph of his son Max planking on the family sofa. The image found its way onto the Internet and Key senior made the headlines in what has been dubbed the world’s first “national plank.”
But I beg to differ.
One national figure closer to home has long overshadowed Karren and Jinyu, and even Key for his ability to lie down on the job. This person, like Key, was probably blissfully unaware of his participation in this most modern of fashionable fads.
I’m referring to President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).
For the three years since he ascended to the nation’s highest office, Ma has excelled in resembling a piece of wood. Stiff, inflexible and seemingly unable to prevent people from walking all over him, it’s almost as if the term “plank” was invented for him. Ma’s knack for looking like a piece of lumber has been most evident in his dealings with the other side of the Taiwan Strait.
Ironic really, considering his pre-election boasts that cross-strait policy was a key “plank” of his presidential manifesto. Time and again when negotiating with China, Ma and his officials have effectively lain prostrate and been trampled by their Beijing counterparts. The most recent example was the revelation that — contrary to reassurances from government officials — China had been playing Taiwan at the WHO.
The furor was so great here that it almost woke officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and spokesman Rip Van Winkle from their three-year-long slumber. Things have gotten so bad under Ma that now even commentators in the US are beginning to suggest Taiwan be made to walk the plank. With his popularity remaining lower than a floorboard and only a year left in his term, the only fitting reward for Ma’s lumbering would be if voters used their ballots next year and remove this piece of dead wood as far from the Presidential Office as possible, before rot sets in.
Joe Doufu is a Taipei-based satirist.