Popular TV show not so funny busi­ness

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By HAN­BING­BIN han­bing­bin@chi­nadaily.com.cn

The an­nual CCTV New Year Gala ex­pe­ri­enced a small drop in rat­ings this year, amid grow­ing crit­i­cism some sk­its were highly of­fen­sive to dis­abled peo­ple, women and the south­ern Chi­nese.

The num­ber of live view­ers dropped be­low 700 mil­lion for the first time in a decade.

So­cially aware Chi­nese view­ers were an­gered by some con­tent in the gala that they have ac­cused of re­in­forc­ing dis­crim­i­na­tory ideas, es­pe­cially against women.

This grow­ing dis­sat­is­fac­tion led a fem­i­nist group to write an open let­ter to the coun­try’s top me­dia reg­u­la­tor, de­mand­ing an apol­ogy from CCTV while re­quest­ing as many as eight sk­its from the gala be pro­hib­ited from ever air­ing again. How­ever, they have not re­ceived any re­sponse from the TV sta­tion.

In one of the most crit­i­cized sk­its, a“nuhanzi”, lit­er­ally mean­ing “mas­cu­line woman”, had her life com­pared with that of a tall slen­der “god­dess” to high­light the sad fact that she was or­di­nary-look­ing and still sin­gle at the age of 30. An­other con­tro­ver­sial skit sug­gested fe­male of­fi­cials ex­change sex for pro­mo­tions. The sk­its have also been ac­cused of dis­crim­i­na­tion against short peo­ple, South China ac­cents and the el­derly.

The open let­ter started a heated dis­cus­sion on mi­cro-blog­ging site Sina Weibo. An on­line poll on Sina Weibo, in which 30,000 peo­ple voted, showed that 85 per­cent of peo­ple found the gala dis­crim­i­na­tory. How­ever, an­other poll launched by en­ter­tain­ment por­tal Netease. polled 33,591 peo­ple, show­ing that more than 69 per­cent of them be­lieved the so-called dis­crim­i­na­tion is “over-stated”.

“Peo­ple’s aware­ness of dis­crim­i­na­tion needs to be raised. They are used to it. I can un­der­stand that,” says Lyu Pin, a well-known women’s rights ac­tivist who ini­ti­ated the open let­ter protest.

“In such a sit­u­a­tion, we need to bring to light the duty of in­sti­tu­tions like CCTV. They’ve made peo­ple more in­dif­fer­ent to dis­crim­i­na­tion by pre­sent­ing it as some­thing to laugh at.”

The New Year gala and Chi­nese tele­vi­sion shows in gen­eral have long re­lied on mak­ing fun of phys­i­cal dis­abil­ity and the dis­ad­van­taged for laughs.

The stereo­typ­i­cal im­age of peo­ple from south­ern China be­ing snob­bish busi­ness­men was also re­in­forced in the gala, which fea­tured char­ac­ters speak­ing with no­tice­able south­ern ac­cents. Some even find the gala state­ments that eat­ing dumplings is the most im­por­tant NewYear tra­di­tion to be dis­crim­i­na­tory, be­cause at least half of China (the South) do not eat dumplings on NewYear Eve.

“It’s nor­mal to see prej­u­dice in ev­ery­day life. But as a ma­jor plat­form, what CCTV chooses to recre­ate and spread will be strength­ened in peo­ple’s minds,” says Lyu.

How­ever, critic Qin Ning writ­ing in the Bei­jing Times, ar­gues that an artis­tic im­age doesn’t speak for the value ori­en­ta­tion of a whole pro­gram, let alone that of the whole gala. He be­lieves the mock­ing of dis­ad­van­taged so­cial groups in the gala was purely for fun and meant no harm.

“If peo­ple who dis­crim­i­nate against women ex­ist in life, then art that re­flects this should be tol­er­ated,” Qin writes.

Critic Cheng Zhen­wei, how­ever, be­lieves there is no way CCTV is obliv­i­ous to “gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion” and its choice of such pro­grams is de­cided by its tar­get au­di­ence. In a com­men­tary he wrote on Wuhan­based cn­hubei.com, he states that con­sid­er­ing its mas­sive reach, the gala has to con­sider how its hu­mor will work for less-ed­u­cated au­di­ences.

The kind of hu­mor that’s rel­a­tively light and eas­ier to di­gest of­ten makes use of el­e­ments like phys­i­cal ap­pear­ances, gen­der and re­gional ac­cents that don’t re­quire much think­ing, he writes.

Af­ter all, un­likeUnited States pop cul­ture that is fully ma­ture and is able to con­sider the more del­i­cate and sub­tle needs of the so­ci­ety, Chi­nese pop cul­ture is still in the phase of “ex­ten­sive devel­op­ment” and not ready to take it­self so se­ri­ously, film and TV critic LiXing­wen tells China Daily.

Com­edy in China al­ready faces many lim­i­ta­tions, and artists some­times find it’s eas­ier to use dis­ad­van­taged groups as a comic el­e­ment, Li says.

The rise of au­di­ences’ so­cial aware­ness means they have started to want dif­fer­ent types of com­edy, says Cheng in his com­men­tary. Chi­nese au­di­ences’ taste in en­ter­tain­ment has also evolved through be­ing ex­posed to in­ter­na­tional pro­grams, he says, and there­fore the gala needs to up­date it­self in terms of hu­mor.

The good news is so­cial me­dia and big-data min­ing tools have al­lowed TV sta­tions to eas­ily de­tect the changes in au­di­ence needs, says Du Zezhuang, founder and an­a­lyst with me­dia con­sul­tancy ZeMe­dia.

For ex­am­ple, Du adds, many TV shows used to make fun of dis­abled peo­ple, but as dis­sent­ing voices grew­stronger through so­cial me­dia, such pro­grams have started to fade away.

“There should be more dis­cus­sion. TVs­ta­tions should stay open to the su­per­vi­sion of the au­di­ence,” says Lyu, the women’s rights ac­tivist. “We be­lieve au­di­ences are able to voice dif­fer­ent opin­ions. The point is whether th­ese opin­ions can be ac­cepted by the TV mak­ers.”

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