The day before, I was interviewed by Channel 4 News in UK about the cancellation of a hugely popular program called ‘Super Girl’, a talent show modeled on ‘American Idol’ run by Hunan Satellite TV. As a social commentator, I’ve been frequently interviewed by media on stories such as this.
For me, this episode is another reminder that the long arm of the government is still there. Every day, when I drive my electric scooter along the 4th ring road, breaking the traffic law from time to time and passing modernistic building’s such as the new CCTV tower, I often feel China is so free.
The official reason for not continuing with this show was that it has been running for too long. In reality, it might be the victim of its success. At one point, it attracted 400 million viewers across the country. It also attracted unwanted attention from some conservative leaders, in particular Liu Zhongde, a former culture minister. Back in 2006, two years after ‘Super Girl’ burst into life, he had launched a personal campaign against the show, describing it as ‘vulgar’, ‘insulting education’ and ‘poison to the young people’.
There are quite a lot of such talent shows on TV these days. I’ve seen some. I can imagine that the old vanguards like Liu wouldn’t like the image of the contesters, with their funky or scanty outfit, their dancing sexually-charged and their singing about love and desires. It would be too westernized, representing too much of a free-wheeling life style and lacking any moral or educational value.
It was believed that Liu, as a member of the National People’s Congress, raised the issue again during the NPC session this spring. The censors from the State Administration for TV, Radio and Film, one of the most conservative ministries in China, decided to put the show to an end after the final session last Friday, to the dismay of many devotees and the TV station for its huge loss of advertisement revenue.
China has greatly relaxed its control in many ways. Back in the 80’s, I failed to get any promotion partly because of my curly hair – I am one of the few Chinese who have natural curly hair but my boss thought I wore a perm. In those days, only people with bourgeoisie outlook in life would curl their hair. I didn’t have the correct ideology therefore didn’t deserve a promotion. Today’s young girls feel free to curl their hair or dye their hair purple or blonde, as quite a few of ‘super girls’ do. But the leaders still keep a watchful eye on the culture, which has always been used as a tool for propaganda, for setting moral examples and educated the masses.
There’s always generation gap. And the gap between China’s young generation and their parents is wider than ever before. They are far more worldly, opinionated and harder to be brain washed and they are increasingly individualistic. In fact, one of the selling points of ‘Super Girl’ was that it encouraged girls to be awesome, be yourself and using this opportunity to express your individuality. The heavy-handed way the ‘Super Girl’ was dealt with may not work with the youngsters. The authorities can pull the plug of the show but can’t pull them away from the love songs in English and to embrace the revolutionary songs in their own tongue.
Once Mao’s straight jacket has been unbuttoned, no one really wants to get back into it.