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Crackdown on reality shows in Middle Kingdom is more about politics of strongman leader than androgyny of celebrity

It is not the irrational worship of celebrities that has the Chinese authorities worried — it's just celebrating the “wrong” kind of celebrity.

By: Editorial |
Updated: September 4, 2021 8:43:36 am
The latest target for Chinese regulators is popular culture, particularly vote-in shows a la American Idol.

It’s not quite the Cultural Revolution but Xi Jinping’s “National Rejuvenation” is certainly doing its best to catch up. The latest target for Chinese regulators is popular culture, particularly vote-in shows a la American Idol. The government, in an ostensible bid to reduce the irrational idolatry around celebrity, has told broadcasters to “resolutely put an end to sissy men and other abnormal aesthetics” and instead “vigorously promote excellent Chinese traditional culture, revolutionary culture and advanced socialist culture”.

There has been some concern about declining fertility rates in China, which is being cited as a reason for the crackdown on “sissy men”. More likely, though, is the fact that popular culture — despite strict government controls — has a tendency to take in elements from various sources. The androgynous aesthetic that has the party-state so worried is the hallmark of K-Pop and Japanese culture — two countries that the Chinese Communist Party is unlikely to want as soft power influences among the youth. And, as with other countries with strong leaders, including democracies, it is not the irrational worship of celebrities that has the Chinese authorities worried — it’s just celebrating the “wrong” kind of celebrity.

“Chinese traditional culture”, coupled with “revolutionary” and “advanced socialist culture” is nothing more than a summary of “Xi Jinping Thought”, recently incorporated in school and college syllabi in the Middle Kingdom. Too often, it is easy to forget that the political cults of personality — whether on the Left or Right — are among the most dangerous and irrational kinds of idol worship. Add to that an obsession with chest-thumping masculinity, and the real reason for the aversion to “idol shows” becomes clear. Leaders of a certain kind, eager to be the only objects of veneration, are just eliminating the competition. When it comes to the Chinese Idol, there can be only one.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on September 4, 2021 under the title ‘Chinese idol’.

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