The highlight of this year’s CCTV Spring Festival Gala wasn’t the crooning of the country’s biggest pop stars or the comedy skit from national funny man Zhao Benshan (see WiC6). No, it was the obedient performance of six goldfish. At the command of magician Fu Yandong, the goldfish swam from left to right in two straight lines, in military-like formation.
The goldfish illusion proved a massive hit with hundreds of millions of viewers who tuned into the show early this month.
Animal rights activists were less amazed. That’s because after the show, many tried to replicate the trick at home by buying goldfish and feeding them metal pellets (they assumed the magician was using magnetism to direct them). Inevitably, the fish died.
A coalition of 53 groups then sent a letter to CCTV demanding that Fu Yandong be prevented from performing the trick again. Fu, however, insists the fish are not in danger. On his weibo, he said they were “living happily” and that, if he really used magnets, they would “stick together.” Then again, he’s (unsurprisingly) not very forthcoming about how exactly his goldfish mind-control technique really worked. But you sense Fu’s been taken aback by the outcry. China’s animal protection legislation is limited, after all. But there are signs of more concern about animal welfare and CCTV, caving in to public pressure, cancelled Fu’s scheduled appearance on the broadcaster’s Lantern Festival show last Thursday.
For the Spring Festival Gala, it was not only goldfish magic tricks receiving criticism. Negative comments for the CCTV production continued to pour in two weeks after the show was first aired.
The gala is still the most highly watched show in China, reportedly drawing 700 million viewers each year (the Super Bowl in the US draws about 100 million viewers), and has been something of an annual ritual for millions of Chinese since it was first broadcast in the 1980s.
But this year there were signs that viewers are starting to turn off. Many have complained that the show was “flat and dull,” and at best “a nostalgia trip,” reported the Global Times. An online survey conducted by Sina also found that more than 70% of 10,000 respondents were not satisfied with this year’s show, says the Beijing News.
Perhaps recognising a trend, several provincial cable stations even declined to broadcast the show this year. Instead, they launched their own variety performances to compete with CCTV’s for audience share and advertiser money.
Maybe they’re right to make the move. When a show’s most noteworthy performers turn out to be a troupe of obedient goldfish, it might be a message that it’s passed its prime.
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