The talk of China

Why a controversial TV chat show may prove too popular for its own good

The talk of China

New gang of four: the hosts of popular new chat show Lady Guagua

In recent years, the internet has bestowed global celebrity on a long list of unlikely candidates, like Randy Pausch, the Carnegie Mellon professor who is best known for the words of wisdom in the now famous “Last Lecture,” and Justin Bieber, the baby-faced 17 year-old from Canada who shot to fame by posting his own videos on YouTube (he now gets more searches on Google than God).

And given China’s vibrant internet culture, it probably comes as no surprise that a television programme that profiles the country’s internet celebrities is now dominating the ratings.

Lady Guagua, produced by Xing Kong Satellite TV, is one of the most- watched television programmes in the country today, and is pulling in viewers with a shock value imitating that of the US pop star from which its name derives. That means a stream of outrageous guests (like a mother who uploaded a video of her daughter taking a shower, to ‘help’ her find a husband) and unlikely stunts on air (recently a plastic surgeon gave botox injections in front of the national audience).

With the show’s penchant for provocative action, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there have been plenty of Jerry Springer moments.

One exhibit: the mother-daughter shower duo. In a promo clip posted on Youku, a Chinese video site, the two can be seen screaming at each other. Daughter then turns to the camera (flipping her hair) saying: “My mother hits me because she loves me.” Right on cue, Mother lunges at her, cursing profanely.

Whatever happened to the inscrutability for which the Chinese are famed?

Certainly, the commercial temptation to spice things up is growing. The show’s producers are said to be responsible for posting the mother-daughter spat online. Within hours, the footage had drawn over 3.1 million views, as well as thousands of comments from netizens.

“This mother-daughter pair are this century’s most disgusting people,” one netizen wrote.

“This show is too melodramatic… How come the government doesn’t forbid it?” another asks.

Others say the show is simply in bad taste, and a further sign of Chinese television’s descent into lowest-common-denominator entertainment (China’s catching up with the rest of us, again…)

If so, the internet is providing plenty of material for the downward ride.

Take Zhai Ling, also known as Shou Shou (which means ‘Little Beast’). The model (she’s usually pictured draped over cars rather than tottering down a catwalk) appeared on Lady Guagua in August after risque photos of her began circulating on the internet (see WiC54). And she, too, caused a stir for walking out in the middle of filming after one of the hosts accused her of social irresponsibility.

Another unlikely internet celebrity was Sister Feng, who shot to fame after handing out leaflets in Shanghai’s financial district listing the characteristics a man would need in order to marry her.

This caused an online stir (Feng is no great-looker, and many have said she is delusional to think she can make so many stipulations).

But Feng clearly has an eye for publicity and showed up on Lady Guagua with her trousers unzipped, declaring that she was going to be “the next Gong Li”.

“As it turns out, to be famous in China is not very hard: all you need to do is to show a lot of skin or humiliate yourself in public,” was one netizen’s response.

For the moment Lady Guagua is climbing the ratings. But could the show’s reliance on internet freakdom end up provoking the country’s censors, the appointed guardians of the nation’s moral conscience?

Quite possibly, if news this week is anything to go by. Last month we wrote about the hugely popular TV drama Gong (see WiC98). The premise of the show was that a modern Chinese girl travelled back in time to the Qing Dynasty (with amorous consequences).

Critics hated the show, finding it silly. And Gong was not to the taste of the General Bureau of Radio, Film and Television either, which has expressed concern that a deluge of copycat ‘time-travel’ dramas could be on the way.

To nip that in the bud, all similar productions in the pipeline are to be halted. The reasoning from the Bureau: “The producers and writers are treating serious history in a frivolous way, which should by no means be encouraged.”

If Gong can’t make the cut on frivolity grounds, maybe Lady Guagua won’t be around for too much longer either.

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