China’s Got Talent Too!
With a population of over 1.3 Billion, China is indeed an obvious market for talent shows. But still, no one expected the astounding popularity of China’s Got Talent, the Chinese spin-off of Britain’s Got Talent.
According to the show’s partner video sharing site, youku.com (like youtube, but Chinese), featured videos from the show have been viewed over 45 million times. Among those most viewed are: a 23 years old armless pianist who plays beautifully with his feet, a divorced man singing Unchained Melody with his 11 year-old dog, and a husband impersonating a suicidal pig in order to get judge’s attention to set stage for his timid, lovely-voiced, wife.
Chinese TV is saturated with reality shows these days. From singing to quick dating to dancing to home makeover, these show are different but homogenous in nature: awkward settings, disturbing lighting and magnified frivolous frictions among the contestants.
But China’s Got Talent (CGT) is different. It is professional: Neat camera moves, smooth transitions, and clear narration. From appearance alone, you’d think the crew must be American or British. Actually, it is a Chinese team behind the operation. But unlike other Chinese reality shows that just plagiarize the basic format of the specific US or UK shows they’re based on, CGT actually bought the copyright from Fremantle Media that owns American’s Got Talent and Britain’s Got Talent. Therefore, it follows the same production guidebook as its US and UK counterparts. One producer from CGT said 90 percent of the show is similar to the original in terms of formality.
Apart from the quality of the picture and production, CGT’s success marks the end of “entertainment for its own sake”. If you look back on the history of reality shows in China, its rise ten years ago marked the beginning of the death of the traditional definition of a show: performers were professionals, and acts, songs, dances, and skits, were politically correct and were meant to achieve moral high ground. Most importantly, each show was an occasion to educate audience about national pride and help bring national unity.
Reality shows broke the mold. Average people, with or without talent, could step up and grab the microphone to perform on stage. Also, emancipation from political bondage and ideology empowered show creators to tread new, previously forbidden ground. Pursuit of money, flaunting of personal wealth, and disdain for the underprivileged became the new ideology. Selfishness, conceitedness, and narcissism are the indispensable ingredients that next big star must possess these days.
The most extreme example came when a female participant on a dating show proclaimed that she would rather be in a BMW crying than on the back of bicycle smiling. (Interpretation: when comes to choose a boyfriend or husband, she would rather be with someone who could offer her affluent life without joy, than someone who is poor but could provide happiness). This may sound natural to people in US, UK or other countries, but articulate these words on Chinese TV was unimaginable until recently.
This new wave of shows with shifting values surely irritates the authorities even though they bring in lots of cash. Just recently, the government initiated a new campaign against vulgarity in cultural production. Shows with politically incorrect values and low moral ground are the targets of this campaign.
CGT doesn’t have this problem. It circumvents all the loopholes that trap other shows and presents an interesting show using one technique: connecting each act with a higher narrative.
What does that mean? To put it simply, each performance is backed up by a story or narrative. The contestants don’t just come up on stage out of sheer desire for fame. Rather, they come to the show with a higher purpose, either to fulfill the dreams of one’s wife, or to prove the potential of the underestimated, or to reveal the transcendent empathy between human and animal. In a word, entertainment is not for entertainment itself.It must be connected to something else: friendship, or fraternity, or respect for elders, or family bonding.
When all these elements come together and happens all on one stage, the audience experiences long-forgotten a sense of unity . No wonder some scholars are quick to claim that CGT is a perfect opportunity to remold China’s problematic social values.
The side effect? You could be easily drown in tears.Whether contestants are happy, or sad, disappointed or elated, they always end up crying.
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