The crackdown on reality shows in the Middle Kingdom is more about the politics of the strong leader than the androgyny of fame


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, especially American Idol voting shows. The government, in a conspicuous attempt to curb irrational idolatry around fame, told broadcasters to “resolutely end sissies and other anomalous aesthetics” and instead “vigorously promote the excellent traditional culture. Chinese, revolutionary culture and advanced socialist culture “.

The decline in fertility rates in China has raised some concern, which is cited as a reason for the crackdown on “sissy men.” More likely, however, is the fact that popular culture – despite strict government controls – tends to incorporate elements from various sources. The androgynous aesthetic that so worries the party-state is the hallmark of K-Pop and Japanese culture – two countries the Chinese Communist Party is unlikely to want as a soft power influence among young people. . And, as with other countries with strong leaders, including democracies, it’s not irrational celebrity worship that worries Chinese authorities – it’s just the celebration of the “wrong” type of celebrity.

“Traditional Chinese culture” coupled with “revolutionary culture” and “advanced socialist culture” is nothing more than a summary of “Xi Jinping thought”, recently incorporated into the school and university curricula of China. ‘Middle Kingdom. Too often, it’s easy to forget that political personality cults, whether left or right, are among the most dangerous and irrational idol cults. Add to this an overwhelming obsession with masculinity, and the real reason for the aversion to “idol shows” becomes clear. Rulers of a certain kind, eager to be the only objects of worship, only eliminate competition. When it comes to the Chinese idol, there can only be one.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on September 4, 2021 under the title “Chinese Idol”.

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