Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Political Nature Of Television

On the face of it, this seems like a particularly silly story, unless you're the parent or friend of one of the dead girls:
Time travel TV series have come under fire since two schoolgirls in East China's Fujian province killed themselves on Thursday after leaving notes saying the suicides could help them travel back to ancient times.

The two girls, Xiao Mei and Xiao Hua (not their real names), were fifth-grade classmates at a primary school in Zhangpu county, Zhangzhou. 

On Thursday afternoon, Xiao Hua realized she lost the remote control for a rolling door at her house. She was worried and told her friend Xiao Mei.

At 4 pm, the girls each wrote suicide notes and hid them in a closet at Xiao Hua's home. Then they jumped into a pool and drowned themselves.
Here's the tell that there's something not right with this story:
According to a media report in February, a 19-year-old Liaoning province woman, Xiao Dan (not her real name), told police she had paid 1,800 yuan ($285) to a Net friend who claimed she could help her travel to the ancient past but disappeared after receiving the money.

Because of several stories along these lines emerging, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television banned prime time - 7 to 9 pm - broadcasts of this kind of TV series at the beginning of this year.
Shades of Tipper Gore and the PMRC!
Let me point out that the link goes to the People's Daily, the official house organ of the Chinese Communist party (and therefore, the government).
Cui bono? Who benefits if this kind of programming is banned in China?
Obviously, the government, if only under the guise of preventing teen suicides, which seems an unlikely connection. However, the story itself contains a clue to the real political agenda. Think about where and more important, when the girls wanted to travel to.
The claim is they wanted to travel back to Imperial China, an ancient time of fantasy and glamour, opulence and a clearly rewritten history of wealth and freedom.
Now, these are clearly not poor children, since their parents could afford a house with an electronic door opener. This is not a sign of poverty, of a kid who is desperately trying to escape the crushing burden of being poor with little opportunity to advance her lot.
Or maybe it was. Maybe it's a signal to us that the Chinese economic tiger has fewer teeth than we realize. China will be the largest economy in the world before the end of the century, if not this decade. It's growing at a rate that exceeds an American boom economy, but it has two advantages that America never had, and thus may not see a true bust for decades.
It has a population not very far removed from the government-sponsored slavery of the mid-20th Century and it has such a vast population with so many dialects that communication between regions is difficult.
Think about it: imagine the US (similar size and contours) with four times the population, and instead of regional accents, imagine entirely different forms of English such that many words have different meanings in the South and North, East and West. If I said "mother" in Florida in this scenario, for example, I may understand it as the woman who gave birth to me, but Floridians might take it to mean any woman involved in my upbringing, including sisters, aunts, grandmothers, and perhaps even teachers and nannies.
Those problems will sort themselves out in due time, to be sure, but here's the thing. With a population still working for bottom-dollar wages, the Chinese economy benefits from keeping its people segregated and not sharing information and being unable to communicate as easily as any other nation on the planet can.
As in America, there are income and wealth strata in China (until the 1990s, nearly unheard of) and as in America, the gaps are growing.
And as in America, there is undoubtedly a movement growing in China for income equalization.
Imagine that! A Socialist nation with income inequality!
Television, however, is a great leveller. Like it or not, information and education is passed over the airwaves. That means people without a fact gain a fact.
For China to succeed economically, it simply must control this information. It must control the thought processes in the heads of Chinese. It must discourage thinking of a better life in leaps and bounds and force people to be content with a carefully planned balance between incrementally advancing their opportunities while staying in thrall to the economy.
In other words, the Chinese government is acting the part in China that banks act here. Sure, you can have that second car, but it will cost you four years of emotional investment in paying your loan back and woe betide he who misses a payment! And your kids can have a better life if they get an education (we're still talking about America here, to be clear) but they'll owe us for the following 25 years and they won't be able to discharge this debt even if they can't earn enough in salary to pay us back.
All while putting commercials on the ubiquitous infotainment medium, television, advertising that better job for your kids or better sex through Audi.
Control the dialogue, control the people.
This wasn't about a suicide. This was about recognizing that suicide as a danger to the status quo, one that would make people think about their lives and their children's lives.