From the Financial Times via Drudge comes the latest rationale for why the Chinese government must crack down on intertube search engines:
China's government has accused the country's leading internet search engines and web portals, including Google, of threatening public morals by carrying pornographic and vulgar content.
While Beijing regularly launches web censorship campaigns, the new crackdown is the first in which the government has targeted heavyweight companies such as Google and Baidu, the local rival that leads the Chinese search market. During the last campaign about a year ago, the authorities listed only small and little-known websites as responsible for spreading unhealthy content.
Give the Chinese repressocrats this much credit: They must have been reading Reason magazine all these years to realize that "vulgar" culture is indeed often a motive force in dramatic social change. As Charles Paul Freund wrote in 2002:
Popular, commercial forms are not thoughtful. Rather, they are temporary, noisy, intense, ecstatic. They are sensual and disruptive. Because they are frequently set in motion by powerless and even despised outgroups, they appear subversive. They not only threaten social morals, but challenge established power relationships.
The result is that such ecstatic forms are attacked not only by the West's left-liberal critics for their commercial origin, but by the West's conservatives for their disruptive power. Cultural ecstasy may have billions of participants, but it hardly has a single friend.
Freund's stunning essay, "In Praise of Vulgarity: How commercial culture liberates Islam—and the West," is worth reading on a daily basis. It opens with a memorable description of the liberation of Kabul, "when the streets ran with beards? As one city after another was abandoned by Taliban soldiers, crowds of happy men lined up to get their first legal shave in years, and barbers enjoyed the busiest days of their lives."
Here's his masterful finish:
The Central Asian Republic of Kazakhstan—just a few hundred miles north of Afghanistan—began a crackdown on dangerous "bohemian" lifestyles. The authorities went after a number of familiar outsiders—gays, religious dissidents—but even Westerners were surprised to learn that one targeted group was "Tolkienists." It turns out that there are Kazakh Hobbit wannabes who like to dress up in character costume and re-enact scenes from J.R.R. Tolkien's novels. For their trouble, they were being subjected to sustained water torture.
Hobbit re-enactors in Kazakhstan? Where do they get their paraphernalia? Are there Kazakh Tolkienist fanzines? Have fans started changing Tolkien's narratives to suit themselves, the way Western Star Trek subcultures turned their own obsession into soft-core pornography? Do re-enactors change roles from time to time, or are any of them trapped inside a Frodo persona? Is there no end to the identities waiting to be assumed? No end to what invention makes flesh, before it tosses it aside and starts again?
So maybe the Chinese are onto something by trying to control the culture, especially the vulgar commercial culture, their citizens are glomming all over. And while the attempt may cause all sorts of trouble, it will inevitably fail.