Dictatorship

Did China Kill Super Girl Over Voting? Does It Matter?

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Girls can be either super or happy, but not both.

A popular Idol-type TV show in China was shut down by government authorities a few weeks ago. But did Super Girl (a.k.a. Happy Girl) get the axe because it overran its time slot, because it was too risqué or because authorities weren't comfortable with letting audiences engage in democracy? 

The Financial Times (via CNN) leans toward the third option:

Super Girl, China's version of Pop Idol, is to be dropped from television schedules in spite of attracting 400m viewers at its peak, following government pressure on a programme that some officials saw as subversive because the audience voting too closely represented Western-style democracy.

Li Hao, deputy editor and spokesman of Hunan Satellite TV, which broadcast the show, was quoted as saying the changes were under disciplinary measures by the State Administration for Radio, Film and Television, and the broadcaster would soon launch new programming on morals, security and housework instead.

Super Girl has attracted regulatory scrutiny before. The show was first launched in 2004 and hit its 400m viewership peak in the final episode of the 2005 season, but was suspended once before and repeatedly criticised. Aside from unease about creating stars with the help of audience votes, officials criticised it as profane and "unhealthy".

State media said SARFT was punishing the broadcaster because the show had frequently overrun its allotted time slot. However, the programming changes follow months of regulatory pressure on Hunan TV and was widely seen as a sobering reminder of the country's censorship regime.

In May, Ouyang Changlin, director and Communist party secretary of Hunan Broadcasting System, the satellite TV station's parent, told the Financial Times that HBS was revamping programming in response to new censorship demands.

Mr Ouyang, the chief architect of the network's entertainment-focused strategy, said back then HBS had to make its programmes more acceptable to the authorities. SARFT officials had demanded that broadcasters should be led by "quality, responsibility and values".

Business Insider says officials have long been skeptical of talent shows' popular-vote element: 

Officials didn't explain exactly what was so racy about the program, but everyone knows anyway. Happy Girl's predecessor, Super Girl, got canceled because it allowed viewers all over the country to vote for the winner. Happy Girl tried to avoid the same fate by just allowing members of the studio audience to vote, and by pretending it was just a regional show. But that wasn't enough to make officials happy.

Helen Slater's America was a better America.

China's been on a censorship kick lately, which seems to be independent of concerns about vote-by-text shows: 

Last weekend, Charles Chao, chief executive of internet groups and China's largest micro-blogging service Sina, said he was listening to the worries about false "rumours" spreading across the internet with lightning speed.

"Because sometimes rumours can spread too quickly, Sina is now establishing more mechanisms to quash rumours through a variety of channels," Mr Chao told an industry forum in Beijing.

"There is a lot of false news on Weibo, and there are also many rumours, and this is creating a big challenge for government management and is also a huge challenge for vendors on our platform," Mr Chao said, adding that rumours were "magnified" on Weibo because of its large audience. 

And dig these old comments from Liu Zhongde of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference: 

Take a look at the youth who are following the 'Super Girls' now. See what state of mind they are in, what direction they are headed. Take a look at how the audiences are watching this program, and you'll find that amid unthinking laughter people have been corrupted. The cultural departments have a responsibility to prevent this corruption; they must strengthen their administration of this sort of program.

I can't speak about the show's time slot troubles (though as the networks recognized after the infamous "Heidi Bowl" incident of 1968, only a fool cuts away from a ratings winner). But as Charles Paul Freund noted a long time ago in Reason, the prudish objection and the anti-democratic objection go hand-in-hand. Talent contest shows subvert autocracies through both democracy and immorality. That's why they have been the subjects of conspiracy theories in Jordan and death threats in Palestine. 

NEXT: Reason Writers Around Town: Jacob Sullum on the NYPD's New Pot Policy in the New York Daily News

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  1. the broadcaster would soon launch new programming on morals, security and housework instead

    Someone is angling to become the new head of programming at CurrentTV!

  2. SARFT officials had demanded that broadcasters should be led by “quality, responsibility and values”.

    ———————————–

    Take a look at how the audiences are watching this program, and you’ll find that amid unthinking laughter people have been corrupted. The cultural departments have a responsibility to prevent this corruption…

    Both liberal and conservative parents screeching about the need to control TV programming should be delighted that authoritarian China endorses their view!

    1. Prison camps and reNeducation centers create a sense of national unity by bringing everyone together in the same cell.

      And building them creates good construction and service jobs!

      1. I was going to post “paging Tom Friedman” but find I am too late.

    2. It’s scary how closely that line resembles post-modernist cultural critique mumbo-jumbo.

  3. Considering they only involve voting for someone you like, I don’t think the Pop Idol descendants bear the slightest resemblance to Western elections.

    1. How about a rule that you can only vote for a contestant if she is a member of the Communist Workers Party or its rival, the Communist Popular Party.

      Ha ha, no country would be that silly!

  4. Liu Zhongde is simply jealous that he didn’t win, even though he worked for *days* sewing a dress for himself.

  5. Actually, it might not be a bad idea to change our electoral system to more closely resemble American Idol’s.

    Every year we could have the Republicans in Congress pass a bunch of legislation for John McCain to sign, while Obama and the Congressional Dems pass and sign an alternative batch of legislation. Then at the end of the year the people vote for which legislative basket they want.

  6. Another sign of American decadence is that we don’t have any programming on housework and morals. Well, outside of Sesame Street.

    1. Ha, like your cable provider doesn’t carry HGTV!

      1. HGTV also has a website.

  7. 400M viewers is a stunning figure.

    1. I was about to apply the phrase “stunning figure” to the Supergirl image.

      Whatever came of Helen Slater (who?) anyway?

    2. I was going to say – that show had 100M more viewers than there are people in the US.

  8. But as Charles Paul Freund noted a long time ago in Reason, the prudish objection and the anti-democratic objection go hand-in-hand.

    But as average-citizen Reason commenter “?” noted recently, watching probably totally illegal porn while typing a “fuck”-crusted anti-voting rant is his/her favorite pastime.

    (I’m saying you should link to the Freund thing. It sounds like it’d piss me off.)

  9. Never mind. Dumb.

  10. I thought that China was supposed to be the new cool country that’s figuring out how to beat us at capitalism. Cancelling a popular TV show with 400,000,000 (yikes!) viewers doesn’t sound like capitalism at all.

    1. How scared does their government have to be to pulls shit like this?

    2. The Chinese system isn’t supposed to be capitalism. It allows markets to function with government supervision in the few niches where they’re actually possibly useful, with the cooler heads in government stepping in when the diseases of market systems like greed and gluttony start rearing their ugly heads.

      Personally I think they’ve compromised too much with capitalism, but at least they have their priorities straight, instead of letting private greed cause government policy to be written in a way that does not favor the best interests of the people.

      1. Can’t tell if troll or just sarcastic.

          1. Thanks for the link. I did not know the Chinese were doing this. Goddamn but communism is a fucked up ideology!

          2. “Get rich or die tryin’.”
            — 50 Cent

            “The Chinese system isn’t supposed to be capitalism. It allows markets to function with government supervision in the few niches where they’re actually possibly useful, with the cooler heads in government stepping in when the diseases of market systems like greed and gluttony start rearing their ugly heads.

            “Personally I think they’ve compromised too much with capitalism, but at least they have their priorities straight, instead of letting private greed cause government policy to be written in a way that does not favor the best interests of the people.”
            — 50 Center

            1. I can usually spot a 50 center a mile away…I’ve even fished for ’em here on this site.

              I don’t think this is a 50 center.

              Their take on this stuff is different. They don’t usually blame “greed” for stuff.

              The “gluttony” is suspicious. That is a typical 50 center thing. The idea that America is decadent and gluttonous…

              We could throw up a test balloon. Just talk about how China is a weak nation–because they’re afraid of Falun Gong, and any nation that’s afraid of people doing Tai Chi must be weak.

              Or you could talk about Tibet! About how any nation that thinks it’s really important to pick their own successor to the Dalai Lama? Must be a weak nation.

              “China is a weak nation” always sets the 50 centers on def com 1.

          3. mustard has commented on many issues that have nothing to do with the PRC, so I think not.

        1. This is the same idiot who didn’t think you could get silicon from silica. He’s either trolling or very stupid.

          Perhaps both.

      2. Oh yes, China is famous for having “cooler heads” in government who are immune from greed and nepotism and corruption of any sort!

      3. mustard, i’ve lived in china for years, and you are full of shit. they never implement policies in the best interests of the people, only themselves. please stop being a statist commie sympathizer. fucking turd

  11. “…instead of letting private greed cause government policy to be written in a way that does not favor the best interests of the people.”

    Whose definition of “greed”? Why do I get the sneaking suspicion that the “greed” you want the government to put a stop to looks a lot like me wanting what’s best for myself and my family?

    The odd part of this is that democracy probably isn’t anywhere near as much of a threat as the CCP imagines.

    Claiming a mandate from the voters certainly didn’t crimp Bush the Lesser’s or Obama’s style. That’s how they legitimized the sacrifices they wanted the government to force us each to make individually–supposedly for the benefit of everyone?

    I mean, if Bush and Obama can use elections to claim legitimacy for using my future paychecks to bail out Wall Street? Then the CCP should probably be able to legitimize just about anything by holding elections too.

    The real threat to that kind of tyranny–be it tyranny of the majority like in the U.S. or the tyranny of a one party state like in China? Is personal autonomy.

    The powers that be in both places aren’t afraid of who we put our votes or trust in–so much as they’re afraid we’ll start thinking that we as individuals can make better choices for ourselves.

    I vote for personal autonomy. I vote for “greed”.

  12. Imagine what the Chinese think of American-style republicanism — icky rule of law, disgusting supremacy of liberty, a genuinely constrained and minuscule system of government. Ew!

    Of course, that’s all in the past, since even WE don’t stick to it now; the United States now form a de facto unitary democracy with a fluid, expansive, and mutative government that possesses and universally and consistently generates and executes policies and acts in accordance with its own desires and motivations.

    1. For the fuckheaded trolls above, I’ll make it even simpler — big government blows, Red China can go fuck itself sideways, and you pinko mother-fuckers haven’t a chance in hell of convincing anybody on this website of any of that despotic horseshit. Tough break, comrades.

    2. It is ironic that as China abandoned communism, we abandoned capitalism.

      In our defense, the American people were awful rich for most of that time. …and people don’t realize how the economy thingy works–and when it’s working well? They don’t realize that’s because of capitalism.

  13. Helen Slater. YUM.

    1. For God’s sake, put your pants back on, you deviant.

  14. Thank God for the first amendment!

    Fuck you China!

  15. A really stupid move by the CCP, people who watch shows do not tend to link a talent show to politics of the state. However by canceling the show, all the fans who were apolitical potentially can ask the question what their government is there for, a huge backfire for the CCP.

    1. As long as everyone’s making money, the government can get away with a lot. When the bubble pops, watch out.

  16. This is the chinese music you get without democracy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…..re=related

    Of course, this is what you get with democracy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7_lSP8Vc3o

    So, it’s kind of a draw.

  17. Looking at the picture of the contestants, I have to wonder: Is there some kind of famine going on in China that I haven’t heard about?

    1. I think the state chose these girls as the contestants anyway.

      Or it’s the gymnastics team all grown up.

      I’ll bet all the singing is faked with Pro(letariat)Tools.

    2. The women after she finds her mother that leave her husband and her child to move so she can have another child in that Frontline episode is pretty damn hot.

      They should have had her on the show.

      http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/…..oungchina/

  18. Tim I am very disappointed in you. How can you discuss the suppression of democracy without even mentioning Bev Perdue.

  19. Brought to you by:

    ? CCP

  20. Wow. Almost 50 comments in a post about China and not one of them mention Tibet yet. So much for the self appointed defenders of indigenous people. They might of forgotten about Tibet, because it isn’t in the headlines, but the Tibetans are still struggling. At this year’s Dag Hammarskjold protest, they objected to China herding them off their land an into ghettos. Falun Gong practitioners were also there to protest China’s persecution of their fellow practitioners in China.

    Here is a short video clip of the protests:
    http://www.intercourseandconce…..estors.wmv

    1. You’re a troll…. but…
      Interestingly enough, in the Dragon TV, the biggest private TV channel in China, rip-off of the show, two of the three champions so far were in fact Tibetan, of which one of was voted to win via popular texting without signs of rigging. Fifth place in 2007 and Fourth place in 2009 were Tibetan and Uyghur respectively (although fourth was only fourth because she resigned due to a controversy). In Super Girls itself, there’s actually quite a degree of diversity. Fourth place in 2005 and Fifth place in 2007 were Yi, seventh place in 2007 was Inner Mongolian, fifth place last year was Hakka, and seventh place this year is Hmong.

      While this obviously does not reflect the normal minority experience, especially those in remote regions, it does show that at least for urban minorities, minorities have access to reach the same level of success as nonminorities.

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