The televised event Super Girls from Hunan Satellite Television is finally over after many weeks. The final show garnered a rating of better than 10%, which is astonishing for a regional television channel. The tremendous interest is this event is no doubt related to the fact that the selection process was conducted by citizens voting through SMS messages. Inevitably, the discussion has moved to the implications for democracy in China. This post collects a number of these political discussions.
Yu Guoming, a media expert at the Renmin University of China, sees the craze as part of the free market trend in China’s media industry. By dividing the contest into multiple steps, he writes, the show is able to “accumulate word of mouth and loyalty as if the audience were watching a serial drama.”
Audience participation has been cited as the most crucial factor in its success. As winners were determined by cellphone short messaging votes – with each phone number able to vote a maximum of 15 times – the show “blazed a trail for cultural democracy,” said Zhu Dake, a renowned critic of cultural matters. “It’s like a gigantic game that has swept so many people into a euphoria of voting and selecting, which is testament of a society opening up,” Zhu argued.
Experts like Yu and Zhu view the show as a triumph of the mass public breaking loose from the “elitist aesthetics” that had been strangling the country’s entertainment business. “It deviates from the norm, and therefore has created such powerful reactions from the public,” Yu averred.
I wanted to write an opinion column about how the Super Girls has lifted the democratic tendency, but right now I feel that a netfriend’s sentence is truest to my heart: “CTMD (aka F— His Mother* ), I don’t think that I will ever get to vote a president in this lifetime, so I’ll choose a girl that I like.” Super Girls is obviously not the same as democracy, but it is the fantasy for the 1.3 billion Chinese people who do not have democracy. When I think about this, I feel sad for China.
Netizen zhonghuajuantuconglai (China Comeback), from Xici Hutong (an active online forum on current affairs)*:
The SMS voting seems to have introduced a new form for direct election. It is direct, it is convenient, it is fast and it works. It can simplify the voting process. It can be done in a few minutes’ time. It seems to be just a technical problem to make it become the main means of voting. It would seem that the American presidential vote or the Taiwan election vote would seem ancient and primitive by comparison.
SMS voting also enabled people to participate more conveniently in something that they are interested it. It decreases the cost of participation, and therefore it immediately raises up the desire to participate. People discover that it is so easy and approachable to express their choices. It was so easy to exercise that power, and there was nothing like the complexity and requirements that some people have said. After this, people will continue to participate in other activities and express their opinions through this easy method. And when they find out that their participation influenced the outcome, then they will have a sense of accomplishment that is no different from those citizens in democratic countries who have elected their own leaders. The meaning should be clear.
Netizen 668city* (from Yannan via Boxun):
What does China lack right now? I think it is the voting ballot. What does the common Chinese person miss most in personal experience? I think that they know plenty about food, prostitution and gambling, but they have not cast their own ballots. As a world-class nation marching in the process of modernization and as a permanent member of the United National Security Council, it is a tragedy that it does not have a ballot. How often does a common Chinese person get into contact with voting? A person may be able to vote for a so-called National People’s Congress representative within the system. But I have basically never ever seen a ballot even though I have a decent diploma and a high level of education. Around the world, there are not many countries which have never seen a ballot like China. Recently, Iran has elected its own president. Even in Iraq during the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein who was always elected with more than 90% of the votes, people have still seen what a ballot looks like.
Could the common Chinese citizen be not strong enough to pick up a ballot? Could the common Chinese citizen have no ability to case a ballot? In looking at the enthusiasm among the Super Girl audience, we know that people are active and capable. Right now, we are only selecting a person based upon our personal preference as opposed to electing a person who represents our interests. Although this individual have nothing to do with our interests, we are still investing so much enthusiasm. If we get the chance to vote for someone to represent our interests, the voting rate will probably invoke the jealousy of the Americans.
Independent Writer/Dissident* Liu Xiaobo:
In truth, deep within the structure of popular culture in China, there is a spiritual crisis for society: serious public issues are banned from discussion, but vulgar entertainment programs are allowed, and the Super Girls is a public manifestation of that crisis. As the media compete to come up with programs like Super Girls to offer unreal entertainment that fit within the boundaries defined by dictatorship, this is eviscerating people’s sense of social responsibility and individual dignity.
This topic on the Chinese Web, via Google.
* text was added to ESWN’s original translation.