April 27, 2021

"The reality TV ordeal of a Russian who joined a Chinese boy band show by accident – and made it to the final despite urging fans to vote him off – has finally ended..."

"... after nearly three months. Vladislav Ivanov, a 27-year-old from Vladivostok, was kicked out of the Produce Camp 2021 on Saturday after viewers ignored his pleas to leave and backed him all the way to the final. Ivanov, who speaks Mandarin, joined the show as a Chinese translator. But he said he was invited to sign up as a contestant after the directors noticed his good looks.... He appeared to regret his decision almost immediately but could not leave without breaching his contract. His lack of enthusiasm played out in half-hearted singing, rapping and dancing alongside the other, more eager contestants. 'Becoming a member of a boy band is not my dream as I can’t sing and dance,' Ivanov said in Chinese on the show.... 'I hope the judges won’t support me. While the others want to get an A, I want to get an F as it stands for freedom.'... 'Don’t love me, you’ll get no results,' he said on one episode. But viewers took to his dour persona and kept him in the running for nearly three months....  Ivanov appears to have struck a genuine chord as an anti-hero for Chinese audiences. Fans, some earnest and some ironic, called him 'the most miserable wage slave,' and celebrated him as an icon of 'Sang culture,' a popular concept among Chinese millennials referring to a defeatist attitude toward everyday life. 'Don’t let him quit,' one viewer commented on a video of a dejected-looking Ivanov performing a Russian rap. 'Sisters, vote for him! Let him 996!' another fan commented, using the Chinese slang for the gruelling work schedule that afflicts many young staff, especially in digital startups."

The Guardian reports.

I feel challenged to attempt to understand the Chinese through this story. What? Are they excited by the idea of forced work — titillated by slavery? Did they like it because he was not Chinese? Because he was Russian? Was his unhappiness — his "dour persona" — fun for them? 

Did they somehow think it was an act — a comic persona — and enjoy playing along? Was it like the way Americans, watching "American Idol" would target contestant who wasn't too good and keep voting for him? Why did we do that? The prank was called "Vote for the Worst." I wrote about it in 2007, when Howard Stern was openly promoting ruining the show by voting for the worst contestant. I actually liked this person, a sweet young man, Sanjaya Malakar, and I think many viewers voted for him because they genuinely liked him.

But Sanjaya wanted to be on the show. Imagine voting for the person who wants to leave, who begs to leave, and finding it entertaining that he cannot get out. 

"While the others want to get an A, I want to get an F as it stands for freedom" — this was supposedly said in Chinese. I'd like to see a literal translation. Or is there a word for "freedom" in Chinese that begins with the mark schools give students who've done terribly?

It is possible that Ivanov wanted to be on the show and intentionally created a comic persona. Is dourness a viable comic pose? I'm trying to think of genuinely brilliant comedians who've used that sort of persona successfully. The first person who comes to mind is Buster Keaton (note: WaPo link):

Next to Garbo, Buster Keaton possessed the most exquisite face in the history of the movies. White as alabaster, with dark, shy, feline eyes and high, finely sculpted cheekbones, it was capable of a vast range of expression, from the open inquisitiveness of a child to the worldly nonchalance of a millionaire playboy. At the same time, its beauty is as distant and inscrutable as the lunar surface; it suggests isolation, loneliness, perhaps even despair....

In "Go West" (1925), Keaton accuses one of his opponents in a poker game of dealing off the bottom of the deck. Outraged, the man pulls a gun on Keaton and growls, "When you say that, smile." Try though he might, however, the Great Stone Face can't work up a grin -- even at gunpoint -- forcing him to parody the tragic Lillian Gish in "Broken Blossoms" by using his fingers to push up the corners of his mouth.


Here's Lillian: 

FROM THE EMAIL: Wild Swan writes:

I know why the caged bird sang and why they cheered. It was a way of evading censorship and slyly saying what they thought about other aspects of Chinese culture, including success v. slavery. It works on many levels and maybe we could learn and create our own "Sang" culture. In addition to boycotting the Academy Awards, poison them by accessing the worst movies on Amazon and Netflix and making them the most popular. For a twofer, run them in an empty house while the rotten sports leagues are kneeling against the flag and insulting Americans and go out with the family to local sports.

AND: Here's an article on "sang" culture from Reuters: "For Chinese millennials, despondency has a brand name."

[A] significant number of young Chinese with high expectations have become discouraged and embrace an attitude known on social media as “sang”, after a Chinese character associated with the word “funeral” that describes being dispirited.

“Sang” culture, which revels in often-ironic defeatism, is fueled by internet celebrities, through music and the popularity of certain mobile games and TV shows, as well as sad-faced emojis and pessimistic slogans. It’s a reaction to cut-throat competition for good jobs in an economy that isn’t as robust as it was a few years ago and when home-ownership - long seen as a near-requirement for marriage in China - is increasingly unattainable in major cities as apartment prices have soared.

“I wanted to fight for socialism today but the weather is so freaking cold that I’m only able to lay on the bed to play on my mobile phone,” 27 year-old Zhao Zengliang, a “sang” internet personality, wrote in one post. “It would be great if I could just wake up to retirement tomorrow,” she said in another.

Such ironic humor is lost on China’s ruling Communist Party. In August, Sung Tea was called out for peddling “mental opium” by the Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, which described sang culture in an editorial as “an extreme, pessimistic and hopeless attitude that’s worth our concern and discussion”. “Stand up, and be brave. Refuse to drink ‘sung tea’, choose to walk the right path, and live the fighting spirit of our era,” it said.... While “sang” can be a pose or affectation, despondency among a segment of educated young people is a genuine concern for President Xi Jinping and his government, which prizes stability....
Much more at the link.