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China's senior citizen Lady Gaga cover band and a clamp down on TV programs

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I have never been a big TV fan, and watch very, very little Chinese TV at all since the cable provider that pipes television into the compound where I live offers only official channels that nobody watches, even if they are Chinese.

So I have not really been following the ways in which commercial Chinese TV companies, notably Hunan satellite TV, which is extremely popular nationwide, have been going after their audience.

When the Chinese State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television clamped down a couple of weeks ago, ordering all Chinese satellite channels to take almost all their “entertainment” programs off the air and replace them with educational and uplifting fare, it struck me – like most foreigners – as a typically humorless, authoritarian move by government censors who are way out of touch with the popular mood.

As of next year, satellite channels will be forbidden to broadcast more than two prime-time slots a week of certain sorts of programs, such as talent contests, dating shows, or reality TV shows. The ban came soon after a commentary in the ruling Communist party’s official organ, the Peoples Daily, condemning “excessive entertainment” on Chinese TV, saying that the media’s duty was to “boycott excessive infotainment.”

But I came across this clip on the Internet today, an all-singing, half-dancing group of aging Chinese doing a cover of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” on Hunan regional TV, which is probably the daftest piece of video I have ever seen, and it almost made me see the SARFT’s point…..

This is not specifically the sort of fare that the censors dislike so much; they have an especially virulent distaste for “American Idol” style shows, it seems.

But as the Chinese government spends hundreds of millions of dollars to spread its message around the world – its US TV station is about to open from Washington – this clip is a vivid illustration of how deep the Western soft power has reached and how far China has to go in their drive for it. 

The fact that Chinese viewers love to see senior citizens regurgitating a Western youth icon shows that, for better or for worse, the West is light years ahead of Beijing in this sphere.

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