I have been looking at the ways in which states have increasingly sought to (again) attain a greater control of the management of the popular culture and the way in which the masses approach, understand, value, and embrace cultural knowledge. China has proven to be an easy site for study primarily because its efforts have been both quite visible and unashamedly open. The West is working in parallel, but as a more fractured amalgam of ecologies of collectives, it is both more difficult to trace and much less stable. Either way, the goal is an important one--the management of perceptions of customs and traditions, of the way that things are accepted as "natural."
In the case of China, I have focused on two related but distinct thrusts in the assertion of leadership by the vanguard (as the leading force of society--in the West there are many collectives vying for the authority of a "leading societal force"). The first focused on longitudinal efforts--the education of the young and the disciplining of the intelligentsia (here). The second focused on a sustained and quite objectives based development of fields of study on the management of what is called social mentality (here).
For this post I focus on an increasingly important, and potentially challenging source of cultural power in China--celebrities and their fans. Liberal democratic collectives, of course, have long ago embedded and exploited celebrity culture (influencers, theatrical people, "personalities with followers, Tik Tok stars, talk media mouthpieces and the like). They have become large parts of the cultural landscape along with traditional actors--religious leaders, institutional big-wigs, public intellectuals, industrialists with substantial media presence, and political figures. To that extent, they have become potent but are deeply embedded in the culture machine and in this sense support rather than challenge the institutional structures which are designed to withstand constant movements of cultural orthodoxy (at least within normative limits). Those normative limits, that is system tolerance of movement and deviation, has been increasingly tested since the 1960s, but the liberal democratic system has been stable enough to eventually absorb these movements. That, in part, is grounded in the fundamental institutional structure that is made stronger by factional fracture (again within tolerable limits, the definition of which also tends to be a moving target).
Leninist systems necessarily approach this source of cultural power from a different perspective. With the leading social forces, its political vanguard, at the center, the systemic toleration of autonomous sources of societal production becomes much more problematic. That problem increases as a function of its intersection with the objectives of the vanguard, it basic line, and its definition of the sphere of activity that are meant to be undertaken only under and through the guidance and leadership of the vanguard. These normative limits are also constantly tested, and its constitution are also dynamic. The relationship between the Communist Party and celebrity culture is a great example. Once understood as innocuous enough (again within the limits of systemic toleration, which started quite broadly), celebrity culture has become more of a challenge as it grows in power and influence in ways that might rival that of its liberal democratic analogues. What is tolerable, or even cliche, in liberal democratic states, however, can easily be constituted a direct threat to the policies, objectives and (most dangerously) the authority of the vanguard.
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Of course Chinese social credit regimes might have been deployed to manage these autonomous collectives and exploit them (harness their influence potential) to align with vanguard objectives. But this was not a path chosen by the vanguard decision making bureaucracy (perhaps a problem of capacity, perhaps a problem of inter-vanguard fighting, perhaps a normative decision based on a rejection of the use of data driven metrics based nudging strategies; it is not clear). Instead, as recently reported by Reuters, the vanguard appears to be choosing a more old fashioned path, one that is reactive rater than proactive, and one that is likely to produce additional challenges that the next generation of leaders will be forced to face because of the generational blinkers of the current collective assigned the task of domesticating celebrity culture.
China cracked down on what it described as a "chaotic" celebrity fan culture on Friday, barring platforms from publishing popularity lists and regulating the sale of fan merchandise after a series of controversies involving artists. The country's top internet watchdog said it would take action against the dissemination of "harmful information" in celebrity fan groups and close down discussion channels that spread celebrity scandals or "provoke trouble". Platforms will no longer be able to publish lists of popular celebrity individuals and fan groups must be regulated, the watchdog said. (Brenda Goh and David Stanway, "China cracks down on 'chaotic' celebrity fan culture after scandals," Reuters (27 August 2021))
Pix Credit HERE
Also on the chopping block was any sort of televised interactive activity that has the slightest alignment with the practices of liberal democratic states--for example voting to express collective sentiment . "
The internet regulator is also barring variety shows from charging fans to vote online for their favourite acts and has spoken out against enticing netizens to buy celebrity merchandise. Regulators need to "increase their sense of responsibility, mission and urgency to maintain online political and ideological security," the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) said in a statement. (Ibid.)
|Pix Credit: HERE|
|Pix Credit HERE|
And yet it might have been worth considering whether the this approach aligned and creates synergies with the vanguard's efforts at managing culture and ideological training in the education system, and more importantly, whether it provides maximum benefits within the insights provided by the emerging study of social mentality. Suppression and resort to ancient techniques also ought to be considered in light of the trajectories suggested by emerging principles of New Era thinking. Here there is no question that celebrity culture represents an important target for regulation and now falls within the basic line of the Communist Party and its New Era objectives ("China has stringent rules on content ranging from video games to movies
to music, and censors anything it believes violates core socialist
values." "China cracks down on 'chaotic' celebrity fan culture). The ideological question, then, is whether is this an approach consistent with that ideology or now a distraction from its forward looking agendas.
In any case, this policy thrust might best be understood as deeply embedded in what appears to be a large scale multi-objective policy that might well have been long in the planning and now executed seriatim along its various front. The Reuters reporting follows below. More reporting here, here, and here. For sympathetic reporting in Chinese see eg HERE (每个人都能感受到，一场深刻的变革正在进行！ [Everyone can feel that a profound change is underway!]). Describing the chaos in the entertainment industry it then connected the actions against the entertainment industry with other actions against big data and credit enterprises this way:
金融领域、文化领域到政治领域都在发生一场深刻的变革，或者也可以说是一场深刻的革命。这是一次从资本集团向人民群众的回归，这是一次以资本为中心向以人民为中心的变革。因此，这是一场政治变革，人民正在重新成为这场变革的主体，所有阻挡这场以人民为中心变革的都将被抛弃。这场深刻的变革也是一次回归，向着中国共产党的初心回归，向着以人民为中心回归，向着社会主义本质回归。[A profound change is taking place in the financial field, the cultural field, and the political field, or it can be said to be a profound revolution. This is a return from the capital group to the masses of the people, and this is a transformation from capital-centered to people-centered. Therefore, this is a political change, the people are becoming the main body of this change again, and all those who block this people-centered change will be discarded. This profound change is also a return, a return to the original intention of the Chinese Communist Party, a return to the people-centered nature, and a return to the essence of socialism.].