HONG KONG — Viewers of some of China’s most popular online variety shows were recently greeted by a curious sight: a blur of pixels obscuring the brands on sneakers and T-shirts worn by contestants.
As far as viewers could tell, the apparel showed no hints of obscenity or indecency. Instead, the problem lay with the foreign brands that made them.
Since late March, streaming platforms in China have diligently censored the logos and symbols of brands like Adidas that adorn items worn by contestants performing dance, singing and standup-comedy routines. The phenomenon followed a feud between the government and big-name international companies that said they would avoid using cotton produced in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang, where the authorities are accused of mounting a wide-reaching campaign of repression against ethnic minorities, including Uyghurs.
While the anger in China against Western brands has been palpable and enduring on social media, the sight of performers turned into rapidly moving blobs of censored shoes and clothing has provided rare, albeit unintentional, comic relief for Chinese viewers amid a heated global dispute. It has also exposed the unexpected political tripwires confronting apolitical entertainment platforms as the government continues to weaponize the Chinese consumer in its political disputes with the West.
Most of the brands were not discernible, but some could be identified. Chinese brands did not appear to be blurred. It’s not clear if Chinese government officials explicitly ordered the shows to obscure the brands. But experts said that the video streaming sites apparently felt pressured or obliged to publicly distance themselves from Western brands amid the feud.
Ying Zhu, a media professor
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