I'm like most people who spend too much time on the Internet -- I abhor so-called "clickbait," and then I click on it constantly. The oldest trick in the newish book of the World Wide Web is to post some horrific headline -- escaped lion from the zoo, or 17-mile traffic jam -- without revealing in the headline that this actually happened in the Czech Republic. In that spirit, something compelled me last week to click on a link on, ahem, Philly.com that promised (and delivered, in a way) a story about a big TV star who set Web traffic records when he apologized publicly to his wife for infidelity...
...in China. Ugh. But still, there was a pearl buried deep in the story. I learned this:
The topic trended above the missing Malaysian plane and a protest against a petrochemical plant in Maoming that turned violent. Censors had blocked searches relating to the Maoming protests.
Extramarital affairs are not as taboo in China as they once were, and sex scandals provide an outlet for relatively free commentary by ordinary people online, said Zhan Jiang, a journalism professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University. Unlike political news, "entertainment news isn't restricted or censored by the authorities," said Zhan. "From the authorities' point of view it isn't good if the public cares too much about politics, but entertainment is safe."
Oh, those crazy Chinese people halfway around the world and their wacky diversionary tactics. The next thing you know they'll be going crazy over the unsolved murder of an attractive female intern or even a mostly made-up epidemic of shark attacks, in the same summer that terrorism is about to strike their nation, a large energy firm is robbing people blind while the government is approving a fiscally unsound tax cut. Or maybe in the future they'll learn not to censor a story like the Malaysian jetliner crash but to really ham it up -- rent a flight simulator or use holograms or speculate about black holes or alien abduction, and keep it going 24 hours a day, so they public never has to think about what's working or not working about their health care system, or the failure to address income inequality and the crisis of the long-term unemployed.
Seriously, why did this story about the Chinese news coverage of InfidelityGate not come with a 72-point caution note reading: IRONY?. Because what it really sounds like is that the Chinese are slowly learning to do things the American way...they're just running a couple of decades behind us. First they've adopted (and adapted) capitalism to create their own gazillionaires, and now they're finally starting to figure out that a big -- and diversionary -- news media can actually be their friend.
Soon they'll drop the whole censorship thing -- which is sooooo 20th Century -- altogether and learn how to pay homage to the wonders of a free press, to not kill important stories but to bury them on Page A17 where most people won't see them. That way when China invades one of their neighbors in the next few years, a few crazy "liberals" can ask why there was no public debate -- and their leaders won't throw the complainers in jail. They'll just laugh about what they've done, then retire to a peaceful post-politics existence as a portrait artist -- and have their daughters interview them about it on state television.
I can almost smell the freedom from 12,000 miles away!.