Previously on Active Faults...
An End-Of-Year Roundup
Hi there. Welcome to Active Faults.
Happy birthday to us! I used the plural, because this tiny milestone wouldn’t be possible without all of you.
An astounding piece of statistics to begin with: Active Faults, the waddling 1-year-old, has subscribers in 52 countries. People read me in Nigeria, Egypt, Algeria and Colombia, when I thought only a few of my friends or my previous professors would care. What an honour that is.
Looking back on what I’ve published in the past year, I see the necessity of highlighting several recurring strands of debates in this roundup issue.
First of these is power.
China’s entertainment industry is a trampoline pulled taut at every corner while fanquan bounces around on its rubbery surface and tries to regain its balance, struggling to understand the everchanging elasticity. I’ve explained early on how, more so than in other countries, Chinese entertainment is uniquely swayed by an array of external forces. Political and economic interests converge at the crossroad that is the industry, vehemently moulding it into a distraction to quell popular unrest, a propaganda megaphone or a sleepless money-machine.
Meanwhile celebrities, their fans and peripheral players like management companies push and shove each other on the trampoline, to use the same metaphor. And the thing is, entertainment is one of the remaining realms of society that is truly participatory. Each party is in a symbiotic relationship with others, shaping the environment in different ways and to different extents. Power seen here should be understood in the Foucaultian sense, described in the words of John Gaventa as “diffuse rather than concentrated, embodied and enacted rather than possessed”.
Such a diffusion is significant in the sense that power is solidified everywhere else. Entertainment, with its triviality as a camouflage, provides what little breathing space and wiggle room people can get in an increasingly controlled state. It supplies a context for questioning, where people begin to flesh out debates on otherwise unspeakable social issues through accessible subject matters.
Censorship and deprived freedom of speech are so much easier to spot when a film you like gets taken down overnight or you have to edit chunks of your fanfic for it to be safely published. Privileges become obvious when a millionaire actor effortlessly outcompetes you in your job hunt. The class disparity is apparent when mega fans can spend 10 times more than you when buying virtual xuanxiu votes. Nationalistic discourses become discernible when you get criticised for listening to Korean songs. Misogyny can be named when your female idols are slut-shamed and heteronormativity is waiting to be called out when your favourite dangai’s release date gets repeatedly pushed back.
With debates come alternative narratives, a plurality, and constant negotiations. To engage with media and entertainment content is both a private and public experience. I’ve established that fans can take up multiple perspectives, their identity always in flux when they interact and wrestle with the context, celebrities, other fans and themselves. That in itself is a form of dissent, a freedom from monotony that rages on everywhere else, forcing you through secret afterschool academies, gaokao, a 985 university, a 996 job in ByteDance, three children at the age of 28 and retirement at 35 or never.
So far, this project created more questions than answers. There were also glaring gaps in its coverage. More probing needs to be done next year about a variety of topics: what is the role of social media platforms? Is entertainment influenced by “technofeudalism” and how? Why is everybody selling stuff on livestreams? How is everything else becoming fanquan-ized (what does 饭圈化 mean?) and fanquan becoming a cat that jumps at its own shadow? How is entertainment entangled with public welfare, tourism, e-sports and even national defense and armed forces?
Although I promised to bring you the latest stories as they develop, I was unable to capture a few important ones: What exactly happened when BLACKPINK’s Lisa decided to dance at the Crazy Horse Show and caused a nationwide debate on sex workers? Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour took Western entertainment by storm but is she big in China? What went on with Li Jiaqi, the billionaire Taobao livestreamer, his tank cake and classist comments that finally cemented his downfall?
As Active Faults grew, I conceded more than once to the stark reality that is my fish-eye view on entertainment and fandom. I write about what I see and live through: choosing this and forgetting that. I have confronted doubts of my ignorance and overcame them with, perhaps, brutal denial that anything else is more worthwhile to attend to. Perhaps that’s what you signed up for.
It could be egoistic of me to have started to wonder, very recently, about the ethical implications of the project. I essentially blew the whistle on some acts within entertainment and fandom that could get brave souls into trouble, if authorities look my way. I’m bringing exposure to practices that were meant to be somewhat private and intimate, hence protected and shielded away from scrutiny or worse. How am I perceived, if at all, by Chinese fans themselves and if I’m accused of betrayal, which “side” have I turned on?
Some of my struggles circle back to questions within the wider Chinese diaspora. The longer I spend living outside of China, privileged to speak from a relatively safer position, the less I can speak with confidence about what’s going on in neiyu. I naturally become out of tune with the fandom chatter back at home. I feel my mother tongue rusting in my mouth.
But what’s more unnerving is this: I find myself increasingly unable to identify as a Chinese fan. Separately both of the epithets ring true, but no longer fireproof once placed side by side. I catch myself looking up the meaning of internet slangs and silently mocking the silliness of it, or watching a trailer for a series people rave about but wincing at the corniness of it. That terrifies me. I am too often critical of shitty cinema, idle data-fucking, ridiculous baiting of irrational consumption and so much more. How can I write about something and someone I cannot identify with, disagree with, and even look down upon?
On that note, here’s to more overthinking, questioning, wrestling and debating in 2024. In the next issue, I’ll lay out the stuff I’ve got in store.
Thank you for reading!