65 Channels and Nothing On

Television, it has likely been said, is a pretty good way to get an insight into a culture – at least that portion of a culture that likes to sit at home doing nothing.  Shanghai has over 60 free-to-air stations.  The other night, I went exploring, to see what I could see.  Here are the highlights…

English language broadcasts: 1 in total
Well, normally, us English speakers have two channels to pick from, but at the moment, one has been given over to World Cup broadcasting … with Chinese commentary only, of course.  Otherwise, it just shows American movies, mostly years old and often so obscure I have never heard of them.  The second channel has just been turned into a continual news channel, which is fine, but the cycle of reporting is so short that you can see the same stuff several times an hour.  And many weather reports….

Low budget Chinese soap operas: at least 4
These look dire – I can only go on appearances, given my limited language skills.  It appears that the actors, sets, direction and dialogue are all done on the cheap.  Supposedly, Xian (home of the terracotta warriors) is the centre of soap opera production in China.

Big budget Chinese war dramas: also at least 4
Again, I can only go on appearances, but these look entirely overwrought and highly dramatic.  There are two general typologies – the ancient martial arts drama and the World War Two military drama.  The Japanese appear to play the main antagonists in both.

After hours of longing glances, meaningful conversations and tense moments, the whole thing culminates into a huge battle scene, long and graphic and involving the death of at least of the main characters.  In this one, the main guy had the indignity of ending his life with all of his limbs mangled (from a bomb blast) and spewing litres of blood onto his best friend.

Chinese versions of American reality TV: up to 10
Of course, television here is packed with local versions of reality TV.

One popular show of recent years is Super Girl, an all-female version of Idol/PopStars/etal.  At first conceived of as a wholesome family show, it fast became a total raunchfest, causing much grief to parents and government alike.  In response, the government supported the creation of a male equivalent, Happy Boy (I know, lamest name ever…)  Imagine the additional horror when one of first season favourites just happened to be … gasp!… a transvestite.  Or, perhaps, imagine the realisation that good scandalous TV keeps people well distracted.

There’s also a Chinese version of Next Top Model.  Cue the jeans shorts!

Minority programming – 6 or 7
I’m not sure if that is what they would call it, but it wouldn’t surprise me.  Many of the smaller and more remote parts of China get a good airing on national television, although it appears that it is mostly discussions about local current affairs or traditional performances, like this smiley dancing…

Doing the Hard Sell: 4
Just in case there’s any doubt that capitalism is an irresistible force … Lots and lots of ads for all sorts of useful products, from saucepans to underpants.  And this stuff isn’t cheap – about $150 for this saucepan, a lot of money for the average Chinese worker.

More Hard Selling – constant
Littered through the rest of the programming are little adverts spruiking cities around China (presumedly paid for by provincial governments or business groups).  Generally, a computer animation is accompanied by a booming voice-over that compresses all the virtues of the city into a catchy one-liner … “The new gateway to northern China’s modern industry!”  … “World City, Personal City!” … “A futuristic shipping port, with trees!”   They fit a lot into 10 seconds.

And the Biggest Sell of All – countless
Expo features constantly on TV here.  Expo-focused talk shows, continual updates, celebrities singing the various Expo songs, live crosses are all on heavy rotation.

And, recognisable programs – just the one
The only show I recognised in all of my channel surfing was MythBusters.  For a culture so prone to belief in urban myths, it seems like a good thing.


2 Responses to 65 Channels and Nothing On

  1. gizzard says:

    I love the Bruce Springsteen reference…I think his was 57 channels, but the all powerful Chinese seem to have outdone those measly Yanks. Hah ha haaaaaaa!!!

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