Seriously playful : the uses of networked spoof videos in China

Li, Henry Siling (2012) Seriously playful : the uses of networked spoof videos in China. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


This thesis examines online spoof videos in China. It shows the relationship between user-created content and change and how such videos are impacting on social memory.

In the West, we are witnessing two outstanding trends in media. On the one hand, media are turning more "demotic" (Turner, 2006) and "participatory" (Jenkins, 2006), whereby lay audiences use popular media for identity formation, representation and association, reconfiguring the media and cultural landscape, and rendering invalid the old paradigm based on the dichotomy of audience and author, creator and consumer, expert and amateur. On the other hand, in both mainstream media and user-creation online there is a trend towards "silly citizenship", with comedy, send-ups and spoofs that used to reside in the margin propelled to the central stage in both pleasure and politics (Hartley, 2010), as is shown in the rising popularity of the Daily Show, Colbert Report, and spoof videos in elections ,e.g. the 2008 presidential election in US (Gray, Jones, & Thompson, 2009; Tryon, 2008).

User generated content—and spoof subcultures—is now much a debated phenomenon in China. However, with different political (one party rule and censorship) and cultural (media regarded mainly as instrument for education and social stabilization instead of a critical fourth estate) configurations, will the social and cultural impacts of the two trends in the West be as the same in China? If not, what will be the specificities in the China context? The project starts with a historical review of popular culture and user-created content in China, before turning to spoof videos and looking at how they are produced and shared, travel and diffused on the Internet, and how the communities and sub-cultures forming and emerging around spoof videos are changing the overall cultural landscape in China.

By acting as a participant observer in online video sharing sites and conducting face-to face as well as online interviews, I identify lead users and creators of spoof videos and the social networks emerging around them. I call these lead users "skill hubs" and their networks "liquid communities", foregrounding the fact that their appeal doesn’t come from their amicable personality, but rather from their creative skills; and that the networks surrounding them are in a permanent flux, with members coming and going as they see fit. I argue that the "liquidness" (Bauman, 2000) of these communities is what makes them constantly creative and appealing. Textual analysis of online videos, their comments and derivatives are conducted to tease out the uses that that can be made of spoof videos, namely as phatic communication, as alternative memory and as political engagement. Through these analyses I show that spoof videos constitute not only a space where young generations can engage with each other, communicate their anger and dissatisfaction, fun and hope, and where they participate in socio-cultural and political debates, but also create a space where they can experiment with their new skills, new ideas, and new citizenship. The rise of spoof videos heralds the beginning of a trend in popular culture in contemporary China towards the "canonization of the jester" and the dethroning of the establishment.

I also argue that a historical perspective is needed to understand the current surge of use creativity and user activism in China, and that many forms of popular media we experience today have their antecedents in various stages of Chinese history. The entrenched "control-resistance" binary is inadequate in interpreting the rich, flux and multilayered Internet space in China.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 58084
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Hartley, John, Burgess, Jean E., & Keane, Michael A.
Keywords: China, innovation, internet, politics, popular culture, spoof videos, social renewal
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Creative Industries Faculty
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 11 Mar 2013 02:09
Last Modified: 21 Jun 2017 14:47

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