In January 2014 the most popular Chinese micro-blog post was written by the beloved actress Fan Bingbing (or one of her ghostwriters) in which she said she would draw three lucky winners from those forwarding her post. These three lucky fans would be given her photo calendars, and she will personally follow them at Weibo, China’s micro-blog site. Within days, the post was liked by over 53 thousand, forwarded by 364 thousand and commented by 283 thousand.
Weibo is tremendously popular in China, as it gives almost everyone a platform to read and write, even when one does not enjoy writing all that much. Surely, 140 words isn't all that much. At the very least one could forward a post with a simple click. Weibo has become a microcosm of the Chinese society at large. I have been observing what kind of people get read, and what kind of posts become viral, as this is a good way to check the pulse of the Chinese society in my obsession with the anthropology of technology. In the Chinese microblogsphere, those who are followed by many are called the “Big Vs” (V for verified users). There used to be a time when the most popular things big Vs write are chicken soup for the feeble minds. Kaifu Lee, former executive for Google and Microsoft, coined many fortune-cookie-sized wisdom for millions of followers.
Recently, I noticed that such voices are dying down, while celebrities from the show business take the center stage. Most popular weibos are almost all those of celebrities in the show business. If this trend continues, my only hope of getting more popular is to star in a movie, say, about an instructional design superhero rescuing panicked professors from dysfunctional online tests. And then, I’ll promise the same calendars with photos of mostly my nude backs to potential readers to increase my fan base. We’ll see what happens.
Celebrities like Fan Bingbing, due to their popularity elsewhere, mount some kind of “bully pulpits”-- a term coined by President Theodore Roosevelt to refer to the white house as a natural, conspicuous platform to call attention to some civic action. Or, to be more exact, these nice-looking celebrities own their own beauty pulpits, even though such pulpits are not used to make a positive impact on the society. With all due respect to her beauty, I visited Fan Bingbing’s microblog, and found that the site is nothing more than a tiny package wrapped around herself: her moods, photos, social activities and such, trivial, boring, lackluster, and devoid of any meaning in my opinion. I do not understand why fans flock to blogs like hers. It is not as if people like her turn into Hannah Arlendts when off screen.
The celebrity domination in Web 2.0, however, is a worldwide problem. In 2013, seven of the top ten most followed twitter users are celebrities in the show business: Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Britney Spears, Rihanna, and Justin Timberlake. You would have thought that people watch such people on TV, while the cyberspace is more of a marketplace for ideas. Instead, you see that more users aren't all that excited about having the best ideas win. Most people pay attention to things that are skin deep, such as beauty.
I shouldn’t have been frustrated with this, but I see that children are engulfed in the celebrity culture as well. I fear that we as parents are losing them to these thoughtless drifts in the cyberspace. How can pepper-haired dads, with all our horse sense, compete with the one-and-only Biebers and Bingbings in the world? We don’t stand a chance. But I am mild. Check what New Yorker Tony Montana has to say about Justin Bieber.
No, I refuse to say this has anything to do with ego. I am bothered by the escape into irrelevant worlds around celebrities who are far away and incapable of making any minds any sharper, or lives any better. Something is wrong with reality itself. I often go to the parks, lakes, or other places where I expect to see more families with their children walking, playing or reading. Most of the times, I am the only one walking, in spite of the gorgeous sunshine and blue sky that I could share.