Traveling in China brings me into closer contact with the English-language edition of China Daily, which published an interesting opinion piece last week titled “Parody Can Help People Ease Work Pressure”. It describes the emerging “spoofing culture” 恶搞文化 of contemporary Chinese Internet creativity. “Egao” 恶搞 is a neologism that the Chinese media is spending some time trying to dissect and understand, and as such is a bit hard to translate. Roland Soong of ESWN suggests “spoof/ing” and I’m going to go with that. It refers to the sudden emergence over the past year of online video clips and photo-shopped stills such as Hong Kong’s now world-famous Bus Uncle, or the Bun Murders series based on Chen Kaige’s film The Promise. The China Daily piece calls spoofing:
a popular subculture that deconstructs serious themes to entertain people with comedy effects…The two characters “e” 恶 meaning evil and “gao” 搞 meaning “work” combine to describe a subculture that is characterized by humour, revelry,
subversion, grass-root spontaneity, defiance of authority, mass
participation and multi-media high-tech….The
expression is said to have come from the Japanese word “kuso,” an
Internet subculture that advocates enjoying any online game no matter
how poor it is.
It seems as if after the term “spoofing” came out, there were suddenly lots of spoofs everywhere…Before, when nobody knew the term “spoof” it was hard to describe spoofing behavior and we had to use other terms as a substitute…”Spoof”helps to fix the meaning of these activities…
…But what exactly is spoofing? That’s harder to say. To say it’s a practical joke is definitely not right because spoofing has more breadth than a practical joke…it’s like comparing a chicken leg to an entire roast chicken…
…With the development of Chinese society and an increase in the amount of protein and vitamins taken in by young people, students on campus are no longer so quiescent. [note: this is a strange characterization of Chinese campus culture, which has been a center for social and cultural change for the last century.] They’re in a restless adolescence where they’re looking for all kinds of ways to express how they’re different from their peers. Spoofing is naturally an important method for doing this. This is different from the students of the 1980s and 1990s who basically didn’t mature as early, and if they did they just started dating earlier but didn’t have much talent for spoofing.
…The most characteristic spoofing behavior is to “mess with” 折腾 other people so they don’t know whether to laugh or cry, but they also can’t say that you’ve done something that’s really evil.
…A traditional view would say, good students with that much imagination, creativity, and technical skills should spend their energy on something more significant, not on spoofs. But the question is, why do students like spoofing so much? The view of students as weak and immature, and only knowing practical jokes, is outdated, doesn’t explain what’s behind spoofing, and will not be able to stop it. Even if you know the reasons behind spoofingyou might not be able to prevent it from happening.
…Why has spoofing emerged? The question we really should be asking is, why does everyone think that not spoofing is normal? Not spoofing means toeing the line, being a good student, not breaking the rules, not teasing your classmates, not questioning the teacher, and not putting into practice the strange, not always proper thoughts in your head…When you look at it this way, spoofing is a good way to vent. At least it’s only a spoof and not suicide or violent behavior…
There wasn’t spoofing before, or at least, spoofing hadn’t emerged as its own culture because our society was monolithic and inflexible 缺乏包容性的, seeing rule-breaking as a bad thing. Of course, due to public opinion there were also few incidents of suicide or shouting matches on campus in those days…in the 1980s and 1990s students had no other way to vent besides writing literature….It’s different now. Society is more flexible, more willing to allow the existence of all different manner of behaviors.
If you want to check out some of the best spoofs, see QQ’s spoof page 恶搞总动员 which has a list of “classics” as well as current favorites.