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The Chinese Celebrity Economy — An Adult Entertainment Economy?

An interesting phenomenon started to occur during the economic recession. With less expendable income, people began spending more and more time at home. Searching for new activities to provide spiritual sustenance, many wound up developing an unprecedented interest in the entertainment industry. Some became self-proclaimed foodies while others binge-watched every must-see TV series, all leading to a rapid entertainment industry boom.

During the economic crisis of 1929, when the New York stock markets crashed, tanking the American economy, President Hoover reassured the American people the economy would prevail. Our economy is still good, the market will be adjusted, he proclaimed, The sense of fear is purely in your mind. Watch some comedy, and you’ll easily get through it. Although this joke didn’t turn the American economy around, it did spark the entertainment industry to reach a new peak. Americans faced with economic hardship were still willing to spend their precious quarters on tickets for shows and cinema.

Decades later in the 1980s, a new bubble formed in the Japanese economy: the adult entertainment industry. Even as the country faced a real estate crash in 1995, the adult video market still proved strong, and in 1999, the pornographic industry entered into a new golden era after the Japanese central bank implemented a zero-interest-rate policy to stimulate the economy. Two years later, Koizumi Junichiro took power and began to use extreme speech and external provocation to take people’s attention away from the economic crisis. Even so, as the crisis continued to worsen, the adult video industry flourished even more.

Coming back to today, do you see the similarity between these past trends and the rise of a Chinese celebrity economy during an economic recession?

2016 is known as the first year of live social media in China. A variety of live applications are entering the global landscape, a female anchor was followed by fans around the world, and capitalism made its way into the market. Stars from the entertainment industry are especially keen to pivot into anchoring or product representation to earn easy money. Even the financial industry has started to invest in the celebrity economy, poaching attractive researchers, fund managers, and so on. You can find examples of such sex appeal on any live platform, and although it is not as vulgar as pornography, the concept is similar. Still, some anchors on live social media platforms push the boundaries farther than what is acceptable.

Recently, Chinese authorities have started to act. The Ministry of Culture has announced that Douyu, YY, Panda TV, and other live network platforms are suspected to have allowed broadcasting of inappropriate content, including obscenity, violence, and the abetting of crime, and, as such, have been asked to enact self-discipline measures.

However, can all these live-broadcasting social networks really be banned? There are still many female anchors violating the self-discipline conventions, wearing revealing clothing and acting inappropriately, but because these “ambiguous performances” bring in so much money for the live platforms, they often turn a blind eye.

While the Chinese market is growing, the Japanese adult video industry has been in a slump domestically since 2010 despite its past period of prosperity. The most influential factor is the decline of income for Japanese adult males.

Interestingly, while many small-scale adult video companies have closed their doors in Japan, the number of adult video actresses has continued to rise. This means the market has shrunk but competition has increased. Nowadays, the yang energy of the Japanese nation seems to have been consumed by pornographic culture. The generations of the 1990s find themselves in desperate situations, and the tougher generations of the past no longer advocate self-reliance. Indulgence and addiction in the past have led the culture of Japanese otaku and fujoshi to run rampant, weakening their entertainment industry’s resistance to economic recession. The prosperity of the adult video industry didn’t save the Japanese economy but only harmed a generation of teenagers.

The condition of the Chinese “celebrity economy” is more intricate and delicate because it is filled with bubbles. Some institutions predicted the value of the celebrity economy to be 58 billion yuan (CNY) in 2016. However, cinema earnings in 2015 only reached 44 billion yuan. The movie industry has taken decades to grow into a mature market, but the celebrity economy has taken only a fraction of the time to reach the same maturity. Some people had not even become familiar with the term “Internet celebrity” until last year. If this isn’t a bubble, then what is?

Furthermore, those who have used these live platforms sometimes find that there are already dozens or hundreds of viewers in the live rooms of people who just went on air — likely the result of fake bots meant to inflate viewership numbers instead of real people.

Behind this industry is a crazy chase ordered about by capitalism. As the most promising emerging industry in China, the Internet has been sucked into a vicious trend of buying data to feign high value. As a result, new platforms have no chance of developing in a market dominated by monopolies, which is very bad for innovation and may have disastrous consequences when the bubble breaks.

So, what is the future of the “celebrity economy?” Nobody can give an exact answer. People expect that China may grow into a Hollywood, exporting a new level of Chinese cultural and artistic heritage to the world.

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