China's censors want to purge the internet of millennial angst
China wants kids to stay away from BoJack Horseman and sang culture
Despairing over the price of apartments or avocado toast isn't just for millennials in the US. In China, millennial angst has helped form an entire sub-culture of dejected 20-somethings with a knack for cynical, self-deprecating humor. But the country’s censors aren't finding it funny.
WeChat announced on Saturday that it's banned more than 40,000 public accounts since the start of this year... and it’s only February. Among them were the usual suspects: Vulgar and harmful content, scams and frauds. China is known for its tough stance towards undesirable content, so that's nothing new. But there's also a new target: So-called "sang" culture.
It loosely translates to funeral or mourning, but it can also mean hopeless or dispirited. Too lazy to pick up dirty laundry from the floor? You're sang. Spend 12 hours a day in an office for a salary that barely covers rent? Also sang. And if you outright refuse to participate in China's frantic social competition? Definitely sang.
Much like the rest of the world, the trend started appearing just as the job market for millennials in China started worsening. Fuelled by pop culture anti-heroes like Netflix’s BoJack Horseman and Chinese sitcom character Ge You, the trend found its home on social platforms like WeChat and Weibo. It's even spawned musical numbers like "So far, the sofa is so far".
But the trend didn't please Chinese government mouthpieces, which have called the sang movement “spiritual opium“. (Is sofa is the new opium of the masses?)
BoJack Horseman, a sad-com about a once-famous actor full of self-loathing, also got the boot. The show was removed from one of China's most popular streaming sites in 2017.
WeChat’s purge of millennial angst came on the heels of Twitter-like platform Weibo. The platform promised last week to severely crack down on accounts that “peddle anxiety.“
“Ban negative energy, anxiety and vulgarity. Just collect a smile tax. Whoever doesn't have a smile on his face pays tax,“ was one Weibo user's sardonic response to the news.
But others were more cautious.
“Trafficking anxiety is not illegal, spreading rumors is illegal,“ said another Weibo user.
And this is where things get a little more complex, because sang culture isn't the only online trend that has found itself under scrutiny lately. China’s "social media queen” Mimeng, known for her clickbait chicken soup for the soul articles, was forced to shut down her WeChat official account last week -- after spreading a fake story that was basically sang porn.
Mimeng, whose real name is Ma Ling, was shut down after a fake story published on her account about a young cancer victim went viral. The story described a young graduate from one of China’s best universities who refused to accept illegal income while unemployed, but ultimately failed to succeed... and died of cancer at 24.
Fake news is just as much of a problem in China as the West, if not more -- and so this may have given China’s content regulators the reason they needed to move in on “pessimistic values“ online. And now there are calls for more "positive energy entertainment".
There's the message for all those millennials stuck in the rat race: Just think positive thoughts.