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Why we love to catch a falling star

中国日报网 2014-04-15 09:36






A carnival atmosphere in the wake of a showbiz celebrity's hanky-panky coming to light speaks volumes about the popular culture of the day and, of course, the slowness of serious news. There is a joke going around town that Malaysia is being salvaged by a Chinese star whose extramarital affair has finally taken the heat off the airline mystery.

Wen Zhang, a 30-year-old movie and television actor, rose to prominence on his public image as a man of responsibility. Barely two months after his second daughter was born, paparazzi caught him in compromising situations with Yao Di, a young actress who starred with him in a previous drama series.

The real-life drama played out like an episodic Chinese soap opera. On March 28, the editor of Southern Entertainment Weekly tweeted on her weibo (micro blog) that the magazine was to drop a big bomb in showbiz the following Monday.

Then there was gossip that representatives from the two leads in the affair were reaching out in a frantic attempt to hush up the revelation with big money dangled in exchange for the favor. But "No!" said the publisher, who suggested they were going to do the right thing and honor their reporters' hard work. Besides, it was too late to stop the press.

Episode 1 of innuendo escalated during the weekend to Episode 2 of anticipation. The suspense was quickly broken as the nation's online journalists took whatever tips they could get hold of and jumped to digging. The gist was, Wen had been seeing Yao when his wife was pregnant with their second child. Yao even moved closer to be their neighbor. Blurry photos of their secret rendezvous in Hong Kong surfaced, hardly conclusive yet tantalizing nonetheless. All kinds of theories were floated.

The biggest loser from this episode is the magazine that set the events in motion, not the dishonored celebrities. In this day of instant news and commentary, the print media can be easily trumped by their online competitors. Anything could have happened during the two days when Southern Entertainment Weekly was being printed and trucked to newsstands. For breakout news, print has proved such a laggard even when it claims to have a big scoop. Anyone in the print shop with a camera-ready mobile phone could have leaked everything in a few seconds.

I believe print media still has a place in the future, mainly in in-depth reporting and analysis, the kind of thing people don't have much patience for when they surf the net. But tabloid news and gossip, no matter the length, is the information equivalent of fast food. People won't dress up or pay big money for it. They don't even care if it is properly vetted and verified. The important thing is whether the subjects in the story are known quantities in whom the reading public has invested time and emotion.

Conspiracy theorists also had a field day arguing that it was a ploy by all the players in the melodrama to sell something. In China there is a special segment who would automatically suspect that people less well-known get involved with celebrities for the purpose of selling something, possibly to get a starring role in a commercial.

I was accused of this sin when I got an exclusive interview with Zhang Ziyi in 2010. Did I want to sell something? Sure, I thought that story of mine would be good for promoting China Daily. Other than that, what could I possibly sell?

Even the most important writer in China has never been given an endorsement deal. Sometimes, cynicism can be an excuse for stupidity, somewhat like the brain running wild and screeching with sparks of illogic before it totally breaks down.

Early Monday morning came the denouement. I'd rather call it Episode 3 as who knows how it's going to end. Chinese couch potatoes are accustomed to 30-episode slow-moving tearjerkers, not a three-act dramatic arc. Wen issued a statement on his weibo, apologizing profusely for his sin and asking for forgiveness adding that it was unforgivable. He did not mention the girlfriend. His wife, Ma Yili, who is eight years his senior, echoed his apology by hinting that they have already moved on.

This is so anticlimactic. Why isn't the first wife angry? Obviously she had long known about her husband's infidelity and they had reached some kind of reconciliation. That left moral purists in an awkward position. Who are they going to champion now that the victim has essentially sided with the sinner. The focus has shifted to the girlfriend who has not come out with a public stance yet. Is she now the victim due to his prompt repentance? (She had posted a cryptic sentence on March 23, saying "One should pursue but not force it because what one wins by pursuing is priceless while what one wins by forcing it is cheap.")

Wen is rumored to be the highest-paid television actor in China, commanding three times the salary of the Korean heartthrob who has taken China by storm. He may not possess the best looks or the best acting chops, but he has built a solid career on a combination of good roles and a matching persona of a boy-man and the boy next door that is more endearing than enchanting. In other words, he is someone who can be trusted as a husband and father or a kid growing into one.

Truth is, we don't know anything about what happened between the three of them. We just project from the roles they play and the public appearances they make that they are the kind of people we take them to be. That is at once the benefit and the disadvantage of an acting career. Their facade could be exactly who they are, or the opposite of who they are, or anything in between.

All three of these people are adults and their private lives have nothing to do with the public. The fact that Wen has been acting as a kind of role model is partly the fault of the public or his fan base. Acting is not built on morality; it is one's ability to make believe he or she can be someone else once the need arises. It is simply foolish to equate a role with the one who temporarily embodies it.

That said, actors who rely on the trick of deliberately blurring the line between actor and role should abide by his own rule. If you want the public to believe you're a paragon of morality, then stick to it or suffer the consequences.

In a cultural context, the increasing failures of fairy tale marriages in the entertainment industry indeed have an impact on social attitudes and values. Whenever a celebrity union unravels, those who perceived it as the embodiment of conjugal perfection are dealt a blow, gradually morphing them into cynics. The oft-repeated catchphrase, "I won't believe in love anymore", is a self-deprecating wisecrack that has truth at its core.

It's not a stretch to imagine that some will follow the lead of the erstwhile role models even in their foibles simply because they have revealed a vulnerability that makes them more human. There is also a palpable undertone of schadenfreude at the implosion of marquee names. If those perching atop pedestals cannot resist temptation and hold a marriage together, shouldn't we feel better about ourselves and our pedestrian lives?

Either way, stars in the entertainment galaxy are used as benchmarks against which the huddling masses can measure their own existence and its worth. It has all the trappings of a modern religion with the only exception that these are mere mortals whose unpredictability can interfere with our projection and faith. That's why a real saint had better be dead. For one thing, dead people do not commit adultery and can be molded into whatever shape the manipulator wants.

By Raymond Zhou ( China Daily)






















(中国日报周黎明 译者 huayuting)



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