“Miss Puff” and “Old Boys” as Course Material

August 26th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Recently we’ve seen the emergence of serial programs created for online video sites in China (e.g. Youku, Tudou, and as we’ve seen with Youtube, etc.).  Often sponsored by major corporations, including Apple and General Motors, among others, they’ve served as popular entertainment and, not surprisingly, a venue for product placement. Several of these internet shows have also begun to pull a significant audience.

I’ve begun exploring a few of these shows amid ongoing curriculum development for courses on contemporary China. In a few cases, one has both video and text with which to work – these include the original show itself, plus some available translations, as well as viewer comments and reviews.  Online discussions of these programs seem to have a particular value in revealing debates among their own viewers regarding the social and artistic value of the shows. Many voices have drawn dichotomies between meaningful entertainment, with observations of specific themes that seemed to strike a chord among observers of contemporary Chinese society, versus a sense that these videos are merely shallow, commercial fluff. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, of course. Such fluff (“puff”?) entertainment may serve as valuable raw material for sociological, cultural, and historical analysis. See below for the start of a collection of links to shows and related resources. Comments, questions, and suggestions regarding these productions (or others) as a basis for lesson plans and curriculum development are welcomed.

Miss Puff — 泡芙小姐
See the video at the top of the page, if you haven’t already, to jump right in. ChinaSMACK offers an introduction to this series presented by Youku as well as a very useful translation of the first episode. The series itself is currently up to ten episodes that have been released, with more to come. ChinaSMACK also has provided an introduction the video short “Miss Puff’s Goldfish Bowl” that preceded the current series. Both raise questions regarding themes of contemporary alienation, sexuality, notions of love, nihilism, and, in both the production and consumption of the videos themselves, late capitalism. Side note: though I’m not sure “mature” is quite the right word to apply to this production, some of the themes covered in the series are probably more appropriate for an undergraduate (and above) audience rather than K-12. See here for the full series of episodes offered thus far.

Old Boys – 老男孩
Released in October 2010, this online feature attracted a significant viewership. The China Daily reported a count of over 26 million views in a background story (“Old Boys enliven young dreams“) on the feature’s director and star, Xiao Yang (肖央), that ran five months later as its popularity continued to build. (For full data on viewership, see here.) “Old Boys” conveys a nostalgia held by its protagonists, a group of men and women who are approaching middle age and, it seems, who have encountered a significant moment of disillusionment amid their lives in today’s China. James Fallows, quoting his friend Shi Hongshen at length, offers a discussion of this very same theme as well as its relation to the “Old Boys” feature itself in “Voices from China #1 – The ‘Post-1980s Generation’.” I’m anticipating pairing the two together with other readings for upcoming lesson plans.

See below for the “Old Boys” feature – or at its main Youku site for a better broad-screen version (both include translation).