Stop the Internet!
The Associated Press is reporting that Lady Gaga, Beyoncé and Katy Perry have all been deemed threats to “cultural national security” in China, and that the government is cracking down on music websites to remove their songs from download lists.
Terrible, right? It’s a travesty, a tragedy and a transvestite’s worst fear! Just think of all the innocent Chinese schoolgirls who will be denied the basic human right of singing along to the chorus of Perry’s Rebecca Black spoof, Last Friday Night: “Yeah, we danced on tabletops, yeah we did too many shots, think we kissed but I forgot, last Friday Night!” You’d think the Chinese authorities would get that it’s ironic – like, duh – that the real message is that ugly sober people are cooler than pretty drunk ones (see Perry’s husband, Russell Brand, for details). But no.
Totalitarian regimes can be so humourless sometimes.
Anyway, I was just getting dressed in preparation for my protest in front of the Chinese embassy – the idea was to put on a tight black bodysuit and do Beyoncé’s Single Ladies dance until I died of exhaustion or was arrested for public indecency – when it occurred to me: Hey, maybe autocratic cultural censorship isn’t such a bad thing after all.
Now, before you sit up, snap your fingers and get all “ Born This Way is the greatest gay anthem since Material Girl” on me, pause to consider the following: Scroll farther down the list of recently banned singles in China (past the lengthy Taiwanese and Hong Kong hit parade) and you will notice the inclusion of a certain 12-year-old Backstreet Boys single, I Want it That Way.
The fact that this song made the list gave me serious pause, for two reasons. The first was surprise, as there is nothing in its lyrics that could possibly be construed as politically subversive or even overtly sexual (unless you are so Pollyanna that rhyming “fire” with “desire” makes you blush). The second was relief, due to a very personal scarring memory involving the same track: In the early days of my career, I was made to review a Backstreet Boys concert for this very paper. I don’t want to talk about it further except to say that prolonged exposure to teenage female hysteria combined with synth-heavy boy-band choruses can lead to dizziness, nausea, bleeding ears and suicidal thoughts.
So here’s the interesting thing. I rarely agree with the Chinese government. (In fact, inside my head I’m having a raging argument with Hu Jintao right now, which may account for the sour look on my face.) But I’d be lying if I said I haven’t often wished I could erase I Want it That Way from the culture. I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t think it was a good thing for China, and by that measure, a good thing for a fifth of the world. I know censorship is a slippery slope, but we’re talking about 1.3 billion lucky people who never have to risk hearing Nick Carter asking in a falsetto “Tell me why-eee?” ever again! How can any sane person not see the overwhelming good in that?
Presuming the Chinese government is right and this whole democracy/Internet thing is just a passing trend, I think banning terrible pop songs (or movies or TV shows or even, yup, I’ll say it, books) could be the way forward. I say this not because I think the Chinese government is correct in its instinct to quash personal freedom and stamp out individual expression, but because I Want it That Way is a dreadful song; and anyone who argues for its right to exist – even purely on principle – has obviously never felt their ears bleed in the third row of the SkyDome at 11 p.m. when they could have been at home on the sofa sipping a full-bodied Barolo with their boyfriend.
I’m not an idiot, folks. I see what the Chinese government is up to here. They’re not banning songs because they’re dangerous. They’re banning songs because they’re lousy. And that, I think, we can all totally get behind.
Yes I know, we in the West are brought up to believe censorship is evil, but wouldn't it be lovely – and frankly a good thing for the culture – if we could ban a few things ourselves? I’m not talking about cracking down on dissent, but legislating taste.
For instance, my university dorm would have been a much more bearable and academically fruitful environment minus Sarah McLachlan's weepy hymn In the Arms of An Angel. And just think of what a better place the world would be without the Transformers series. Or anything starring Kate Hudson. Or The King of Queens.
Maybe Canada's grassroots funding of the arts is the wrong approach, and what we should be doing is censoring culture from the top down – not based on threats to our national security of course, but the (equally dangerous) threat to our intelligence, taste and sanity.
You probably think I’m joking, but I’m not. At least not about the bleeding ears part. Or Kate Hudson. As soon as China gets around to banning Bride Wars and Something Borrowed, I’m moving there. Hu Jintao, stock up on the Barolo, baby. Here I come.