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The silent Chinese propaganda in Hollywood films
China's rise has necessitated a global PR push. It includes influencing how the movies you watch depict China.
- China will soon overtake the U.S. as the world's largest market for films, and it is using that fact to influence how it is depicted by Hollywood.
- While Chinese investors have been interested in buying shares of studios for a while, the real power lies in deciding which movies get into China at all.
- The influence is often subtle, but may have already derailed a few careers in the name of politics.
Ever since 1978, when the Chinese decided Maoism was nuts and that state capitalism was worth a shot, China has enjoyed meteoric economic growth and is now the second largest economy on Earth. While the median income is still low and millions of people still live as peasants, anybody standing in the Parkview Green mall in Beijing on singles day will see that capitalism has been fully embraced in China and that a large middle class has taken root and is consuming like never before.
As you might expect, there are tangible results of giving hundreds of millions of people buying power on a scale they have never had before. Chinese tourists are finally able to tour the world in a way that the populations of other countries have been doing for decades, with a few cultural difficulties along the way. Since 1981, half a billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty and are now enjoying lifestyles unimaginable only a few decades before.
One thing you might not have expected is the effect these consumers have on our film industry, and how the Chinese government uses its buying power as a tool for self-promotion.
Wait, what? How do they do that?
Jason Statham and Li Bingbing lead the cast of The MEG.
Supply and demand combined with strict controls on what movies get into China. At the time of writing, only 34 major American films are allowed into China each year using a quota system. Since China is the world's largest film market, getting into it is a very competitive business. Movies that the censors don't like aren't going to get in, giving them tremendous power over what money-chasing Hollywood executives are going to make.
You can circumvent the quota system by co-producing the film with a Chinese firm, which makes it a domestic film for quota purposes. This method has lots of strings attached though, as it requires a movie to have a certain number of Chinese actors, filming locations in China itself, and the film cannot portray China as a villain.Some of the co-produced films it makes are big-ticket items. In 2018, the list included Mission: Impossible — Fallout, Venom, The MEG, and Pacific Rim: Uprising. Other blockbuster films from the last decade to be co-produced include Wonder Woman, Kung Fu Panda 3, and Looper.
Why control the cinema?
The ability to decide what movies people can see in theaters has always been a staple of modern dictatorships, and China is no different. It merely takes the concept a few steps further. China not only assures that its population doesn't see anti-communist messages in films, but it also works to make sure you don't get the wrong idea about China either. It achieves this by applying pressure on the studios.
Larry Shinagawa, a professor at Hawaii Tokai International College, told The New York Times that, "You're not going to see something that's like 'Seven Years in Tibet' anymore," as the studios are so concerned with keeping the censors happy they would never risk depicting China in a negative light in any film. When was the last time you saw a film where China was the villain?
Any studio that would seriously offend the censors runs the risk of seeing its other films locked out, leading to many cases where studios have altered plot points in hopes that its films won't get blocked by the Chinese censors. For example, in the book World War Z, the global zombie plague begins in China, the utterly incompetent Politburo is nuked by a rogue officer, and Lhasa, Tibet is the largest city in the postwar world. In the film, the plague is implied to have begun in Korea and the other plot points aren't even mentioned — all of which is very intentional.
Sometimes the edits are made even if the issue is a minor one. The movie Pixels initially had a scene where the Great Wall of China was to join other global monuments in being blown up, but in the final film it was swapped with the Taj Mahal, out of fear the scene would get the movie banned.
Other times scenes are added to get the film into China, despite making the film less attractive to foreign audiences. The writers of the movie Looper, which was co-produced by a Chinese firm, changed the location of some scenes from Paris to Shanghai to comply with the co-production laws and appeal to Chinese audiences. This required making two versions of the film, as some of the Shanghai scenes failed to resonate with Western viewers.
There are also bans placed on films in order to prevent dissent in mainland China itself. The Disney film Christopher Robin was banned as part of a general strictness about Winnie the Pooh. This is motivated by a tendency on social media to point out a physical likeness between pooh bear and President Xi Jinping, and use Winne the Pooh as a satirical symbol for the leader in an attempt to get around the censors. I couldn't make this up if I tried.
John Oliver makes fun of Xi Jinping's war on Winnie the Pooh
Why are they doing this?
At heart, this is a grab for soft power.
Soft power, "the ability of a country to persuade others to do what it wants without force or coercion," is something that culturally influential countries and unions like the US or the EU have. It stands opposed to hard power, which is the ability to coerce another country with force, and can be used to promote your interests without making other countries too nervous about your intentions. After all, when is the last time you saw a Japanese cartoon and thought Japan was taking over?
China has been making a major soft power push on many fronts over the last few years. Confucius Institutes, learning centers to promote the Chinese language and culture, are a common sight on college campuses; Chinese investment is pouring into Africa; and explicitly Chinese films are trying to break into the mainstream. This attempt to introduce people to Chinese culture has not gone unnoticed or without controversy.
The results of this campaign have been mixed, and the highly successful cases are limited to the developing world, according to USC professor Stanley Rosen. However, China is pouring a lot of money into the effort to improve its image abroad. Squeezing Hollywood studios with threats of being locked out of the Chinese market into depicting China positively is just another way to acquire soft power without having to make convincing propaganda movies themselves. Given that 53% of Americans have a favorable view of China, the highest level in decades, this campaign is making some progress.
These tactics are nothing new. Several countries have programs similar to the Confucius Institute, and investment as a means of soft power is as old as modern diplomacy. Restrictions on references to Hitler have altered the plot-lines of more than one video game that needed to be sold in Germany. China's size just makes these methods more powerful when it uses them.
Call Joe McCarthy; the commies are influencing Hollywood!
Some of the things the Chinese government is doing are a little more nefarious than just trying to make itself look good. Richard Gere, the famed actor, activist, and an all-around officer and gentleman, is banned from entering China as a result of his activism in support of Tibetan independence. Gere also alleges that his career downturn was caused by Chinese pressure on major studios not to feature him.
Lady Gaga can't visit China, and her music has been blacklisted because she hung out with the Dalai Lama when he visited Indianapolis. Katy Perry once wore sunflowers, symbols of Taiwanese independence and democracy, during a concert in Taipei, and earned an "indefinite" ban on entering Red China as a result. Maroon 5 had their Chinese shows canceled because one of them sent the Dalai Lama a birthday greeting on Twitter.
Brad Pitt is also banned from going to China as a result of making the film Seven Years in Tibet with David Thewlis, who also can't get in. Pitt did visit in 2014 as the guest of Angelina Jolie, suggesting that his ban might not be deemed worth enforcing.
Given the amount of money these artists could make in the Chinese market, banning them over political statements is a powerful move that could frighten others into silence. Given the recent clampdowns on dissent in China as part of the sudden reversion back to '70s-esque authoritarianism, this might be precisely what the party leaders in Beijing want.
All of the actions described above lead to media outlets depicting China positively on their own accord. As Stephen Rosen explained to the Financial Times, "For the China market you self-censor because of its size."
The red menace is back, and it's using supply and demand this time! The irony is overwhelming!
The West was convinced that the Chinese model of authoritarian state capitalism would fail as soon as it was announced. The turnover of Hong Kong was supposed to "infect" China with democracy. The internet was supposed to be uncontrollable. Xi Jinping was supposed to continue China's tendency towards moderate rule and away from Maoist authoritarianism. None of this happened.
While China's interest in influencing Hollywood is understandable from a PR standpoint, it is yet another element of China's rise that came as a surprise to western observers. While it is unlikely that Hollywood films will start singing the praises of the 12 Virtues of Socialism anytime soon, you aren't likely to see any movies that make China look bad in the near future.
Why? Well, would you do anything to prevent yourself form having access to 1.5 billion movie goers?
Northwell Health is using insights from website traffic to forecast COVID-19 hospitalizations two weeks in the future.
- The machine-learning algorithm works by analyzing the online behavior of visitors to the Northwell Health website and comparing that data to future COVID-19 hospitalizations.
- The tool, which uses anonymized data, has so far predicted hospitalizations with an accuracy rate of 80 percent.
- Machine-learning tools are helping health-care professionals worldwide better constrain and treat COVID-19.
The value of forecasting<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTA0Njk2OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMzM2NDQzOH0.rid9regiDaKczCCKBsu7wrHkNQ64Vz_XcOEZIzAhzgM/img.jpg?width=980" id="2bb93" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="31345afbdf2bd408fd3e9f31520c445a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1546" data-height="1056" />
Northwell emergency departments use the dashboard to monitor in real time.
Credit: Northwell Health<p>One unique benefit of forecasting COVID-19 hospitalizations is that it allows health systems to better prepare, manage and allocate resources. For example, if the tool forecasted a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations in two weeks, Northwell Health could begin:</p><ul><li>Making space for an influx of patients</li><li>Moving personal protective equipment to where it's most needed</li><li>Strategically allocating staff during the predicted surge</li><li>Increasing the number of tests offered to asymptomatic patients</li></ul><p>The health-care field is increasingly using machine learning. It's already helping doctors develop <a href="https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/early/2020/06/09/dc19-1870" target="_blank">personalized care plans for diabetes patients</a>, improving cancer screening techniques, and enabling mental health professionals to better predict which patients are at <a href="https://healthitanalytics.com/news/ehr-data-fuels-accurate-predictive-analytics-for-suicide-risk" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elevated risk of suicide</a>, to name a few applications.</p><p>Health systems around the world have already begun exploring how <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7315944/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">machine learning can help battle the pandemic</a>, including better COVID-19 screening, diagnosis, contact tracing, and drug and vaccine development.</p><p>Cruzen said these kinds of tools represent a shift in how health systems can tackle a wide variety of problems.</p><p>"Health care has always used the past to predict the future, but not in this mathematical way," Cruzen said. "I think [Northwell Health's new predictive tool] really is a great first example of how we should be attacking a lot of things as we go forward."</p>
Making machine-learning tools openly accessible<p>Northwell Health has made its predictive tool <a href="https://github.com/northwell-health/covid-web-data-predictor" target="_blank">available for free</a> to any health system that wishes to utilize it.</p><p>"COVID is everybody's problem, and I think developing tools that can be used to help others is sort of why people go into health care," Dr. Cruzen said. "It was really consistent with our mission."</p><p>Open collaboration is something the world's governments and health systems should be striving for during the pandemic, said Michael Dowling, Northwell Health's president and CEO.</p><p>"Whenever you develop anything and somebody else gets it, they improve it and they continue to make it better," Dowling said. "As a country, we lack data. I believe very, very strongly that we should have been and should be now working with other countries, including China, including the European Union, including England and others to figure out how to develop a health surveillance system so you can anticipate way in advance when these things are going to occur."</p><p>In all, Northwell Health has treated more than 112,000 COVID patients. During the pandemic, Dowling said he's seen an outpouring of goodwill, collaboration, and sacrifice from the community and the tens of thousands of staff who work across Northwell.</p><p>"COVID has changed our perspective on everything—and not just those of us in health care, because it has disrupted everybody's life," Dowling said. "It has demonstrated the value of community, how we help one another."</p>
"You dream about these kinds of moments when you're a kid," said lead paleontologist David Schmidt.
- The triceratops skull was first discovered in 2019, but was excavated over the summer of 2020.
- It was discovered in the South Dakota Badlands, an area where the Triceratops roamed some 66 million years ago.
- Studying dinosaurs helps scientists better understand the evolution of all life on Earth.
Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"We had to be really careful," Schmidt told St. Louis Public Radio. "We couldn't disturb anything at all, because at that point, it was under law enforcement investigation. They were telling us, 'Don't even make footprints,' and I was thinking, 'How are we supposed to do that?'"</p><p>Another difficulty was the mammoth size of the skull: about 7 feet long and more than 3,000 pounds. (For context, the largest triceratops skull ever unearthed was about <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02724634.2010.483632" target="_blank">8.2 feet long</a>.) The skull of Schmidt's dinosaur was likely a <em>Triceratops prorsus, </em>one of two species of triceratops that roamed what's now North America about 66 million years ago.</p>
Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College<p>The triceratops was an herbivore, but it was also a favorite meal of the T<em>yrannosaurus rex</em>. That probably explains why the Dakotas contain many scattered triceratops bone fragments, and, less commonly, complete bones and skulls. In summer 2019, for example, a separate team on a dig in North Dakota made <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/26/science/triceratops-skull-65-million-years-old.html" target="_blank">headlines</a> after unearthing a complete triceratops skull that measured five feet in length.</p><p>Michael Kjelland, a biology professor who participated in that excavation, said digging up the dinosaur was like completing a "multi-piece, 3-D jigsaw puzzle" that required "engineering that rivaled SpaceX," he jokingly told the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/26/science/triceratops-skull-65-million-years-old.html" target="_blank">New York Times</a>.</p>
Morrison Formation in Colorado
James St. John via Flickr
|Credit: Nobu Tamura/Wikimedia Commons|
A new study proposes mysterious axions may be found in X-rays coming from a cluster of neutron stars.
Are Axions Dark Matter?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5e35ce24a5b17102bfce5ae6aecc7c14"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/e7yXqF32Yvw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
New research suggests you can't fake your emotional state to improve your work life — you have to feel it.
What is deep acting?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTQ1NDk2OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTY5MzA0Nn0._s7aP25Es1CInq51pbzGrUj3GtOIRWBHZxCBFnbyXY8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=333%2C-1%2C333%2C-1&height=700" id="ddf09" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9dc42c4d6a8e372ad7b72907b46ecd3f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
Arlie Russell Hochschild (pictured) laid out the concept of emotional labor in her 1983 book, "The Managed Heart."
Credit: Wikimedia Commons<p>Deep and surface acting are the principal components of emotional labor, a buzz phrase you have likely seen flitting about the Twittersphere. Today, "<a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcthree/article/5ea9f140-f722-4214-bb57-8b84f9418a7e" target="_blank">emotional labor</a>" has been adopted by groups as diverse as family counselors, academic feminists, and corporate CEOs, and each has redefined it with a patented spin. But while the phrase has splintered into a smorgasbord of pop-psychological arguments, its initial usage was more specific.</p><p>First coined by sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild in her 1983 book, "<a href="https://www.ucpress.edu/book/9780520272941/the-managed-heart" target="_blank">The Managed Heart</a>," emotional labor describes the work we do to regulate our emotions on the job. Hochschild's go-to example is the flight attendant, who is tasked with being "nicer than natural" to enhance the customer experience. While at work, flight attendants are expected to smile and be exceedingly helpful even if they are wrestling with personal issues, the passengers are rude, and that one kid just upchucked down the center aisle. Hochschild's counterpart to the flight attendant is the bill collector, who must instead be "nastier than natural."</p><p>Such personas may serve an organization's mission or commercial interests, but if they cause emotional dissonance, they can potentially lead to high emotional costs for the employee—bringing us back to deep and surface acting.</p><p>Deep acting is the process by which people modify their emotions to match their expected role. Deep actors still encounter the negative emotions, but they devise ways to <a href="http://www.selfinjury.bctr.cornell.edu/perch/resources/what-is-emotion-regulationsinfo-brief.pdf" target="_blank">regulate those emotions</a> and return to the desired state. Flight attendants may modify their internal state by talking through harsh emotions (say, with a coworker), focusing on life's benefits (next stop Paris!), physically expressing their desired emotion (smiling and deep breaths), or recontextualizing an inauspicious situation (not the kid's fault he got sick).</p><p>Conversely, surface acting occurs when employees display ersatz emotions to match those expected by their role. These actors are the waiters who smile despite being crushed by the stress of a dinner rush. They are the CEOs who wear a confident swagger despite feelings of inauthenticity. And they are the bouncers who must maintain a steely edge despite humming show tunes in their heart of hearts.</p><p>As we'll see in the research, surface acting can degrade our mental well-being. This deterioration can be especially true of people who must contend with negative emotions or situations inside while displaying an elated mood outside. Hochschild argues such emotional labor can lead to exhaustion and self-estrangement—that is, surface actors erect a bulwark against anger, fear, and stress, but that disconnect estranges them from the emotions that allow them to connect with others and live fulfilling lives.</p>
Don't fake it till you make it<p>Most studies on emotional labor have focused on customer service for the obvious reason that such jobs prescribe emotional states—service with a smile or, if you're in the bouncing business, a scowl. But <a href="https://eller.arizona.edu/people/allison-s-gabriel" target="_blank">Allison Gabriel</a>, associate professor of management and organizations at the University of Arizona's Eller College of Management, wanted to explore how employees used emotional labor strategies in their intra-office interactions and which strategies proved most beneficial.</p><p>"What we wanted to know is whether people choose to engage in emotion regulation when interacting with their co-workers, why they choose to regulate their emotions if there is no formal rule requiring them to do so, and what benefits, if any, they get out of this effort," Gabriel said in <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/01/200117162703.htm" target="_blank">a press release</a>.</p><p>Across three studies, she and her colleagues surveyed more than 2,500 full-time employees on their emotional regulation with coworkers. The survey asked participants to agree or disagree with statements such as "I try to experience the emotions that I show to my coworkers" or "I fake a good mood when interacting with my coworkers." Other statements gauged the outcomes of such strategies—for example, "I feel emotionally drained at work." Participants were drawn from industries as varied as education, engineering, and financial services.</p><p>The results, <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fapl0000473" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">published in the Journal of Applied Psychology</a>, revealed four different emotional strategies. "Deep actors" engaged in high levels of deep acting; "low actors" leaned more heavily on surface acting. Meanwhile, "non-actors" engaged in negligible amounts of emotional labor, while "regulators" switched between both. The survey also revealed two drivers for such strategies: prosocial and impression management motives. The former aimed to cultivate positive relationships, the latter to present a positive front.</p><p>The researchers found deep actors were driven by prosocial motives and enjoyed advantages from their strategy of choice. These actors reported lower levels of fatigue, fewer feelings of inauthenticity, improved coworker trust, and advanced progress toward career goals. </p><p>As Gabriel told <a href="https://www.psypost.org/2021/01/new-psychology-research-suggests-deep-acting-can-reduce-fatigue-and-improve-your-work-life-59081" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">PsyPost in an interview</a>: "So, it's a win-win-win in terms of feeling good, performing well, and having positive coworker interactions."</p><p>Non-actors did not report the emotional exhaustion of their low-actor peers, but they also didn't enjoy the social gains of the deep actors. Finally, the regulators showed that the flip-flopping between surface and deep acting drained emotional reserves and strained office relationships.</p><p>"I think the 'fake it until you make it' idea suggests a survival tactic at work," Gabriel noted. "Maybe plastering on a smile to simply get out of an interaction is easier in the short run, but long term, it will undermine efforts to improve your health and the relationships you have at work. </p><p>"It all boils down to, 'Let's be nice to each other.' Not only will people feel better, but people's performance and social relationships can also improve."</p>
You'll be glad ya' decided to smile<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="88a0a6a8d1c1abfcf7b1aca8e71247c6"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/QOSgpq9EGSw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>But as with any research that relies on self-reported data, there are confounders here to untangle. Even during anonymous studies, participants may select socially acceptable answers over honest ones. They may further interpret their goal progress and coworker interactions more favorably than is accurate. And certain work conditions may not produce the same effects, such as toxic work environments or those that require employees to project negative emotions.</p><p>There also remains the question of the causal mechanism. If surface acting—or switching between surface and deep acting—is more mentally taxing than genuinely feeling an emotion, then what physiological process causes this fatigue? <a href="https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2019.00151/full" target="_blank">One study published in the <em>Frontiers in Human Neuroscience</em></a><em> </em>measured hemoglobin density in participants' brains using an fNIRS while they expressed emotions facially. The researchers found no significant difference in energy consumed in the prefrontal cortex by those asked to deep act or surface act (though, this study too is limited by a lack of real-life task).<br></p><p>With that said, Gabriel's studies reinforce much of the current research on emotional labor. <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/2041386611417746" target="_blank">A 2011 meta-analysis</a> found that "discordant emotional labor states" (read: surface acting) were associated with harmful effects on well-being and performance. The analysis found no such consequences for deep acting. <a href="https://doi.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fa0022876" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Another meta-analysis</a> found an association between surface acting and impaired well-being, job attitudes, and performance outcomes. Conversely, deep acting was associated with improved emotional performance.</p><p>So, although there's still much to learn on the emotional labor front, it seems Van Dyke's advice to a Leigh was half correct. We should put on a happy face, but it will <a href="https://bigthink.com/design-for-good/everything-you-should-know-about-happiness-in-one-infographic" target="_self">only help if we can feel it</a>.</p>
Archaeologists discover a cave painting of a wild pig that is now the world's oldest dated work of representational art.