A Hoax Within a Hoax: The Global Times on Charlie Sheen
There’s Communist Party propaganda floating around about Charlie Sheen, and it’s too good to be true. Or is it?
The English edition of The Global Times, a newspaper produced by the Chinese Communist Party, recently published an English-language article titled “Charlie Sheen is Not Filial.” In it, author “Hao Leifeng” claims, “Actor Charlie Sheen is a classic example of the difference in Western and Eastern values and norms.”
The article is, to English-speaking eyes, clearly satiric and hilarious. But who was responsible? Al Jazeera broke the news that it was a hoax, and that the paper published it not knowing it was a parody. AJ reported that the piece was written by a foreign journalist and squeaked by the editors at The Global Times, the implication being that the editors are clueless and incompetent.
Shanghaiist posted on the story here, pointing out Leifeng’s previous article about women induced to pose with iPhones in their cleavage to win a new iPhone. Shanghaiist was flooded with responses proclaiming, to summarize, “You jackasses!!” They published a follow-up saying it was not a hoax — or, at least, that The Global Times editors weren’t the ones being hoaxed….WE WERE!!!
Shanghaiist’s second post included a comment from someone claiming to be the author, like so:
I appreciate the plug for my Hao Leifeng story on Charlie Sheen…But I’d like to point out a serious false assumption in the introduction. The editors were fully aware the story was a humor piece. The jokes were all explained…As you know, Chinese people like a good laugh as much as anyone else….I’m concerned your introduction will make my editors seem incompetent, when it’s not the case….Please consider changing the introduction to the piece.
The claim that the person emailing them is the author is not substantiated, but the claim that the article was intentional satire is upheld by the fact that the piece is still up; if it was a hoax it would almost surely be taken down.
A former contributor also emailed Shanghaiist with this view:
The answer is, it’s a spoof column, with full editorial connivance, and was intended to amuse as well as gull a few “Western” readers who’ll believe either a) any mad crap a Chinese commentator says or b) failing that, that the Chinese are incapable of humour or being “in on it” and therefore must be having a prank played on them. Either view is patronizing and/or offensive, I think you’d agree but – even if you don’t – in this case, you’re wrong.
Yes, it didn’t quite cross our minds that your bosses were in on the joke. But seriously, can you blame us for that? Have you read some of the jackshit that’s published on the other pages of your paper?
The Global Times article itself is a SCREAM. It rails not only against Sheen for not keeping his wife and mistress in different houses, but against the “contagion” of microblogs (also a theme in the author’s earlier iPhone piece) and the decadence of the western media for goading Sheen into being, apparently, even weirder than cocaine had already made him. It’s really top-shelf stuff packed with howlers. A few choice excerpts:
With no firm hand to guide them, Western media has deliberately goaded him into making increasingly delusional statements, more concerned about “winning” higher ratings than Sheen’s own sense of pride, or the negative example his brash public admissions about his private sex life and unverifiable international conspiracies could be setting for society.
How many young people have been led astray by Sheen’s boasts about his substance abuse and freewheeling sex life? And that was when he was in character on national television, as a randy bachelor in Two and a Half Men.
Sheen attracted 1 million Twitter followers in just 24 hours, yet more evidence that microblogs spread the most unhealthy contagions in society like a disease. Chinese family, coworkers, or the authorities would have taken firm steps to make sure someone like Sheen did not make a public spectacle of himself.
His employers are unhappy that he was distracted with prostitutes and drugs, and didn’t show up to work on time. Why not take a tip from the Chinese business community, and make visits to a KTV parlor part of Sheen’s workday?
And instead of epic parties at his home with porn stars, why not keep Sheen occupied with business banquets?
Sheen goes on television and boasts that he has two girlfriends, who both sleep in the same bedroom. Is he too poor to set up his wives and mistresses in different houses?
Racism, spousal abuse, addiction, politics, mental illness, boasting about mistresses, – these are all subjects best dealt with behind closed doors.
…He ignored his own father’s advice to keep quiet, who was once the president of the US. Sheen is a disgrace, unfilial to his father and his fatherland…Martin Sheen should at once go on television and tearfully apologize on behalf of his son for his inability to keep up appearances and keep his mouth shut.
A KTV parlor or KTV lounge, incidentally, is a karaoke lounge. The Chinese Communist Party advocating that Charlie Sheen’s employers require him to go to a karaoke lounge every day to keep him on the straight and narrow? Confusing The West Wing and real life? I’ll admit that’s something I do all the time when daydreaming about socialist utopia, but still…
The West Wing has been a ratings disaster in China, “Hao Leifeng” is the name of a “model worker” held up by PRC propaganda, and when it comes to karaoke instead of rehab, everyone in China, I’m sure, knows that the best way for decadent westerners to snort cocaine is off the back of a stripper between stanzas of “My Way.”
Al Jazeera “outed the hoax” in this article, missing phase 2 of the hoax. They make some incisive points that are less incisive if the editors were in on it:
It is fascinating that one of the hallmarks of authoritarian states is that they don’t get the joke. Editors with no sense of humour just let it print. Having been born into the propaganda and having drunk the Kool-Aid all their lives, they’re unable to see satire — a frequent weapon used for social criticism throughout history, against clueless governments.
“[It] makes me think of Poe’s Law,” says Jeremy Goldkorn, editor and founder of popular China media website, Danwei.org.
“Without a smiley or other blatant display of humour, it is impossible to create a parody of religious or ideological fundamentalism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing.”
Goldkorn points out the Sheen op-ed’s byline is a pseudonym — a Hao Leifeng, another poke alluding to China’s best-known Communist model worker. But what Hao Leifeng writes, uncannily resembles the serious op-eds issued by the Party — such as those of Li Hongmei’s from the People’s Daily.
“Both could be parody, both could be genuine.”
The really interesting thing at the Al Jazeera story is that following the standard-issue completely random comment at the top (“Charlie Sheen is an intelligetn [sic] person and sometimes recieves criticism that is often undeserving. Charlie makes some valid points that often go unoticed [sic] by many people”), a couple of China-hatas find reasons to hate some more. They don’t thrill to the illicit pleasure of a tight-assed, no-fun state organ being (supposedly) punk’d. They don’t just “not get the joke.” They don’t get the joke and scream that they shouldn’t have to get the joke because it’s not very funny and China sucks anyway. Sound familiar?
The idea that Charlie Sheen represents some kind of embodiment of the values of American civilization is too ridiculous to even be dignified with a serious response…Yes, this article’s a joke, but the fact that the editors took it seriously indicates this attitude is at least somewhat prevalent in China. People there need to wise up about how western societies work.
To “wise up” would probably entail not giving a “serious response” to something “too ridiculous to even be dignified with a serious response,” even if it’s NOT a hoaxed hoax from hoaxville. Also:
This comment was much to circumspect. The Global Times used the Charlie Sheen saga as an attack on Western civilization and on American society in particular. The commentator’s advice that Sheen should have gone the Chinese way and kept his mistresses discreet, and so on, was lame and an indirect confession that Chinese civilization is hardly a model of propriety either. But the main point was a vicious assault on the US and full of self-congratulations that the Chinese handle their human shortcomings better that the Americans.
Awesome. A hoax within a hoax within a hoax. It’s positively Buddhist! Bring on the next bardo!