China's toxic livestreaming culture: the vicarious lives of angry, alienated, uneducated rural gamers

China has a massive livestreaming industry, centered around the YY platform, which started out as a Twitch-style gamer livestreaming platform and now hosts a huge number of wildly popular vloggers who earn money when viewers toss them virtual tips that they can redeem for cash.

The system is a toxic soup of misogyny and disaffectation, with both the streamers and the audiences drawn heavily from poor and rural Chinese people who sense that the country's prosperity boom is over and that they have lost out — that all future gains in China will be captured by affluent people and their children and that they will forever be frozen out. This is also a cohort that has been denied postsecondary education (and may have also missed out on a decent secondary education).

People's Republic of Desire is a new documentary on the phenomenon (it won SXSW's Grand Jury Award for best documentary feature in 2018). In an interview with director Hao Wu, Sixth Tone's Matthew Walsh digs into the fraught world of Chinese livestreaming, and the ways that the authoritarian Chinese state are interacting with it.

Sixth Tone: Your film also looks at the theme of gender. How does livestreaming reinforce traditional gender roles in China?

Wu: The appeal of the male livestreamer lies in his ability to be an alpha male; fans rally around him, because they see him as both a funny drinking buddy and a natural leader. But a lot of the [female livestreamers] sell sex appeal — they have to sexualize themselves to win fans.

This gender imbalance also emerges in the way male and female livestreamers experience online trolling. When trolls go after the men, they'll say he's a dishonest piece of shit, that he's unfairly cheating his fans out of their money. But when they go after women, they always accuse them of sleeping around or say their tits are too big, too small, too fake — that sort of thing. A lot of the insults are about sex and the women's physical attributes.

Inside the Dystopian Reality of China's Livestreaming Craze [Matthew Walsh/Sixth Tone]

(via Four Short Links)