'Fansubs' open a new world of reality TV to Chinese audiences

Updated: 2016-01-13 16:04

By Harvey Dzodin(chinadaily.com.cn)

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'Fansubs' open a new world of reality TV to Chinese audiences

Republican US presidential candidate businessman Donald Trump responds to criticism from former Governor Jeb Bush as Senator Ted Cruz looks on during the Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas, Dec 15, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]

There's a hidden, well-disciplined online Chinese army of unpaid citizen volunteers that foreigners have never generally encountered here. And that goes for most Chinese of a certain more mature age. I am talking about "fansubs"or fan-made subtitle groups.

Until recently, their main mission has been to subtitle popular foreign TV series in almost real time for the enjoyment of millions of Chinese who aren't fluent in English or a number of other popular foreign languages. Recently, the two- year- old Guojiang Subtitle Group has undertaken an additional assignment: Chinese subtitling the US presidential primary debates for millions of interested Chinese.

Even though most of my Chinese friends are much more educated and attuned to all things American than fellow US citizens will ever be about China, one has to wonder if their work is promoting farce, rather than high drama. I personally applaud this effort at better cross-cultural understanding. Democracy is a far from perfect system but listen carefully to the noise and tumult of our political process and there is much to be learned.

Although these presidential debates, especially of the Republican party, generate much more heat than light, to a motivated critically thinking viewer they fulfill the rarely reached pinnacle of what good TV is all about: to educate, entertain and inform. Cutting through the more frequent and vicious personal attacks, one can see how Americans are truly angry at their government and the country's place in the world, and how political demagogues like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz exploit these sentiments to the long-run detriment of their country and party.

Non-English- speaking Chinese viewers, freed of the handicap of being linguistically-challenged, can see why Americans, who long believed in the myth of American Exceptionalism, feel truly demoralized. They are depressed by China's fast rise and America's relative decline. They feel that their lives are not better than those of their parents, and that their children's lives will likely be even less satisfactory.

Recent public opinion polling shows that there is much fear and hatred for the demagogue's to exploit. In an Esquire Magazine/NBC News survey released a few weeks ago, 54% of Americans say the US was once the most powerful country in the world but isn't now; 52% say the American Dream does not hold true anymore; and 48% say race relations have worsened since President Obama was elected.

A new Pew Research Center study reveals that more than 1 in 4 (27%) of Americans believes that the government is the enemy of its citizens, a percentage that may indeed be conservative as non-voters are assumed by many political scientists to be even more negative. A full 57% of voters say they feel frustrated with the government, with 59% saying that the government needs "very major reform."

Chinese political junkies should watch carefully how each of the remaining dirty dozen Republican candidates respond to these frustrations in the upcoming debates. Will they take the high road of ethics and morality or the low road of bigotry and duplicity? If truth be told, I am not so sure that some of them even know that there is a high road, just as I am not sure that some could find China on a map, although some like Trump have attempted to vilify China and the Chinese.

Fansubs are doing a public service to show the real workings of the American system of government, pro and con, to interested Chinese audiences.

Reality TV doesn't get much better than this and unlike a fictional drama, in no small measure, our futures really do depend on the outcome of these debates.