The word “viral”, according to the dictionary, means “of or relating to virus and disease”. It’s not supposed to be a good word, yet it’s become something of a positive term in the internet age, where viral marketing is a major strategy for billion dollar companies and viral videos can turn a nobody into a star.
In Hong Kong over the past few weeks, however, the word is starting to return to its roots – of something venomous, something ugly. Recently, two videos made its way on the web: The first, of a pregnant Mainland woman crossing the borders to Hong Kong during the last stages of pregnancy in order to lock up permanent residency for her newborn (it’s supposedly become something of a trend for many expecting mothers in the Mainland); the other video shows a Hong Kong man loudly scolding a Mainland woman for eating inside the MTR. These two videos, followed by a recent controversy over Tsim Sha Tsui’s Dolce & Gabbana store discriminating against Hong Kong shoppers in favour of Mainland ones, shone an unwanted light on some Hongkonger’s animosity against Mainlanders.
Just when things couldn’t get uglier, the virus struck again. On January 21 – less than ten days after a thousand plus Hongkongers protested outside Dolce & Gabbana’s store – a video of Kong Qingdong, a professor of Chinese studies at Beijing University, describing Hongkongers as “dogs”, hit the web.
Seemingly every Hongkonger had that video, along with angry, unkind comments, on their Facebook page. Viral, indeed.
Many media outlets described the tension between both sides as “growing”, when in reality, it may have always been there – just that the internet’s viral nature transformed the previously unspoken sentiments into the giant elephant in the room.
Fortunately, not all viral videos induce disdain and bigotry; the majority of viral videos still fall under one premise: silly gags.
A popular video that’s been making the rounds in Hong Kong this month is a fan-made “reaction” video to TVB star Raymond Lam Fung winning the top prize at TVB’s annual JSG Big Ten Music Award. That video splices classic Hong Kong film footage with Lam’s acceptance speech, giving off the impression that some of the biggest film icons in Hong Kong cinema – from Stephen Chow to Andy Lau – are disgusted by Lam’s win.
Lam is the quintessential pretty-boy, bubble-gum pop idol – beloved by young females but induces eyerolls from just about everyone else, and a video poking fun at what is perceived to be an unjustified win has proven extremely popular. A series of spin-off videos, featuring different reactions of disgust from a myriad of fictional and real-life figures – from Jim Carey to Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang to Adolf Hitler – followed, with some of the videos approaching or surpassing a million hits within days.
Sometimes, a video can go viral unintentionally, or for reasons differing from the creator’s intent. During Christmas of 2010, Tsang collaborated with local rapper MC Jin for a pro-government holiday rap video. The video was so unpopular with Hongkongers it became something of a sensation – within 24 hours of the video’s release, it got 4,300 “dislikes” on YouTube and spawned a Facebook hate page. Media coverage followed, and MC Jin had to publicly defend the video.
Although there is no official record, it is largely believed that the very first viral video was a 1996 3D animation of a dancing baby. Since then, the viral phenomenon has grown in correlation with the prevalence of the internet.
Last month, TVB finished broadcasting the controversial show When Heaven Burns. The show was an anomaly for TVB – it was unpopular with mainstream audiences, generating some of the lowest prime time rating in years, yet it had a massive cult following online, often one of the most discussed entertainment topics on Hong Kong and Mainland discussion forums.
It was widely believed that When Heaven Burns’ dark plot (about three men who had to resort to cannibalism after a mountaineering trip gone awry), sophisticated script (there are no traditional good guys and bad guys), and anti-establishment attitudes turned off mainstream audiences, while captivating a new breed of alternative, net-savvy crowd. That the show was supposedly inspired by the Tiananmen Massacre only added fuel to the viral fire – videos and screenshots analysing scenes spread among Hong Kong and Mainland netizens. The buzz grew to a point that Beijing eventually stepped in, banning the show on Chinese televisions with six episodes to go.
No official reason was given for the ban, but most assumed Beijing wanted to put an end to the spread of “the virus”. Viral videos have, effectively, become a new mass medium for the Chinese. It’s unfortunate it’s helping spread hate between Hongkongers and Mainlanders.