Donald Tsang

Uncut and unkind

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 February, 2012, 12:00am


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Considering the word is normally associated with disease, it's interesting how 'viral' has become a positive term in the internet age. Today, a viral video can turn a nobody - or, when used for marketing purposes, a company - into a phenomenon.

Of late, however, the word has been returning to its venomous roots in Hong Kong. Recently, two videos made their way onto the web: the first, of a mainland woman crossing the border to Hong Kong in the last stages of pregnancy in order to secure permanent residency for her newborn; the other shows a Hong Kong man loudly scolding a mainland woman for allowing her daughter to eat on the MTR.

These two videos, plus the recent controversy over Dolce & Gabbana's Tsim Sha Tsui store discriminating against Hong Kong shoppers in favour of mainland ones, have shone an unwanted light on some Hongkongers' resentment towards our neighbours.

Just when we thought things couldn't get much uglier, the virus struck again. On January 21 - fewer than 10 days after at least 1,000 people protested outside D&G - a video of Kong Qingdong, a professor of Chinese studies at Peking University, describing Hongkongers as 'running dogs' - hit the web.

It seemed every Hongkonger with a Facebook page had seen the video and added their comments to the debate. Viral, indeed.

Two days ago, local forum revealed that it had raised more than HK$100,000 to place a full-page advertisement in Apple Daily depicting mainland parents as locusts, and declaring that Hongkongers had had enough.

Many media outlets describe the tension between both sides as 'growing', when in reality, it has always been there - just that the internet's viral nature has transformed previously unspoken sentiments into the giant elephant in the room.

Not all viral videos foment disdain and bigotry. The majority are little more than mindless gags.

Another popular video that's been making the rounds in Hong Kong this month is a fan-made 'reaction' to TVB star Raymond Lam Fung winning the top prize at the broadcaster's annual JSG Best Ten Music Awards. That video splices classic Hong Kong film footage with Lam's acceptance speech, giving the impression that some of the biggest names in Hong Kong cinema - from Stephen Chow Sing-chi to Andy Lau Tak-wah - are disgusted by Lam's lionisation.

Lam is perceived as the quintessential pretty-boy pop idol - beloved by young females, but inducing eye rolls from just about everyone else. So a video poking fun at what some see as an unjustified win has proven extremely popular. A series of spin-off videos, featuring different reactions of disgust from a myriad fictional and real-life figures - from Jim Carrey to Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen to Adolf Hitler - have followed, each approaching or surpassing a million hits within days.

Sometimes campaigns can go viral unintentionally, or for all the wrong reasons. During Christmas 2010, Tsang collaborated with local MC Jin for a pro-government holiday rap video. The clip was so unpopular with Hongkongers that within 24 hours of its 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. But the phenomenon has grown ever since.

TVB's recently aired controversial drama series When Heaven Burns was unpopular with mainstream audiences, generating some of the lowest prime-time ratings in years. Yet it built a massive cult following online, becoming one of the most discussed entertainment topics on Hong Kong and mainland forums. When Heaven Burns' dark plot (about three men who resort to cannibalism after a mountaineering trip goes awry), sophisticated script (there are no traditional good guys and bad guys), and anti-establishment attitudes turned off the mainstream audience but captivated a new breed of alternative, net-savvy fans.

The perception that the show was inspired by the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown only added fuel to the viral fire: videos and screenshots analysing specific scenes spread wildly among local and mainland internet users.

The buzz grew to a point where Beijing eventually stepped in, pulling the show from mainland television with six episodes still to run. No official reason was given for the ban, but most assumed Beijing wanted to end the spread of the video. With more than 500 million internet users on the mainland, it's no surprise that viral videos have become the new mass medium.