What do you do when revelations about a celebrity’s past threaten to derail your whole TV show? Easy — replace them with a cartoon character. That seems to have been the logic behind a decision by Chinese reality show Go Fighting, which appears to have replaced controversial comedian Zhang Yunlei with a more malleable avatar instead.
Zhang was forced to apologize last month after clips of him making jokes around the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake went viral. The earthquake in Sichuan claimed more than 69,000 lives according to official reports, many of them children (though exact numbers remain an contentious), and caused widespread damage. It also left a significant mark on the nation’s psyche, and came as China was gearing up to host the Beijing Olympics.
Clips of Zhang referencing the earthquake, as well as other natural disasters in China and other sensitive subjects including “comfort women“, were spread on social media close to the anniversary of the Wenchuan earthquake. Unsurprisingly, the attempts at humor didn’t go down well among Chinese netizens or with State media outlets; The Global Times wrote in English that, “His behaviors were widely condemned by media, which warned that Chinese stars must have good moral character.”
It may have been felt that his presence on screens was simply too controversial, especially as Sichuan reels from a series of earthquakes in recent days. But clearly Go Fighting felt that the show must go on, leading to the slightly bizarre sight of a cartoon character being superimposed onto footage that many users on microblogging site Weibo suspected originally featured Zhang.
Most commenters expressed bemusement as the hashtag “Zhang Yunlei Photoshopped into Cartoon on Go Fighting” began trending. Some suggested the “cartoon dummy” was an improvement, while others expressed sympathy for the production team tasked with editing Zhang out of every scene in favor of a cartoon character — “That’s a lot of work,” noted one. “What did the production team do wrong?!” joked another.
But hey, maybe this is the future. Why bother with unruly presenters whose “moral character” can’t be trusted when you can just use a fully compliant cartoon version?
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