People’s Republic of Desire (2018) is a documentary exploring the social transactions of two live streamers who seek fame, fortune and human connection to China’s “digital idol-making universe”. While watching this film, my tweets expressed my raw emotions towards the individuals, as I discovered the underlying struggles that these live streamers had to go through in order to “strategize and monetize their popularity” to make a living for themselves and their families (Marwick, 2015).
In China, the development of digital infrastructure has risen drastically as two billion people are now internet users (Internet World Stats, 2017). In china, this raised a large opportunity to make money digitally as live streamers, especially due to labour being extremely cheap.
Within this documentary, the success of these live streamers was very obvious and it was due to the marketing of their often-meagre talents in ways that allows thousands of their fans to send them gifts and pay money to vote for them in competitions. Although it sounds manageable, these streamers are under enormous amounts of pressure as they are expected to be successful. They are constantly watched by thousands of people and everything they do and/or say are constantly monitored and criticised. I felt so many empathetic emotions towards these streamers as I could see their mental health deteriorating and they became desperate to do anything for “likes, gifts, money and followers” (Athique, 2019). A specific quote that was said by a successful live streamer in the film that really effected me was “yes i’m happy, because compared to others I should be”.
As proven through this film, social transactions have allowed for connectivity through communicative platforms including Facebook, YouTube, Skype, WeChat, YY etc. This is incredible as people from all over the world are able to communicate to each other, no matter where they are located. However, there are also a number of negative impacts caused by social transactions including hateful comments, mental health issues, and pressure to present yourself how others expect. This digital and social media industry is evolving as time goes on and there are expectations of digital money and social transactions to continue to grow. This is useful for countries including China where labour is cheap, as it raises more financial opportunities.
Arthique, Adrian (2019). ‘Digital Transactions in Asia: Social, Economic and Informational Processes’, New York, NY United States; Routledge, pp.1-22.
Internet World Stats (2017), ‘Internet Usage in Asia’. Available: http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats3.htm , Accessed 28 July 2021
Marwick, Alice (2015), ‘Instafame: Luxury Selfies in the Attention Economy’, Public Culture (27), pp. 137-160.
4 thoughts on “People’s Republic of Desire – Week 1”
Reblogged this on Digital Asia.
Hey Caitlyn! I had a very similar reaction to People’s Republic of Desire. Even though this documentary was very informative about the Chinese platform YY, there was also a big focus on the negative impacts of this lifestyle. Like you mentioned, these streamers are under so much pressure to give their fans exactly what they want. I don’t think there is much consideration about their own mental health and wellbeing at all. It appears that they will do anything to make it to #1 even if that means it puts their mental health at risk. I remember one of the streamers in the documentary saying “I don’t go out or see the sun”, which is really unfortunate. Overall, great post! Here is my post if you are interested in reading about the financial point of view https://michaelashales.wordpress.com/2021/07/30/peoples-republic-of-desire/
Your concern for the negative mental health effects that occurs to these live streamers was similar to my own reaction when watching the documentary. When the live streamer Shen Man expressed her hardships and the pressure she feels to make money for her family was upsetting to watch. A particular scene that depicted the negative impacts live streaming creates was when Shen Man was live streaming and received disgusting sexual messages. For her to view this whilst having to maintain a controlled reaction during her livestream would have been very hard to do. Is this kind of treatment worth the likes, gifts, money, and followers? Also, this makes me question whether the social transaction between the live streamer and the fans/followers is even or mostly one-sided. This is because the fans seem to be gaining more social satisfaction than the live streamer.
The pressure these streamers were under was insane, and I definitely agree with how apparent their desperation and deteriorating mental health became. I think you raise an interesting point about the importance of the digital and social media industry in a country such as China were labour is so cheap. I was particularly struck by this when they would cut to clips of fans watching from their homes, where they were sharing a bedroom with five other people and doing cheap dangerous jobs to make money. I think this also becomes a big part of the social interaction because these fans are able to live out their fantasies by participating during streams and get the attention of rich streamers. I loved seeing your live tweeting Caitlyn so this is a great blog post to explain your view!