Week #1 The People’s Republic of YY

I’m sorry just give me one more year… please just one more year.

A defeated Big Li pleads to a faceless audience (The People’s Republic of Desire, 2018)

Hao Wu’s 2018 documentary The People’s Republic of Desire paints a grim picture of a new digital reality. Following a glimpse into the lives of those at the very top and bottom of the YY social scape. Wu shows us an increasingly isolated society that upon closer inspection begins to resemble its very own kind of corporate dystopia.

YY is a leading real-time video-based social network in China. During a stream users can join the audience, participate in a shared chat room, and purchase virtual tokens to gift to the host. These hosts can, in turn trade these virtual tokens for real money.  As streamers become more popular, they attract greater numbers of followers, receive more gifts thus increasing the money they earn and their perceived social standing. In this way YY facilitates the commercialization of sociability (Athique, 2019)as a host’s financial success is directly tied to their popularity. A host’s popularity, itself hinges on how well they are able to engage their audience. On YY, essentially anyone can stream anything, as such we witness people from ordinary backgrounds interacting with their audience in increasingly personal ways in pursuit of success, blurring the line between the personal and the public, the social and the economic.

Every interaction bears an implication: audiences members receive content, the chance to feel connection, community and to invest in status symbols. Whereby the host, in effectively engaging their audience receives popularity, success and all entailed within. On one end of this social transaction we see the Diaosi. Shown as isolated lower class young men who look to their online communities for the interpersonal connections they crave but cannot find in their ‘real’ lives. They do not have the means to improve their own standing in society, so they look for fulfillment and escapism in the rooms of hosts, and they regard these hosts with passion. Be it the idolisation of a ‘Diosi made good’ in Big Li or perceived intimacy in Shen Man.

However, looking down from the top, it doesn’t seem to be a peak rather a precipice typified in an anxiety producing precarity. These hosts have a short lifespan and the pressure to become & remain relevant drives some content creators to questionable actions. The online personalities of these hosts are intertwined with their personal perceptions, and it is evident that although the hosts provide a connection for their audience, they themselves are just as isolated.

Every actor in this transaction seems to be locked in an addictive pursuit of gratification. All individuals yearning for social connection & freedom however lacking the agency to realise these dreams in a traditional sense. Robbed of this opportunity they turn to YY which provides the necessary platform for actualisation be it real or fantasy. But what is the cost of commodifying these interactions? How can our lives be both enriched and exploited by this technology? For me this film seemed to provoke more questions than answers (which seems fitting for week 1).

Regardless of the answers to these questions, The Peoples Republic of Desire (Wu, 2018) declares that the platform is here and as Big Li laments “This is reality, this is YY… We can only accept it.”

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