China’s superstar rankings ban might be extra sinister than it appears

What makes rankings so seductive? Lists of Top Movies, Top Marvel Movies, Top Marvel Movie Stars, Top Stan Lee Cameos in Marvel Movies (though the best might be in Rival DC’s Teen Titans Go animation), Top Partial actor who was saved from certain death by Tony Stark in Marvel films – they are everywhere.

Almost every media website worth mentioning has them, including this one, because they guarantee views, especially during coffee breaks. Or the unofficial five-minute breaks we all take. (Note to Editors: Of course, I’m constantly hooked on serious financial and other news during work hours and would never dream of idly browsing the internet for a ranking of the top celebrity lawsuits. Except for legitimate research purposes. )

Many people spend those five minutes – and maybe longer – creating their own lists for dissection on social media websites and discussion forums. I’ve never gone that far, but if you want my ranking of the finest multicolored vinyl releases – The Chills’ blue and white Scatterbrain that looks like a stormy sea is my current favorite – I’m sure I do could comply with that.

In that regard, China now appears to be a slam dunk for first place in any ranking of the most ridiculous examples of regulatory abuse of all time. It is reportedly trying to regulate the ranking of celebrities who are very popular in the country.

At first glance, this looks even more stupid than even some of the EU rules that Boris Johnson mostly invented when he allegedly worked as a journalist. So is this just another feverish dream to incite supporters of a future prime minister or president somewhere? It doesn’t seem.

The move is part of a concerted effort by China to get a grip on an “out of control” celebrity culture.

Well, it’s not just the Chinese state’s micromanagers who have wrestled with internet culture and its unsettling ability to drift into crazy cities. Appendix A: Britain’s Online Harms Bill, which seeks to regulate social media businesses and address some of the worrying issues that have recently surfaced.

Labor is among those who have targeted the weakness of the law in the face of the lazy racism of England’s black footballers. If you ever needed an example of where regulation would be invaluable in the face of an extremely toxic fan culture, it’s there.

So perhaps this is not quite the example of regulatory exaggeration it may seem. Even more so when you consider the mental health of the predominantly young stars who end up being ranked and liked – or disliked – as they live their lives in an online fishbowl on their way to the top. And then there is the bullying and harassment that has been observed as part of the country’s intense fan culture. Fundraising is also an issue. Of course it is.

When viewed through this lens, the idea makes more sense. Or does it do that? Not to be too specific, there may be an ulterior motive at work. Celebrity culture may seem trivial and disposable, as do the rankings that go with it.

But celebrities themselves can gain real power through it, up to and including political power. It drove people into governor’s offices – even the White House. The most recent example of this is the highest-ranking president of all time and the clear # 1 on any list that rates the greatest idiots to ever fill the Oval Office. Admittedly, there is some competition there, but I can imagine you can imagine who I’m talking about.

The Chinese Communist Party wants to be at the center of its citizens’ lives, including the role of its main influencer on social media. Celebrity culture may pose a threat to this. The ban on rankings doesn’t seem silly or wise in this context. There’s another “s” word to describe it: scary.

I wanted to unsubscribe on a joke about the ranking of the 10 Scariest Horror Movies of 2021 ahead of Candyman’s release, before the movie itself left me too much of a shaking wreck. But at the heart of the Chinese campaign could be something more disturbing.

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