Like button: Taste wastes in vulgar terrain

By Shen Si Source:Global Times Published: 2018/7/31 18:53:39

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Vulgar online content, especially on video streaming platforms, remains a contentious issue in China as the task force fighting pornography cracks down on a number of websites and programs. However, all the platforms under official glare are extremely popular, like Douyin and Bilibili, implying the masses take a liking to such content.

Decades ago, we hardly came across pornography to warrant state censorship. Then, the internet wasn't so widely available and social media was unheard of. Does it imply that social media is bound to bring licentious material to our lives?

I would say yes. Working as an arts columnist and running media content by myself for years, I understand that inappropriate content will be widely disseminated because of high demand among internet users. On the contrary, decent and informative content which provides knowledge and insight will get a short shrift. To draw attention, even good content might be packaged with suggestive headline.

Why do social networks filter out decent content? The chief culprit could be the "like button," which shows up on pretty much every social media platform and is even used to measure the popularity of content.

Last month, I was invited to the Central Saint Martins to deliver a speech in which I introduced the theory of "Like Button Crisis," which drew attention. Apparently, the "like button" gives an impression of fairness and democratic choice as every user has the right to vote for things they approve of and value. However, without restrictions, uninformed views and bad taste could easily go viral.

Looking back at human history, opinion of the masses rarely dominates, while the elite enjoy respect. Leonardo Da Vinci painted for Italian aristocracy and Beethoven composed for Austria noblemen. Ordinary people, having access to limited education and artistic taste, then could only admire and try to imitate what the upper class liked. If the "like button" existed 500 years ago, entitling ordinary people the equal right to judge sublime art, we doubt the Renaissance would have happened.

In the present age, as the barriers of hierarchy disappeared, individuals received respect and even got spoiled as consumers. Preference for the majority means tremendous opportunities for business that translates into the leading force of society.

Hence, jettisoning the judgment of elites and professionals, the "like button" has become the new measure of value. This is why pornographic content, which reflects the preference of the masses, is making networks burst at the seams.

Publishers say even the book industry is influenced by the "like button." They once suggested that I write articles that cater to popular taste. Generally, the bestsellers lack knowledge and are just entertaining. However, the masses like them and buy them passionately.

The "like button," to some extent, is changing the course of human history; and we are stepping into the times of bad taste.

Besides supervision and crackdown, there is no way to curb indecency on the internet, except that we wait for the taste of the masses to improve. If the "like button" can be used for things worthwhile, we will fundamentally solve the problem of vulgar content and enjoy better reading material.

During the speech for students of the Central Saint Martins, I referred to my TQ Project, which is to create a Taste Quotient to measure the aesthetic sense of individuals as a new part of human intelligence. I got dozens of talented designers and artists involved in the project to share and develop the outcome. By doing this, hopefully, ordinary people would be convinced that good taste is necessary to live a better life. Then the masses may develop a liking for better content and hit the "like button" for it.

The topic of "like button" leaves much room for debate and opinion. Is equality an effective measure to determine things of value? Is the opinion of the masses always right? Is what people like the same as what people need? If not, we better rethink about it and set limitations on the "like button."  

The author is a guest speaker of University of the Arts London and an arts & culture columnist. [email protected]

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