The Depressing Future’s Coming Now, so you might as well laugh (Yu Ching Yau)

In Foucault’s 1975 lecture, he talks about the concept of grotesque as a category describing people or discourses with a grossly unnatural level of power. One such individual is Xi Jinping, the general secretary (or more commonly known as “paramount leader”) of the Chinese Communist Party. His grotesque rule is demonstrated by his move to effectively make himself the indefinite party leader by abolishing term limits in March of this year. Back in 2013, Xi introduced the Belt and Road initiative, a developmental plan by the government to expand Chinese infrastructural investments in countries across Europe, Asia and Africa. This plan is seen as a form of Neocolonialism that will strengthen China’s economic and thus political power on a global level, as well as reduce resistance from volatile regions within the country by introducing economic opportunities. The Chinese government has taken to media platforms such as Youtube (which is banned in China) to promote the Belt and Road initiative, producing propaganda videos such as this one that are obviously targeting blissfully ignorant foreigners:

John Oliver sought to diminish the effects of these videos when he recently dedicated a whole episode to attacking Xi, basically giving his audience a crash course about the despicable horrors occurring in China. At the very end of the episode, he reveals an alternative version of the Belt and Road video:

While it is amusing and satisfying to watch, my pessimistic outlook leans towards Foucault’s argument when he said that “explicitly showing power to be abject, despicable, Ubu-esque or simply ridiculous is [not] a way of limiting its effects or magically dethroning [those in power]”.[1] Indeed, Oliver’s show Last Week Tonight was immediately banned in China and any mention of words related to him and his show are completely censored on Chinese social media platforms.[2] The video is only a “striking form of expression to the unavoidability, the inevitability of power”, which is currently functioning “in its full rigor and at the extreme point of its rationality even when in the hands of someone who is effectively discredited”. The hilarity of Xi banning the Winnie the Pooh character because of people making comparisons, thereby fuelling more of such activity, only makes his real dictatorship-level of power more terrifying. Consuming satirical depictions of Xi is enjoyable because it shoves the depressing truth in your face and you can only laugh, or else you’ll have to cry.


[1] Michel Foucault, Excerpt from Abnormal: Lectures at the Collège de France (New York: Verso, 2003), p.13.

[2] ‘China blocks John Oliver on social media after scathing show’, AP Archive, Jun 27, 2018. (Accessed on Nov 23, 2018)

Leave a Reply