Recently, CCTV aired “footage” of the new Chinese-built J-10 fighter plane. The clip in question, which featured air-to-air missiles destroying a enemy fighter plane, was recognized by some shrewd-eyed movie buffs in China as footage from Top Gun, the 1986 Hollywood blockbuster featuring Tom Cruise. In these final scenes, pictured here in CCTV=Top Gun equivalencies (via the Chosunilbo) Cruise’s F-14 fighter jet destroys a Russian F-5. The footage was quickly pulled from circulation and requests for commentary denied.
This fascinating example of Chinese copyright infringement and corrupted journalistic integrity has been compared in numerous news clips and blogs to the 2007 incident of an illustration of cartoon character Homer Simpson’s x-rayed brain used as an illustration for a scientific article on multiple sclerosis. Both incidents prove that CCTV “borrows” images on a regular basis, both further suspicions about government-backed media’s lack of credibility, and both are quite humorous. The fact that both Homer Simpson and Top Gun are images originating from US popular entertainment brings an end to their similarities.
Without a thorough examination of why the phenomenon of poaching images (and text) occurs, these two extreme examples should be enough to assure us that similar forms of copyright infringement is happening with regularity, but is just not as entertaining for western readers. (The Onion news debacle of 2002 was another hilarious instance.) There must be literally millions of images that been inserted, completely out of context, in countless news reports over hours, months, years of CCTV news. Low operating budgets (unlike those for abalone banquet for officials) preclude the updating of archival footage; on CCTV News last week, the “file” footage aired for a spot on computers was so outdated, I’m impressed they avoided showing floppy discs. This reality of television news is probably another reason why Chinese netizens were so quick to suspect the visually stunning images of this military maneuvering last month––only Hollywood would have a budgets capable of producing such footage. And anyone familiar with Chinese media and toting basic critical thinking skills could deduce that.
Unlike the Top Gun incident, the photo of Homer Simpson could only be earnest humor. There was an image slot in somewhere that needed to be filled, and instead of the trite stock image of a double helix, someone inserted Homer Simpson’s head. You don’t have to be a fan of the Simpson’s to recognize that the x-rayed cartoon of Homer’s brain is not authentic, nor is it scientific. No one “mistook” the image for real, it seems like a good-natured joke from the over-worked, underpaid offices of the Xinhua newsroom. But Top Gun footage is another story.
Compared to web-based media, where one or two individuals can be held responsible (the Homer image also appeared on the English version of Xinhua, much less traffic, different departments than its Chinese-language counterpart), more editors are accountable in the Top Gun footage incident, this was television news, and broadcast to a mainstream Chinese audience.
Whether or not you take stock in the images the news media, Chinese or otherwise, they reflect more than one lazy editor’s decision making, they reflect to some degree the expectations of the audience. And despite the many suspicious viewers who tune into CCTV daily, the simple choice in what news sources chose to pirate belies a shift in viewers’ attitude. Homer Simpson might be that lovable underdog, but Top Gun is awesome military might! They are stealing the master’s guard dog. The message here is rising confidence.
Western commentators on this incident are likely sub-consciously aware of the threat, but do the millions of viewers who saw it really care where the footage came from? For a population accustomed to hidden agendas in the news, all that counts is that Central Television aired it. It could be considered irrelevant whether viewers believe it or not.
The Top Gun incident is brilliant in the sense that it illustrates perfectly how modern China has crafted its image of military might in emulation of the United States. Not the US as its citizens might know it, but the “imagined West,” the one most Chinese know, and that we call Hollywood. Instead of boo-hooing over copyright infringement, or laughing at the silliness of “Chinese ‘journalists’” we should step back, and begin to appreciate ourselves reflected through this crazy lens we helped create.
I’m not sure I would agree that stealing a clip of (fictional) 25-year-old military might is the best way to portray your arrival on the world’s military stage.
Pull up Goose, pull up… ;)
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