Before ‘duang’: character creation, art and ideology in the digital age

duang1eIn the last week there has been much media coverage devoted to an invented character whose viral dissemination amongst internet users earned it the dubious distinction of being labelled ‘The word that broke the Chinese internet.’ The character in question? an onomatopoeiac utterance issued by Jackie Chan, the Hong Kong born action star and movie veteran. Like many celebrities Chan maintains a lucrative side career endorsing commercial products, his prolific and many would argue indiscriminate advertising career has seen him endorse everything from electric bicycles to anti-virus software, auto-repair schools to frozen dumplings. One of his most famous commercial roles is as the herbal shampoo ambassador for Bawang 霸王, the fourth most popular shampoo manufacturer in China. Chan has served as the company’s spokesperson for over a decade, appearing prominently in its visual ads as well as featuring in numerous TV campaigns in which he invariable attributes his glossy, flowing mane to the rejuvenating effects of the herbal remedy. This commercial alliance has not been without its setbacks, in 2010 controversy arose after the company was accused of replacing the supposed traditional Chinese medicine ingredients in its darkening and hair loss-fighting products with carcinogenic chemicals after the Hong Kong based Next Magazine reported that samples of its anti hair-loss formula had 10 parts per million of 1,4-dioxane.

Jackie Chan features prominently in an ad for Bawang, China's largest herbal shampoo manufacturer.

Jackie Chan features prominently in an ad for Bawang, China’s largest herbal shampoo manufacturer.

On February 24th of this year, what many believed to be a new advert for Bawang starring Jackie Chan was released on Youku, the video, however, was a parody created from splicing together old footage from a 2004 TV advertisement. In the original ad, Chan pokes fun at the digitally enhanced images that have become a ubiquitous feature of contemporary commercials, these misleading ‘special effects’ according to Chan, “can make hair go “‘duaaang!’ Very black! Very shiny! Very soft!” whereas Chan’s tonsorial youthfulness is of course naturally credited to his continued use of Bawang. When the original advertisement was first aired over a decade ago, it attracted the attention of Chinese censorship officials who interpreted the company’s exaggerated claims as a misleading promotion of the shampoo’s effects. Continue reading