January 18th, 2011
02:23 PM ET

Think "China." Think... "stunning supermodels?"

Chinese president Hu Jintao is in Washington this week, and China has prepped the ground with a star-studded U.S. media blitz.

A 60-second promotional video (as seen here - apologies for the shaky camera) 
is airing on the super screens of New York City's Times Square. It will also air on U.S. television during Hu's three-day tour.  The spot features a slew of Chinese celebrities including basketball star Yao Ming, director John Woo, astronaut hero Yang Liwei and a bevy of Chinese beauties including actress Zhang Ziyi and supermodel Zhang Zilin.

Interestingly, it also features a selection of China's business elite including Netease CEO Ding Lei, Alibaba CEO Jack Ma and China Mobile CEO Wang Jianzhou. A comprehensive campaign "who's who" can be found here on the Baidu Beat blog.

So why the video diplomacy?

Not long ago, China emerged as a common adversary before the U.S. midterm elections. Political campaigns ran ads showing China stealing American jobs and benefiting from unbalanced trade deals.

There's also been growing concern about the rapid growth of China's military muscle.

China's "soft power" push this week has been in the works for months. According to the State Council Information Office, China began preparing the commercials last summer to promote a "prosperous, democratic, civilized and harmonious" image of China.

"We come in peace."  That seems to be the message Beijing wants to get across to Americans with the video spot... complete with superstar gloss.

January 18th, 2011
08:13 AM ET

Did Ricky Gervais Really Cross the Line?

Another awards show. Another dissection of Hollywood’s dress sense – or lack thereof (naming no names, Helena). Each year after the Oscars forerunner, more column inches are inevitably geared towards gowns than globe winners.

On Monday’s News Stream, we examined the Twittersphere’s take on hits and misses in the style stakes. (No surprise that #globesfail was a trending hashtag throughout the ceremony.) But there was one fact we couldn’t ignore. The most talked-about individual was neither dressed to impress nor guilty of a frock shock.

Not even Tilda’s toga could upstage the man of the moment – awards host Ricky Gervais.

Getty Images

Few in attendance – or otherwise – avoided falling victim to the barbs of a man described variously on Twitter as “cheap”, “insightful”, “a mean-spirited bully” and “a legend”.

In the aftermath of the Golden Globes, viewers and news outlets alike have fallen over themselves to offer opinion on the Brit’s prickly performance.

Was he simply taking overdue potshots at a Hollywood elite many regard as self-absorbed and self-congratulatory?

Were his jibes just too callous for an evening of celebration?

Were the top brass at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (organizers of the whole shebang) even speaking to him by the end of it all?

On this last point, it seems highly unlikely the HFPA would take umbrage. Gervais is, after all, a man who rose to international prominence thanks to “The Office”, a TV show in which jokes about racism and disability came entirely as standard.

[CNN’s Marquee Blog offers more evidence as to why Gervais’s repartee should surprise absolutely no-one.]

NBC / Getty Images

Most commentators have sought to address the following question: Did he cross the line?

Needless to say, the views vary wildly.

The issue of crossing the line is a thorny one. The line in question shifts wildly according to location, context, audience and all sorts of other variables.

I have personal experience of straddling the line and risking falling onto the wrong side. In my previous job as a reporter, a few moments spring to mind:

  • Suggesting that the best thing about one town in our news patch was the road leading out of it;
  • Comparing Scotland’s First Minister to Scotland’s national dish (haggis) in both shape and substance;
  • Stopping just short of donning a transparent pink kilt after a last-minute decency warning from management

In each case, a decision was made based on the story I was telling – and the manner in which it was being told.

The report we aired on Monday’s News Stream contained two carefully-selected, equally acerbic offerings from Gervais. And viewers were left to decide which side of the line he was standing on.

Yet many news organizations have stepped across the editorial line in defense or disparagement of the host. Here’s just a selection:

  • The LA Times called Gervais’s efforts a “snarkfest” with a “corrosive tone”
  • The New York Daily News led with the headline: “Ricky Gervais digs himself into irreversible hole”, later noting “Gervais missed “fun” the same way he missed “funny””
  • The Washington Post’s review of the show even endorsed violence : “You kept hoping the crowd would rise up and pummel Gervais.”
  • Britain’s Daily Mail congratulated him for mocking the Beverly Hilton brigade, noting “You have to recall that these starlings of global glitter are dim birds”

The Hollywood Reporter didn’t disguise its approval either. But it did include one undeniably astute paragraph:

“Gervais's jokes were so incendiary that when he went missing during the second half of the show, the Twitterverse lit up with suggestions that he'd been fired backstage. Clearly, Gervais had done so much damage entertaining the viewers at home (or appalling them, depending on their belief in decorum), that he became the story of the night.”

People that unfailingly toe the line don’t command much press attention – and they don’t command much audience attention either.  When Piers Morgan (himself an adept attention-grabber) interviews Gervais on CNN this Thursday, you can bet the viewership – and subsequent column inches – will be pretty darn sizeable.