As a student of cultural studies, I was intellectually fascinated: The philosopher Jean Baudrillard portentously wrote in 1986 that “everything is destined to reappear as a simulation”—even the events of your own life.
But emotionally, I didn’t know how to confront my own repackaged image, or how to distinguish where I ended and a larger media agenda began.* * *My confusion was further amplified by the fact that this was a love story.
In a soft-focus flashback, she wanders alone through a generic cityscape, accompanied by somber piano music.
She lounges outside a coffee shop, paging through highlighted books with her glittery fingernails, and crossing a bridge unsettlingly similar to one near where I live in Pittsburgh.
She also nails one of my favorite docudramatic standards: contemplatively staring off into the sunset. Not only did I never plan to appear in person, but I also never expected to watch myself portrayed on one by an actress.
But unlike David’s past TV appearances, isn’t an obscure program: It’s the most-watched dating show in the Chinese-speaking world.
When it premiered in 2010, it broke ratings records, boasting more than 50 million viewers.
Its recent sixth season drew 36 million—about as many people as watched the last Oscars in the U. By comparison, its American prime-time counterpart, equaled the population of some countries was only part of the embarrassment I experienced.
The first time I saw the video clip of myself, I called a Mandarin-speaking friend at 11 p.m. Reduced to pure vanity, I shouted into the phone, “Do I wear weird hats? ” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry as I watched the line between my inner and outer lives dissolve before my eyes, repossessed by a TV show I didn’t even know.
Then, last winter, my college ex-boyfriend, David, appeared as a contestant on a popular Chinese dating show called He’s been living in Beijing for the past six years, having moved there the summer after our college graduation and our break-up.
We keep in occasional contact, so I knew David had already been on TV a couple times before.
American expats appearing on Chinese TV is not uncommon: As explained in a June 2012 episode of This American Life, seeing foreigners perform and do “silly” things on TV—speak Mandarin, wear traditional garb, dance—is novel and hugely popular.
I’d seen David before on a talk show whose bare-bones set resembled something you’d see on an American public-access channel.