Last November, a few days after Tiger Woods drove his 2009 Cadillac Escalade into a tree near his home, a video was uploaded to YouTube that explained the incident. The video depicted a computer animated Tiger Woods entering his car and driving away while his wife chased behind with a golf club (there’s little evidence that the golf club scenario actually happened). Despite the fact that it added little to the story that hadn’t already been reported widely by other outlets, it has received over 2.5 million views.
The reason for this lies with the narration and subtitles, both of which are in Chinese dialect. For many Americans, the video is a rare glimpse into how a foreign country views us, a perspective that exists from outside the fishbowl. Its success rests, in part, with its hilarity.
It was created by Next Media Animation, a subdivision of Next Media Limited, the largest media company in Hong Kong. It owns Apple Daily, an anti-Communist newspaper that is blocked by the great firewall of China. Since the popularity of the Tiger Woods video it has released dozens more, adding in English subtitles and even the occasional English narration. Recent videos include “Lindsay Lohan out of jail, heads to rehab” and “Brett Favre’s pecker the talk of the town.” The latter shows an animated Favre opening up his cell phone and then sticking it down his pants.
“Animation was basically an offshoot,” Mark Simon, the company’s director of business development, told me in a phone interview. “We’re a tabloid style newspaper. The problem we have is that you just can’t tell the story completely. And so this is seen as a competitive advantage in our market to other newspapers. And that’s how it started.”
Simon told me that Next Media Animation traditionally puts together a 14-minute video every night, comprised mostly of local Asian news. Only about three to four minutes focus on the outside world. The goal is to eventually syndicate the content. Simon said that such animations could stand in for B-roll footage for AP, Reuters, and other wire content.
But most Americans who watch these videos don’t do so for the news value, but rather for the unintended humor. Are the animators aware of this?
“I do think there’s something that Americans need to understand, and it’s that there are 1.4 billion Chinese, and they call it the middle kingdom for a reason,” he said. “Basically they consider themselves the middle of the world. A lot of times Americans are used to people looking at them through what we call the reverse telescope … Our guys just don’t have this special reverence for America that people think they should have. I think they’re very aware that Americans find this funny, but I don’t think my guys wake up every morning and go ‘oh my god, I’m not going to get a Pulitzer Prize or some award from the Rotary Club. They don’t worry about that.”
Simon said that the animation — which is typically done by Chinese-American females — has been improving over time and that the monetization of the segments is “easy.” But what happens when the novelty wears off? When your popularity is based in large part on your unintended hilarity, will it continue once Americans move on to the next curiosity? Or will a Taiwanese summary of, say, The Social Network, never get old?