Culture Friday: Government censorship and making money


MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: It’s Friday, October 11th, 2019. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Megan Basham.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.

AUDIO: [Sound from Philly game]

This is audio from an iPhone camera of a basketball fan getting kicked out of a game this week. One of the teams on the court is a Chinese team from Guangzhou, the Loong Lions. It’s a preseason game in conjunction with the National Basketball Association, the NBA.

The fan held a sign calling for freedom for Hong Kong. And he yelled a freedom-for-Hong-Kong slogan and that brought about his ejection. 

Here’s what’s interesting about this: The game was not in China. It was in Philadelphia. A basketball fan got kicked out of a game in America for expressing a political opinion.

This was right after the NBA forced an apology onto the Houston Rockets general manager for saying “fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.”

BASHAM: Yeah and in the corner of culture I cover for WORLD—games, movies, and television networks–it’s becoming big news to American consumers how willing companies like Disney and Google are to censor their content to appease the Chinese government. So much so, the irreverent cartoon South Park took aim at them in an episode last week showing Avengers, Pixar, and Star Wars characters getting on a plane to “go to China and get some of their money.”

Here, have a listen to this…

AUDIO: But it’s not worth living in a world where China controls my country’s art.

[Chinese]

I don’t care how many people you have. I’ve got something in me that just won’t let me be a part of all this.

Yeah! Whatever it is, I’ve got it too.

Yeah!

I wanna be proud of who we are, guys!

After that South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone tweeted out a mock apology making fun of Disney, Google, and the NBA for selling out their principles for the almighty dollar. It said, “Like the NBA, we welcome the Chinese censors into our homes and into our hearts. We too love money more than freedom and democracy.”

Probably no surprise, China scrubbed South Park from the internet there. Not just that episode, but the entire series, any clips, and any mention of the show.

EICHER: It’s Culture Friday. John Stonestreet joins us now. He’s president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. John, good morning.

JOHN STONESTREET, GUEST: Good morning.

EICHER: Ironies abound! This NBA game was with the Philadelphia 76ers. A little reminder, something happened in 76 that had something to do with independence, just not Hong Kong independence. So, it seems as far as the NBA’s concerned, it’s 76 for me, but not for thee!

BASHAM: But here’s my question, John, why do we care if China wants to invest in our culture? Isn’t that just free market? Is that a line we need to draw as Christians and if so why?

STONESTREET: Well, I think there’s a question to be had, which is how much do we make somebody else behave before they invest in our culture. The other question is when do we start censoring ourselves to appease values of a country that deeply violates human rights across the board? 

And, look, taking their money is one thing. But basically forcing silence on our values because of that is a completely different thing. And the thing about the NBA in particular that I find to be so ironic is how quickly the NBA was ready to boycott North Carolina over bathrooms a couple years ago but bow down to China despite forced abortions, harvesting of organs, the mistreatment of the Muslim Uighur community, and more and more and more.

I think it also revealed for us this celebrity culture that we have. I mean, James Harden quickly tripped all over himself. And there’s a unique tie between the Houston Rockets and China because of the greatest NBA player to ever come out of China—Yao Ming—and James Harden is there. And then Dennis Rodman, of course, weighs in. Hey, trust me, I know a thing or two about diplomacy. I can fix it. Then it just became a comedy of errors. But that’s a whole different point. That has to do with Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death and how sports has become entertainment.

But on the real side, the NBA’s character is showing here. When you compare the reaction to this versus the reaction to North Carolina over bathrooms.

EICHER: Let me ask you this, though, John, because you made that comparison—I thought it was interesting—between the way the NBA treated North Carolina and the way the NBA is kowtowing to China. Are you saying that they ought to kowtow to North Carolina or that they ought to go after China in a negative way?

STONESTREET: Well, in a sense, I think what I’m saying is that money is the thing leading all of this. I think the NBA felt like they had the upper hand financially against North Carolina. But, look, the NBA, the amount of money to be made from China, that’s really what’s driving this. And so what am I saying? I’m saying that A) if you’re going to have a kind of freedom of expression, let’s have it across the board. B) I think there’s a limit to freedom of expression when you’re talking about a nation that is known worldwide for its systemic human rights abuses and is currently in the middle of kind of a repeat of history under Mao. Xi Jinping and this cult of personality, there’s nothing less in line with American values than that.

BASHAM: Well, can we differentiate, too, because I know that a gamer came forward and said, look, this isn’t just Chinese companies. This is the Chinese government investing in American culture companies and that’s something different.

STONESTREET: Oh, completely different. I mean, there’s no such thing as a Chinese company that’s not being driven by the Chinese government. And especially more and more and more these days. This is why the Hong Kong protests have continued to go on because they understand that a threat to their way of life—and of course it was initially started with an extradition law—but the threat to their way of life is going to be a threat to their whole society. It’s an all or nothing thing. I mean, we’re talking about the Chinese government that is going to edit the Bible before it’s printed in their country. And this all sounds vaguely familiar of thou shalt have no other god before me. When that starts happening, the entire culture starts to change. And that’s the realization that—when you’re just making a financial calculation like the NBA is, A) they’re not consistent with their financial calculation, and B) you’re talking about China. And to say that they don’t know what they’re talking about, of course they know what they’re talking about. So it’s a calculated decision to prioritize profit over human rights abuses.

EICHER: Switching gears here to another part of the world, John, and another controversy, the Middle East. We heard the announcement on Sunday that a thousand American troops are pulling out of Kurdish-controlled regions of Syria. And without getting into all the specifics (troop movements, foreign-policy questions), the bottom line is—maybe a bottom line is—that it’s going to leave Turkey with the freedom to smash the Kurds, among whom are many Christians. And that raises a question of international religious freedom and one of the things that America stands for. The Turks hate the Kurds and American troops were standing in the way of a possible slaughter, and now they’re not.

BASHAM: That is one bottom line, but to play devil’s advocate, I saw a funny, well known Christian account I follow on Twitter make a joke about how the president is once again upending norms by “disregarding the beloved American custom of meddling overseas without a congressional declaration of war and then hanging around for another few decades.” 

So my question would be, can you help a busy mom who doesn’t have time to delve as deep into this subject as I’d like, understand why we should be there? Why is that good policy?

STONESTREET: Well, it’s a great question. And, to be clear, the president hasn’t just disregarded the CIA’s advice or part of the intelligence community, he’s basically standing alone on this. There’s hardly anyone that hasn’t spoken up, even some of the president’s staunchest allies—Franklin Graham, Tony Perkins. But as we learned from President Obama in Iraq, to do just a quick gut-level, reactionary withdrawal, basically creates a vacuum that’s going to be filled by forces that we don’t like. This is especially true when we’re talking about this particular region in Syria because the Kurds have been one of our most loyal and reliable allies in the fight against ISIS. The Turks want that territory. They want the Kurds gone. They considered the Kurds terrorists. By the way, Turkey is an Islamic-driven government. The Kurds have provided partially an Islamic group. They’ve also provided safe haven for persecuted religious minorities, including Christians. So what’s going to happen now is the Kurds, who have helped us make all the progress that we’ve made with ISIS, are now going to have to turn their attention to basically keeping Turkey from wiping them out. Which means two things. Number one is they’re going to turn their attention from ISIS, when that chaos happens, this is what we have seen, that Islamic terrorism is re-emboldened. It has a chance to re-organize. Also, the Kurds are holding 10,000 ISIS prisoners. There’s not a plan for where those folks are going to go and who’s going to keep them incarcerated and keep them from basically escaping and where this is going now. 

So this is a remarkably bad decision. There’s a reason that the voices were uniform in condemning this decision.

The last thing we need to say is, look, the Kurds have been loyal as allies. This sends a message around the world what kind of ally the United States will be in these sorts of situations. So it’s a very ill-advised move. It doesn’t really make any sense on really any level on national policy. It doesn’t make any sense politically speaking in terms of this is not where most Republicans are on this issue, certainly not where a lot of Christians are—like me, that are super concerned about persecuted Christian minorities around the world, this group being one of them.

EICHER: John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. It’s Culture Friday. John, thanks!

STONESTREET: Thank you.


(Photo/South Park, Comedy Central)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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