China’s top streaming platforms snipped 6 minutes of the debut episode of HBO Max’s ‘Friends: The Reunion’ censoring footage of artists like BTS, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and shots of Friends artists for vague reasons.
The sitcom which amassed a huge dedicated following in China over the years left the fans bewildered with the random cuts in the episode made by major streaming platforms with rights to officially broadcast the show iQiyi, Alibaba’s Youku and Tencent Video.
Upset with the censorship, a fan on the Weibo social media platform commented, “Are we reverting to the isolationist Qing dynasty, closed off to the rest of the world?”
However, some expressed support for the censorship, as the scenes scrapped belonged to artists who have allegedly slandered or upset China previously.
Censoring global artists
A scene featuring BTS artists expressing their love for the show was snipped for a completely bizarre and unrelated reason. Last October, BTS allegedly insulted China by not mentioning the sacrifices of Chinese soldiers in the Korean War in an acceptance speech for a prize celebrating the group’s contributions to U.S.-Korea relations.
Lady Gaga’s 3-minute rendition of ‘Smelly Cat’ with Lisa Kudrow (Pheobe) faced censorship as she has been an unwelcomed personality in China since her meeting with the Dalai Lama in 2016 who the Chinese consider as a dangerous separatist. The duet in which Lisa sang for about 45 seconds was relayed as-is.
Next to be censored was Justin Bieber who appeared in David Schwimmer’s (Ross) much loved ‘Sputnik’ costume. Bieber irked China by photographing himself in 2014 at Tokyo’s Yasukuni war shrine, a site that honors Japanese World War II war criminals alongside other casualties of war. The Canadian singer was finally banned by China in 2017 from performing in the country citing “a series of bad behaviors”.
These cuts were made by all three Chinese platforms thereby evoking mixed reactions from the fans.
LGBTQ community faces censorship
In an absolutely uncalled-for censorship, all three platforms deleted the testimony of German ‘Friends gay fan Ricardo, who described how the show gave him a sense of belonging.
A lesbian couple was also censored in which the woman pulling her girlfriend on camera said, “Like every Chandler, I found my Monica.”
Bizarre scene cuts
Youku one of the streaming platforms decided to cut the scene in which Matt LeBlanc (Joey) opens his bathrobe to reveal himself with a picture of Ross stuck to the front of his underwear.
On the other hand, iQiyi and Tencent both censored a popular scene from the series in which Courteney Cox (Monica) recounts how Matthew Perry (Chandler) and Joey helped her by peeing on her leg when she was stung by a jellyfish at the beach, as the rest of the gang squeaked at the narration.
While Youku kept the pee reference scenes, it snipped the next scene where the cast discussed what were they wearing the first time they met.
China wants to purify the ‘immoral industry’
Chinese platforms have been given a free hand to execute their own censorship and are currently approaching online entertainment, celebrity “morality” and fan culture with great caution.
The social and governmental pressure to clean up and “purify” what is described as a wayward, immoral industry has been on a rise. The heavy censorship is also because this year also marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Communist Party.
Earlier in May, a handful of BTS Weibo fan accounts were put on a month-long ban to avoid any undesirable fan fervor.
Many viewers in China have begun to download pirated copies of the HBO Max version to bypass local streamers. Many have turned to unauthorized, uncensored versions posted on other digital platforms such as Bilibili.
Fed up with heavy censorship, a user of Bilibili wrote, “What does a Korean group appearing on here have anything to do with us? It’s not like we can actually stop them.”
The episode, however, received a positive response in China, leaving the fans teary-eyed.