How do The Elements of Popular Culture in The Low Budget Film Goodbye Mr.Loser Facilitate Its Success at Box Office?
Goodbye Mr. Loser (Xia LuoTeFannao, ?????, 2015) is a Chinese comedy film directed by Yan Fei and PengDamo, and starring ShenTeng, Ma Li. It is a low budget film that costs around 30 million yuan (4.69 million U.S. dollars), unbelievably; until now it has grossed 1.4 billion yuan (220 million U.S. dollars) in China (online data retrieved from CBO). Its instant success is treated as “a box office miracle” especially without the alliance of top box office stars and directors. It is a further evidence of the increasing popularity of low-budget films in China.
In this paper, the research topic explores relationships among popular culture, audience reception and box office. In the first part, this report introduces methodology and in what way to collect data. Second, the paper presents the process of approaching methodology to the data to do data analysis. Third, the paper will show wider relevance, study limitations, and possibilities for future research.
The elements of pop music, pop stars evoked the interviewees’memories of their high school lives; the Diaosi(loser)Culture not only created many laughing points, but also made two of them archivesenses of self-identification. Although the three interviewees in the paired interview group are in different age stages. All of them agreed that the pop music in late 1990s and 2000s, and cameo appearances and depictions of well-known pop stars of that era, had evoked their memories of their high school life. Moreover, interviewee A and interviewee B even could find similar life experiences and worries with Xia Luo. For example, they have no wealth and influence in their social circle, and they only drink beer or cheap liquor. Therefore, they gained a senseof identification when they watched this movie. Especially, in interviewee A and B’s view, they thought the element of Diaosi (loser) Culture made many laughing points. For example, Xia Luomockingly claimedhimself as “poor, short and ugly man” who only can wear chicken furs rather than cloth. However, interviewee C admitted the element of Diaosi (loser) Culture was funny, but the laughing points were ungraceful.
The elements of pop music, pop stars, and DiaosiCulture that aroused audiences’ memories are in the scope of popular culture. There is not doubt that the pop music and pop stars belong to popularculture; the difficulty is to defineDiaosiCulture. The termdiaosi(??, loser) is a popular internet meme in China, and it has been popular since 2012 (Szablewicz, 259). Diaosi (??) is roughly approximate to ‘loser’, it refers to a person who is ‘poor, short and ugly’ (Szablewicz, 259-260). The meme diaosi is not merely a form of self- mocking, it is more likely an expression of the increasing rigidity of social class, the widening gap between rich and poor in the society, and a reflection of people’s increasing feelings of helplessness (Lirzinger in Szablewicz, 261). Diaosi points out the gaps between the lives of average Chinese youth and the privileged young people “who simply inherit wealth through family connections and corrupt government back channels” (Szablewicz, 266). In contemporary China, it has become a phenomenon that a large numbers of youth are willing to embrace the ‘loser’ label on themselves (Szablewicz, 261). As Szablewicz (260) pointed out, when he did interview with one Chinese young man, he asked ‘So, who is diaosi?’ ‘Well, probably everyone in China is diaosi,’ the interviewee replied. According to Stuart Hall’s definition to popular culture: it is the things that “masses of people listen to them, buy them, read them, consume them, and seem to enjoy them to full”(Hall, 228). In this view, diaosi culture is a kind culture of popular culture that is discussed and ‘enjoyed’ by the masses of people in China.
After the paired interview, I did individual interviews with film investor Mr. Zhou and film critic Mr. Shen to know what are reasons contributing to the success of this film. The two interviewees all mentioned that the element of popular culture in this movie was one of the reasons. Except that,they held different ideas on this question. Mr. Zhou suggested that one of motivations for him to invest in this film was the theme of Diaosi (loser)Culture. As he said, “there is a large numbers of population in China label themselves as diaosi (loser), the theme of diaosi (loser) culture definitely indicates a strong box office appeal, because many audiences can achieve senses of identification through this movie.” On the contrary, in interviewee Mr. Shen’s view, the key reason contributes to the success of Goodbye Mr. Loseris its excellent online word of mouth. He suggested,“The young people like to watch this movie because the plot and character are close to their own lives, then they will promote this movie through social medias.”
Theoretical framework: In searching for a theoreticalframework that can explain the relationships among popular culture, audience, and box office, I have found Adorno’s theory of ‘pseudo-realism’ to be particularly helpful. Adorno applies the theory of ‘pseudo-realism’ to film to illustrate how films can engage audience’s attention. He defines ‘pseudo-realism’ as: film’s reproduction of the recognizable surfaces of the world represents “the purposeful and skillful construction of calculated and predetermined effects on the psyches of the mass of consumers” (Witkin, 137). A pseudo-reality manifests it as the siren appeal of the fetish-object that can be plots, stars, or the scenes (Witkin, 138). Especially, Adorno points out the ‘pseudo-realities’ are “standardized cliché-forms that deliver calculated and predetermined messages” to control psyches of audiences. By controlling psyches of audiences, the film can enable them to pass easily from the stresses of modern life into a more ‘desirable’ life (Adorno in Witkin, 138-139). The audiences can identify themselves with the characters and relations that appeared in the film and could “draw on these identifications to feed a fantasy-life outside the film”, in this way, the film can successfully engage audiences’ attentions (Witkin, 139-140).Furthermore, the appeal of a pseudo-reality is a powerful one to drawn audiences into to the box office (Witkin, 140).
Approaching the theory toGoodbye Mr. Loser:In the following part, I intend to explore what is the pseudo-reality in this film, and how the pseudo-reality can control audiences’ psyches thus to bring excellent word of mouth. As Adorno (in Witkin, 138) suggests, as usual, the ‘pseudo-realities’ are manifested as “Hollywood phantasmagoria”, such as romantic storyline or attractive stars. However, without the romantic plot, and the alliance of famous director and stars, what is ‘pseudo-reality’ in the low budget film Goodbye Mr. Loser? The argument is that ‘pseudo-reality’ manifests itself as the theme ‘loser counters back (diaosicounters back,????)’. The Diaosi(loser) Culture enables audiences to gain senses of identification, therefore to draw on this identification to feed a fantasy-life. According to the interviewees in paired interview, the themes that evoked their memories were the pop music in 1990s and 2000s, famous pop stars and Diaosi (loser) Culture.Xia Luo’s identity of diaosi(loser) enabled them to achieve senses of self-identification from him. The film leading character Xia Luo is a typical Diaosi (loser), who is poor, ugly and jobless. And this character is a reflection of young person’s feelings of helpless and unconfident. When I did paired interview with the three students, all of them called themselves as “diaosi (loser)”. Although they are well educated and belong to upper-middle class in China, they still embrace the label of diaosi(loser)onthemselves.As Adorno points out the pseudo-reality can control psyches of audiences, thus enable them to pass easily from the stresses of modern life into a more ‘desirable’ life (Adorno in Witkin, 138-139). In the movie, ‘diaosi(loser)’ Xia Luo travels back to his previous life, and achieves his success in career, marriage and social position, becomes a successor that everyone expects to be. This is a typical movie with the theme of ‘loser counters back (diaosinixi, ????)’. Combined with Adorno’s theory, Xia Luo’s identity of diaosi (loser) enables audience to achieve a sense of self-identification. With the development of the plot, Xia Luo becomes a successor that everyone expects to be; at the same time, audiences feel they become successorsas well. By controlling the psyches of the audiences, they are engaged into this film, and become the film character (Adorno in Witkin, 138-139). As Adorno suggests, a pseudo-reality is a powerful one to drawn audiences into to the box office. In case of this film, the theme of ‘loser counters back’ is a key to achieve the box officemiracle.
Based on previous analysis, the theme of ‘loser counters back’ facilitates the box officemiracle. As the investor Mr. Zhou suggested the theme of diaosi (loser) culture must become a strong box office appeal, because this theme caters to people’s psychological needs. This verifiesAdorno’s critique of the culture industry. Adorno demonstrates that the response of the consumer to the film is presupposed in the design of the film, and marketization maximizes predictability (2).Culture is fitted in the ‘adaptive type’, the products of culture industry do not come from people, and that were not “an express of the life-process of individuals” (2, and Witkin, 139). However, the products of culture “were manufactured under conditions that reflected the interest of the exigencies of the market” (Witkin, 138-139). And these products dominate and manipulate mass consciousness. The response of the consumer was presupposed, the investors knew what were the selling points before they did investments. And the film was designed to satisfy people’s psychological need that actually is the reflection of the needs of the market.