The first known webcam went live in 1993. As of mid-2016, almost half of China’s 710 million internet users were live-streaming themselves. Progress, question mark? Hao Wu’s markedly depressing documentary People’s Republic of Desire looks into this questionable phenomenon, in which the streaming hosts operate out of their homes on China’s YY social network. Some are singers, some are comedians, and most just do whatever. If hosts get enough penniless fans known as diaosi, this attracts big spenders known as tuhao, who are in it to get applauded by the diaosi for being so rich — and that’s before getting to the shitshow that is the YY Annual Competition, for which the hosts require support from the diaosi and the tuhao and third-party talent agencies to win.
A common refrain from all involved is how lonesome and bored they are in real life, and the competition is ultimately the same bread and circuses humans have engaged in since boredom was invented. Speaking of bread, throughout People’s Republic of Desire, Wu frequently cuts to the food that ties the circus’ participants to the physical world: people eating in restaurants, preparing meals in their homes, and in one particularly poignant shot, a KFC container on the desk of a tuhao who expects to shell out $850,000. Are we not amused?
Not rated. Opens Friday at the Roxie Theater.