This week’s North America edition of the Economist was unsurprisingly centered around the much-anticipated Sunnylands Summit meeting between China’s newly minted leader Xi Jinping and President Barack Obama. What was surprising was the cover art that the international affairs publication went with to accompany the story.
Needless to say, the "Brokeback Mountain"-themed cover exploded on social media among China watchers and eventually made its way onto the country’s most popular social networking site, Weibo. The cover used Photoshop to superimpose Xi's and Obama’s faces on the two main characters of the movie, originally portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal and the late Heath Ledger. The fake movie poster also included mock critic quotes that read, “He Stole His Heart (And Then His Intellectual Property)” and “'Team America’ Meets ‘Kung Fu Panda.’”
Anthony Tao, the silver-tongued news blogger at Beijing Cream did a breakdown of the cover on his site. “The Economist has a bizarre regional cover this week,” Tao said. “Never mind that it’s tasteless and will surely be interpreted as homophobic by many critics. ... Let me isolate the cover-line jokes:
“'Team America' is the name of a satirical movie that pillories the American government. 'Kung Fu Panda' is a Hollywood film that incited Chinese protests. Neither represents the respective countries,” Tao wrote. Though Tao did say the article itself, which is about how the two leaders “have a chance to recast this century’s most important bilateral relationship,” was actually thoughtful, he did end his rant asking, “Seriously, who let the intern take over?”
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At the Atlantic Wire, Alexander Abad-Santos admited that the provocative cover and shoddy Photoshop job incites memories of “'awful’ Newsweek-style trolling” but actually does express an accurate portrayal of the Xi-Obama relationship. In the Academy Award-winning movie, directed by Ang Lee (Chinese from Taiwan, as it were), the two main characters engage in a forbidden love that both are persistent in pursuing and trying to make work. Sounds familiar?