Just as the Michelin Guide controversy had run its course on social media, Disney+’s drama series Women In Taipei has ignited a new wave of discussion about stereotypical depictions of the differences between northern and southern Taiwan.
As only three episodes have aired so far — with the plot involving a woman from Tainan moving to Taipei for work — it is still too early to jump to any conclusions.
However, as Disney+ series have dealt with stereotypes associated with Taipei and Tainan before, the show has provided Internet users with fresh material for trolling and could generate further debate as it continues.
Provided by an over-the-top media service, Women In Taipei has become a hot topic as it not only presents stereotypes of northern and southern identity, but also leads to the formation of ideologies regarding regional differences in Taiwan via subjective perceptions.
Heated online discussions about the north and south come and go like flu waves: sporadic, but sometimes seasonal.
From the quality of sidewalks and the way locals eat tomatoes, to every aspect of life, the debates have showcased the regional differences caused by material conditions and history after decades of development.
Embedded with personal judgements, these differences quickly became points of friction causing fights online.
There is no doubt that these differences could be measured with statistics and other indicators, but no one looks at the data when engaging in a fight of words and opinions for a moment’s pleasure.
Leaving aside what the indicators are — mainly resource allocation and policies — it would be easier to draw conclusions to explain the difference between the ideologies of people who prefer the north over the south, or vice versa, using identity construction and stereotypes.
In the online arguments, people from Taipei are often described as “residents of Tian Long Guo [天龍國, Kingdom of the Celestial Dragons] who do not deign to understand Taiwan,” “people with vested interests” and “pan-blue die-hards,” while those from Tainan are described as “traditional and friendly Taiwanese,” “the oppressed” and “supporters of the Democratic Progressive Party.”
As the November local elections draw near, arguments on social media repeatedly lead to ideological differences.
Going back to the Disney+ series, the female protagonist’s dream to go to Taipei when she was studying at school involves the character’s own stereotyping of Taipei, while the tribulations and difficulties encountered at work in Taipei are stereotypes written into the plot.
Regardless of opinion, viewers take part in the stereotyping process with either the character or the plot.
As a Taipei resident who has never set foot outside the capital besides fulfilling military duty, I have never felt particularly proud or privileged of being from Taipei. After all, Taipei is a big city and I have yet to uncover every inch of it. Rather than fighting over an illusionistic sense of identification for a city, I find it more practical to see if I can experience happiness in everyday life.
The female protagonist came to Taipei because she thought she could find happiness there instead of trying to become a Taipei resident.
Taipei is far from a shining city on the hill for people to proudly identify themselves with, but it could be if it delivers happiness.
Chang Yueh-han is an adjunct assistant professor in Shih Hsin University’s Department of Journalism.
Translated by Rita Wang
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