An unprecedented blackout: Why is the world’s greatest TV show in Hong Kong?

Both an act of ironic farce and a painfully serious attempt to highlight the lack of rights afforded by Chinese rule, “Green Eggs and Ham” is considered by many to be the best episode of The Simpsons (otherwise known as television’s greatest programme) and its first appearance in Hong Kong took that accolade by a long shot.

It also marked a rare instance of a show parodying the consequences of censoring a potentially controversial subject. As a working class family prepare for their trip to the “The Great Egg Comp,” their neighbours (including the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Chairman, Liu Guoqing) are forced to sign an agreement to erect an 800ft golden statue of the character. Their neighbour (fictional and performance artist Ma Le) inadvertently spoils the plans when she discards the edible ones so she can eat them in front of the leader.

The episode finds Ma missing, not knowing that she had been the subject of a zealous CCP press house notification. After languishing in the police cells for a day without a proper arrest record, Ma is brought to the White House and interrogated by Bart and Lisa. When Bart’s hilariously short-sighted father (Jerry Seinfeld) offers the state aid that she so obviously needs, she denies ever actually committing any crime – and not even bothering to report for police questioning.

After the debacle, Ma’s remains covered with green dye and discreetly removed from the public eye, the episode turned, itself, into a masked celebration of Censorship in Hong Kong.

Yet when Google Hangouts went down on the 28th of January this year, and the server reliability monitored by the Hong Kong Information Centre (HKIC) was apparently down from the 28th till 3am on 30th January, the episode was apparently no longer available for viewing.

This was certainly not the first time Google Hangouts was the recipient of censorship in Hong Kong. In June 2016, a video interview with the iconic Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong was blocked on Google Hangouts, and during Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement in 2014, under which thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators camped in the streets, Google Hangouts reportedly received government instructions to disable access to certain messaging applications and VPNs (virtual private networks).

By blocking an episode of The Simpsons in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Information Centre was shutting out a potentially controversial and relevant (if possible) satirical commentary on censoring the internet in China, the most censored country in the world.

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