Personal Essay

I chose the topic of bullet screen for my research paper. Because bullet screen is so commonly used in Chinese media platforms, I just take it for granted and seldom spend time thinking about why it creates a new culture in China. My thought of working on this topic for my research came from my video presentation that I did for the website Blibli. Blibli is the most popular website in China nowadays. It was founded for ACG, which stands for animation comics, and manga, and later it creates many other sections such as food, fashion, music, etc. One reason why Blibli is so popular is its usage of bullet screen. The phrase “bullet screen” is originated from Japan, and it refers to the comments made by the viewers that would fly across the screen just like bullets. Bullet screen gradually becomes a kind of new culture, and more and more Chinese websites, including Youku and IQIYI, start using bullet screen to attract viewers. What I find interesting is that while it is so popular in China and Japan, it is seldom used in other countries. A lot of questions come to my mind as I think about it deeply. Why it does not gain its popularity overseas? Will it become popular? What does this new viewing experience suggest? Does it make social media even more interactive? 

The first time that I saw people using bullet screen was probably in 2013. Back then, Blibli became a trend among teenagers and all my high-school friends were watching videos on it. It has been six years past, and my opinion on bullet screen has changed a lot over time. When I first watched a video with bullet screen on, I could not really get used to it. There is a button underneath every screen so every viewer could decide whether bullet screen is on or off. I clearly remembered that I turned the screen off for the first time I used it. It was strange to watch a video with so many comments flying across the screen, and when they are shown in different colors, I felt dizzy. I remembered that once I was watching the animation The Scientific Railgun, in the scene where the main character is shooting electromagnetic wave to attack a giant monster, the bullet comments covered the whole page and I could barely see what was going on in this scene. People were sending the same sentence on bullet screen, which can be translated in English as “the electro-optic light on your fingertips is the faith that I would hold for my whole life. The super-electromagnetic railgun will last eternally”. Later I searched online and found out that it is the scene that has the most bullet comments in all Chinese videos. According to the data, this scene creates the record that three thousand comments appeared together within one minute.

The Scene in The Scientific Railgun with three thousand bullet comments

Also, another reason that I didn’t really like bullet screen at first is that it sometimes distracted me from watching the video. Sometimes I would pay too much attention on the bullet comments and did not catch what is going on in the video, so I have to go back to rewatch the part of the video. Another case that I would turn off the bullet screen is when I watch films. This is because on bullet screen, some people would spoil what will happen later, which ruins others’ viewing experience. In addition, some people keep making silly judgments about the film, which I find very annoying. It is almost like when you are sitting in a cinema and people around are making a lot of noise. I personally need to put a lot of focus on the screen when I watch films and I take cinema as very serious art form, so I never turn the bullet screen on when I watch films.

Nevertheless, for most of the cases, I really enjoy watching videos with bullet screen on. In the past years, as I watched more and more videos with bullet screen, I started getting used to this new way of watching videos. I think one reason that I like it is because bullet screen allows viewers to communicate with each other. It makes the viewing experience more interactive. In the conventional way of watching videos, we can only know other people’s thoughts by looking at the comments shown underneath the screen. Bullet screen, however, allows viewers to interact with each other in an immediate way. For example, you can send a comment at 2:00 and it shows up immediately on the screen. Viewers don’t have to scroll down the web page to see the comments, because they appear straight up to your face. Also, it is often the case that bullet screen makes me feel connected to other views. Whenever I find something funny in the video, I see a lot of bullet comments as “HAHAHAHAHA” flying across the screen. I would get the feeling like “Oh, others also get this point”. This feeling of being understood by others brings a lot of pleasure when I watch videos. 

Bullet screen itself also brings a lot of joy when I watch the videos. I often laugh not for the video, but for the bullet comments that others make. This is because bullet screen is originally invented for people to make some sarcastic and funny judgements about the videos. It creates a unique culture that people invent some funny phrases or make some strange jokes on bullet screen and only those who are familiar with the website Blibli can understand why they are funny. Those phrases are hard to be translated into English, as they don’t really have concrete definitions. For example, one phrase that is commonly used is 高能君, which refers to the people who would send bullet comments right before something important would happen (usually something extremely exciting, scary, or funny). What is more, as I think about why bullet screen brings so much amusement to us, I realize that it indeed exerts some sort of psychological impact on viewers in the way of evoking certain emotions and feelings. Just take the previous scene of The Scientific Railgun as an example. When all of those three thousand comments show up together, viewers are so excited that they feel the enthusiasm arising in heart. People who send these comments are definitely fans of the animation, so the scene with so many bullet comments becomes a very touching moment that fans are gathered together in a spiritual way. This exemplifies how bullet screen creates a “collectivism”, or “fandom” among the viewers.

In addition, because Google and Youtube are not allowed to use in China, it is hard for Chinese people to have access to videos made in other countries. Many TV shows, films, and animations are banned online. In Blibli, however, there are a lot of resources of different shows, films, and animations that come from other countries, and most of them are from Japan and Korea. (Don’t worry, Blibli pays the copyright and the website is definitely legal) Nevertheless, many videos are not translated when they are posted on the website. We call the videos that don’t have translated subtitles as “raw meat” and the ones with translated subtitles as “cooked meat”. As I mentioned before, members of Blibli invent some phrases, and this is the example. For the “raw meat” videos, some viewers who understand the language of the video would voluntarily post translated subtitles on the bullet scream for no compensation, and we also have a specific title for those people to show our respect for them. I think this greatly explains how our viewing experience is benefited from using bullet screen. 

The yellow sentence at the button is the bullet comment made by people who translate Japanese into Chinese.

Overall, I think bullet screen is a very interesting topic to explore. Reflecting upon my personal experience helps me to think about the negative and positive aspects of it. I am also amazed by how much it has changed people’s viewing habits and viewing culture. There is certainly a lot more that I can learn about this culture and a lot more that I can write about, I hope this will be an interesting topic for you all to lean and and I will strive my best for my final paper and the creative project.

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