Children’s YouTube star Blippi — a household staple for parents of young children boasting 14.8 million subscribers on the video hosting site — debuted a video this weekend in partnership with NBC promoting the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
Blippi is a colorful persona usually played by actor Stevin John, who goes on educational adventures that teach children basics like shapes, colors, the planets, various types of vehicles, and other content suitable for small children. The Blippi brand has expanded well beyond YouTube into merchandising, a live show (which controversially did not feature John), and streaming programs on Amazon and Netflix.
Blippi as a brand is owned by Moonbug, a global children’s entertainment company with several partnerships in China. Moonbug distributes its “values-based educational content” through Chinese regime-controlled companies like Tencent and ByteDance.
“China is an essential market for us, and adding our most successful IP to Tencent’s content offering is a massive testament to our global ambitions for the brand,” Nicolas Eglau, Managing Director EMEA & APAC for Moonbug, said last year.
Blippi’s association with the 2022 Winter Olympics follows over a year of enthusiastic opposition to the event from human rights advocates, who have urged a global boycott of the Games in the event that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) does not move it out of Beijing. The IOC has ignored all calls to find a new venue despite China’s long list of human rights abuses against its own people, most notably genocide against the Uyghur people, and threats to athletes in the country from both the regime and the increasingly severe local outbreak of Chinese coronavirus in Beijing.
The Blippi Olympics special, of course, does not mention any Chinese human rights atrocities. It does not mention China, the host of the Winter Olympics, at all. Instead, Blippi and his best friend Meekah meet with American Olympians in Utah to teach children the basics of speed skating, snowboarding, and bobsledding, as well as the fundamentals of becoming an athlete, such as practice and eating healthy.
The special is clearly produced alongside NBC, however, with the aim of making children interested in the Winter Olympics.
“We are very excited to partner with NBC on a Blippi Winter Olympics Special,” a statement from “Blippi’s team” to Parents magazine in anticipation of the special read. “Introducing preschoolers to new experiences and people is at the heart of the Blippi brand, along with celebrating curiosity by encouraging children to learn through play.”
“The Olympics teaches children about goal setting and teamwork while also inspiring people through incredible stories—it’s a perfect match. The episode is a must watch for families!” the statement concluded.
“Fans will get to see the athletic skills of Blippi and his best friend Meekah in Park City, Utah, as they join Olympic gold medalist Curt Tomasevicz to attempt bobsledding, Kristen Santos for short track speed skating, and Paralympic gold medalist Mike Schultz for some snowboarding,” Parents relayed.
Blippi’s website describes his target audience as children between the ages of two and seven and explicitly promotes his content as “educational.”
“Children become great friends with the lovable Blippi persona, and parents appreciate the interactive and educational teachings. Blippi has taught millions of kids how to count, colors, letters, and much more!” the website reads.
Promoting an event that has alarmed much of the world’s human rights advocacy community appears somewhat at odds with Blippi’s brand. Absent from the promotion of the Games is, as mentioned above, China itself, which will benefit handsomely in elevated prestige should the 2022 Games capture the imagination of a large percentage of Americans.
Opponents of the Beijing Games argue that giving China hosting honors while the Communist Party is engaging in gross human rights atrocities that include genocide is akin to endorsing those crimes. Others also note that China is currently experiencing a surge of coronavirus cases in Beijing and dangerous levels of pollution, which threaten global athletes. The Chinese government itself has threatened athletes with legal punishments in the event that they express opinions contrary to the totalitarian regime while attending the Games.
Both the administrations of Presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden, along with a growing number of countries in the Western world and detailed investigations into the matter, have concluded that China is guilty of genocide against the Uyghur people of East Turkistan. The Uyghur Tribunal, a non-government entity that compiled and analyzed all existing evidence of the crime, found China guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” of genocide against Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities in East Turkistan, citing the use of concentration camps to subdue and enslave the population and, particularly, campaigns to sterilize thousands of Uyghur women and prevent the Uyghur population from growing.
China, human rights activists have documented, is also engaging in cultural genocide in Tibet — outlawing Tibetan language, religion, and culture — and using violence to erase members of faith communities it considers a threat to communism, such as Christians and Falun Gong practitioners. In Hong Kong, it has broken an agreement known as “One Country, Two Systems” intended to preserve the city’s free capitalist system and arrested or forced into exile most of the city’s pro-democracy leaders.
China has also faced global disgust for its treatment of athletes in particular. In November, tennis champion Peng Shuai disappeared from the public eye after accusing a former Chinese Olympic Committee head of raping her. Peng has since surfaced only in bizarre, government-orchestrated publicity appearances and denied that she ever made any such accusation. The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) cut ties to China indefinitely following the incident and her colleagues in the sport continue to demand proof that she is safe and free.
The situation has placed Olympians seeking to compete in an awkward situation, forcing them to choose between their career dreams and essentially endorsing one of the world’s most criminal governments.
“What I can say is we absolutely acknowledge the horrifying things that we’ve seen happening to the Uyghurs. I read somewhere the other day that it’s the largest number of people held in internment and labor camps since World War II,” American figure skater Timothy LeDuc told reporters when asked about the human rights abuses in the country this month. “I mean, these are horrifying human rights abuses that we’re seeing happening. And it can feel very powerless when you read those things, because you think, ‘What can I do?’
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Like Blippi, NBC itself has largely omitted Beijing from its Beijing Olympics advertising in response to mounting outrage over the IOC choosing Beijing.