Job Of The Day: Fake Celebrity

Want to get the celebrity treatment? Here’s a job for you: go to rural China and let a real-estate developer present you as one of the famous models or actors who just happen to enjoy hanging around this brand-new property.

A new NYT “Op-Doc,” which in this case stands for “seven-minute documentary,” tells the story of rural China’s booming fake celebrity business. The doc, Rent-a-Foreigner in China, introduces us to an unnamed agent who works to hire foreigners for real-estate developers.

We open on a shot of three young men costumed as British guards, while the agent explains: “Once you put a foreigner out there, everything changes. It is no longer some remote building built by an unknown developer.”

Wait, you might ask. British guards? I thought you said I could get a job as a fake celebrity. You might, if you are considered one of the “higher-grade” foreigners available. The most attractive foreigners get to be models, and the others might only get to wear fuzzy black hats. The agent calmly sums it up: “We have high, middle, and low-grade ones.” Then she adds, without a trace of humor or irony, that customers who cannot afford white foreigners can always hire black ones.

Where does this agent go to find foreigners for hire? Bars, of course — to hand out cards that read “Wanted Performers” and learn which foreigners might have the most useful talents, such as the ability to play an instrument. Performers who get hired are then trained and given a fake background — actor, model, even engineer. “A lot of real estate customers also like for foreigners to pretend to be their engineers.”

These fake backgrounds are, by the way, superlative. The documentary includes a scene where a hired performer is announced as “one of the top 20 models in all of America.” If you’re going to make up a fake story, better make it a story worth telling.

What do the foreigners have to say about this? “In China, you can be anything without any knowledge or education.”

There’s nothing in the documentary about how much these foreigners get paid, or whether they are operating outside their tourist visas, or whether any young people have started traveling to rural China specifically to get jobs as fake celebrities. It’s unclear whether a person can make a living as a fake celebrity. But the jobs are out there. All you have to do is sit in a bar and wait to be discovered — and make sure to bring your guitar.

Watch the seven-minute documentary in full:

Photo credit: George Lu