Reality television, especially terribly cringeworthy reality television, has always been an obsession of mine. Whether it be the melodramatic dramas of The Bachelor or just the sheer awkwardness of First Dates Australia. Although, I had never been exposed to or explored many international reality television programs, thus leading to my chosen autoethnographic account: Japanese Game Show: MXC. I encountered the reality television show through easily accessible YouTube episodes.
In my autoetnographic account, I used Ellis et al’s reading to guide my methodology focusing on creating a “personal experience to illustrate facets of cultural experience, and, in so doing, make characteristics of a culture familiar for insiders and outsiders.” Whilst following this, I realised I had come across an epiphany during the writing of my previous blog.
The epiphany that I realised was that public humiliation for humour or fame is somewhat universal. As MXC is an American production, it did not surprise me that it would be using the suffering of people as entertainment. However, as the footage used is from Japanese Game Show Takeshi’s Castle, it surprised me that Japan is delightfully unburdened by such nonsense. Living in a country with a fantastically deep cultural history, the Japanese know rubbish when they see it… and when they see it, they go crazy for it and are richly rewarded with a diet of television that’s inane to the point of insanity. For people so consumed with modesty and propriety, the lengths that contestants go to for a brief moment on television are somewhat out of character. Nonetheless, it’s not too hard to find individuals subjecting themselves to various physical humiliations and fools brave enough to take on the obstacle course at Takeshi’s Castle.
It’s really unfortunate that the production company had to ham up MXC, because it’s evident that the show would be monstrously entertaining with no commentary at all. Self-abuse is funny in any language, after all. Apparently, Takeshi’s Castle is show with straightforward translation on the UK-based Challenge TV network. But even with the clumsy dumbness MXC forces on its viewers, it’s nonetheless the most shamelessly entertaining show on television. Cutting right to our passion for human humiliation, we may finally be catching up to the Japanese after all.
However, Takeshi’s Castle were not the only ones using torture and humiliation for entertainment. Japan’s Susunu! Denpa Shōnen was a “torture”-themed reality series, which ran from 1998 to 2002. The show took things so far that the government actually stepped in and cancelled it. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, the program remains an iconic part of Japanese television history. A segment translated to “A Life Out of Prizes” was the best known of the show. Think of it as the naked, solitary confinement version of Big Brother. In it, Nasubi, an aspiring Japanese comedian (noted that he did audition and agree to this) was forced to live in a studio apartment, unclothed, with no supplies for a year and a half. He was provided with a radio, phone, sink, shower, toilet, gas burner, a small table and one cushion. He was also given a rack of magazines and a stack of stamped postcards so that he could enter commercial sweepstakes to get things that he needed. Like food. And toilet paper, which he didn’t win until about ten months in! Once he’d “won” ¥1 million (about $10,000) in prizes he’d be able to leave his imprisonment and they would edit together a segment about his experience and call it “Sweepstakes Life.” All he was offered, in exchange, was a chance at fame.
Nasubi in Susunu! Denpa Shōnen
But why do we enjoy reality shows? Up until now, scholarly opinion on the subject has been divided. Some maintain that the shows’ appeal constitutes an extension of fictional drama, and is thus driven by positive feelings like empathy and compassion. Others claim that reality TV viewers are driven by a voyeuristic desire to intrude on others and to see them in their most private and embarrassing moments. Michal Hershman Shitrit and Jonathan Cohen from University of Haifa in Israel recently tested these contrasting perspectives for a study in the Journal of Media Psychology. Overall, interest in participating in reality shows was not very high, but crucially, the more that participants said they enjoyed the shows, the more likely they were to say that they’d like to participate, or for a loved one to participate. Unsurprisingly, participants who scored highly in the self-disclosure measure also tended to be more interested in participating in reality shows. On the whole, approval for family members’ participation in reality shows was higher than the desire for self-participation.
Having not been exposed to much Japanese or International reality television for that matter, I did not expect there to be nearly as many shows to be based on individual humiliation. However, I have found this experience thoroughly entertaining and will be subscribing to a few more Japanese Game Show’s online…
*All references have been hyperlinked*