Members: Sonny Nguyen and Kayla Forsyth
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*
For my autoethnographic research project I have decided to focus on the obstacle course reality tv show titled Most Extreme Elimination Challenge (MXC to its fans). However, MXC’s main footage is taken from the Japanese reality show Takeshi’s Castle, which was a runaway hit from 1985 to 1990 on Tokyo’s NHK network. Surprisingly I was able to stream the full 20 minute MXC episodes on YouTube. I had previously seen brief segments of this show on free-to-air television, it was an amusingly dubbed English narration where players were eliminated until an “army” of 100 survivors remained.
I began by viewing Season 1 Episode 1 titled ‘Meat Handlers vs. Cartoon Voice Actors.’ The first thing you notice is the hilariously English dubbed voiceovers when introduced to the two hosts, Kenny Blakenship and Vic Romano. Their sub-par banter is barely tolerable dominated by bad puns and sheer silliness that often veer into the crass and sexual. I was then introduced to the shows Field Reporter, Guy Le Douche (the name really says it all), whose role was to interview contestants either before or after their attempt of the course, usually with the same sexual undertones as the main hosts. The final member of the team is the Field Marshal, Captain Tenneal, dressed in a tacky parody of a military uniform, his role is to “encourage” (and I say this very loosely) the slow contestants to enter or complete the course. I couldn’t help but think of the similar reality show Wipeout aired in Australia, America, and the UK.
In this episode, the competitors were faced with four courses to complete. The first being Sinkers and Floaters where contestants would have to run across a series of rocks, some being solid and others being “sinkers”. As each competitor attempted the course, there was live commentary produced by Kenny and Vic as well as cuts to Guy interviewing contestants. This same format was used for the other three courses: Log Drop (large spinning barrels), Wall Buggers (a velcro wall that contestants must swing and stick too whilst dressed as a butterfly), and Boulder Dash (an uphill course with the aim of avoiding large stones that roll down). Producers use what they call “Impact Replay” to show, over and over, a contestants hitting the mud face-first or plummeting into a pond. Summarised by the final segment of the show Most Painful Elimination of the Day where they countdown from ten the contestants that injured themselves the most.
After about the twelfth or so MXC contestant’s grimace of pain, I began to wonder the enticement that would lead anyone to submit to such physical debasement and injury? According to MXC’s American publicist, the prizes are decidedly banal offerings like oven mitts and trays of food. So I am left, then, with the same uncomfortable impression created by seasons spent watching average citizens debase themselves on American and Australian reality TV shows: Humiliation on national television is itself the big prize. Perhaps Warhol’s prediction was only slightly off, and what contemporary American’s and Australian’s really demand is their 15 minutes of shame.
What I found interesting about the episode, focusing more on the original Takeshi’s Castle footage, was how the intense shame that, in Japanese culture, is though to result from failure is not only externalised and ritualised into a game, but perhaps relieved. The show’s imported mayhem and subsequent emotional release seem particularly well-suited to our own era of high anxiety.
By the end of the episode, I started to appreciate the entertainment value of the sitcom. I found myself laughing at awful one liners like “Nothing more painful than trying to pass a stone that big” during the Boulder Dash course. MXC’s humour often relies on frontal assaults to the groin and sexual double entendres. Although, sometimes I felt as though the commentary was pushing the boundaries at moments. I enjoyed experiencing this infusion of Japanese and Americanised culture and would like to analyse this more in my next blog post.
‘Meat Handlers vs. Cartoon Voice Actors’ MXC S1E01
The Original Takeshi’s Castle EP1
Throughout the three years that I have studied at UOW, we have been taught a range of research and writing techniques, yet I had never been introduced to Autoethnography. The idea of implementing your own emotions and cultural background in your research seemed to go against every informative text that I had written. However, the more I thought about this type of writing, I realised that I had been using this method for writing my blogs since first year. I had been using my personal experiences in order to gain an in-depth understanding of cultural experience.
Autoenthnography is defined by Ellis et al (2011) as “an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyse (graphy) personal experience (auto) in order to understand cultural experience (ethno).” So pretty much, it is the study of a culture through the individual’s on experiences when immersed in that culture.
Reading through many of the blog posts on Autoethnography, people have been writing about how they have experiences ethnography. Sonny’s post described how his travels to Japan and parts of South-East Asia allowed him to use an autoethnographic approach without even knowing. He states how he immersed himself in all aspects of their cultures, thus developing his understanding of the characteristics of that culture. Unfortunately, I have not yet travelled overseas therefore I have not experienced this culturally immersive experience that many have. With this thought in mind, I wondered how I would be able to experience autoethnography without being physically amongst a culture – a challenge that I will explore through my analysis of K-pop in following weeks.
Moreover, autoethnography isn’t just about writing and publishing a diary or recount of your cultural experiences. “It is about making your story more valid as a researcher. You have a set of theoretical and methodological tools and a research literature to use” (Ellis et al, 2011). The beauty of autoethnographies is that they seek to produce aesthetic and evocative descriptions of personal and interpersonal experience. Thus, by being able to produce an engaging experience, it allows for a wider reach and more diverse mass audiences than that of traditional research.
The reading Autoethnography: An Overview has assisted in developing my understanding of what autoethnography is and piqued my curiosity. I look forward to extending and challenging myself with this form of research when analysing Asian culture, particularly the Pop Asia and K-pop scene.
The iconic Japanese monster’s debut was different than what I expected based on the numerous, and inferior, subsequent portrayals. I thought I was going to experience non-stop radioactive sea creature carnage for 96 minutes. Don’t get me wrong, if you’re looking for a man in a lizard suit taking chunks out of Tokyo there’s plenty of that too. However, my preconceived ideas of what Gojira was about was heavily influenced by the numerous references in popular culture. Due to the nature of American entertainment often parodying other works of fiction, it has become rather rare for Godzilla to not be referenced in an animated/live-action movie/TV shows. Godzilla is everywhere. If he’s not on your computer screens (Mozilla Firefox) he’s on your TV screens (reality show Bridezillas).
Growing up as a Portuguese-Australian in Western society, these references to Godzilla were often used in a comedic sense. Due to this, when I first realised we were watching Gojira (1954) I had to laugh. As I viewed the film it was obvious that Godzilla was a man in a suit, there’s no ignoring that, and in addition to the dated visuals the acting was not the best. However, what I had never realised was that to its first viewers in 1954, Gorjia would have evoked a disturbingly recent catastrophe. With the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Lucky Dragon 5 incident still fresh in the Japanese consciousness, Gojira was conceived as a metaphor for nuclear weapons. However, I unusually found myself sympathetic to the character despite its wrathful nature. Towards the end of the film I viewed the Gojira’s behaviour as an act of self-preservation and sends a message about where science and technology can go wrong. This context for me makes Gojira a powerful and emotive film. It’s disappointing that these messages are lost through comedic popular culture references.
This tweet I composed during the viewing of Gojira really encapsulates my initial reaction to the film: focusing primarily on the comedic value due to my influences from popular culture.
The film presents the idea that we are facing a mirror, we are looking at the result of our ideas and actions. Only this time we get to see a giant radioactive lizard looking back at us. Gojira delivers in such a way that while I may not be dying to see all five hundred spin offs and remakes maybe a couple more wouldn’t hurt.