Unreal expectations created by reality TV

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Unreal expectations created by reality TV

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The reality show “Couples” on SBS is becoming increasingly popular. It airs at 11 p.m. on a weekday but has consistently earned an audience share of around 10 percent. The show follows 12 men and women - generally seven men and five women - who meet at a remote location called Love Village and spend seven days and six nights together. The participants, who are referred to only as Woman No. 1 or Man No. 2, exchange minimal background information on age, education and career without revealing their true identities. They go on dates and then choose a partner. As with other romance reality shows, “Couples” thrives on the voyeurism and empathy of viewers.

In essence, the show mocks the marriage market. The men and women are generally in their late 20s to early 30s, which is the typical age for marriage in Korea. According to the Korean Statistical Information Service, the number of unmarried women between the ages of 27 and 33 is 1.32 million and the number of unmarried men from the ages of 30 to 36 is 1.17 million. Nevertheless, there are more men on the show than women and the men come from more privileged backgrounds. And because they are older, the men are more eager to make a match. Because the show is driven by competition, it is often compared to documentaries on animals, although it might be closer to a closed-circuit television recording of a zoo. Unlike a zoo, however, the participants are aware that they are being watched. The camera exaggerates the conscious and unconscious facial expressions, gestures and language of participants in any given situation. As French philosopher Olivier Razac pointed out in his book, “The Screen and the Zoo,” reality television is attractive because it is a spectacular display of the banality of everyday life and the unknown.

The problem is that show is always edited and does not entirely reflect reality, giving viewers unrealistic expectations for love and marriage. A female participant recently caused controversy when it was discovered that her “good girl” image was just a cover for her less-than-flawless private life. The producers downplayed the incident by saying that it is impossible to investigate everything in participants’ pasts.

In the actual marriage market, exaggeration and fabrication often cause problems, but the show emphasizes passion and romance. And that’s not realistic in a society that exults background and qualifications.

*The writer is a culture and sports writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.


By Kang Hye-ran
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