Hard to escape trap of reality TV shows

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Hard to escape trap of reality TV shows


Television reality shows push contestants into certain situations and observe every minute of their realistic reactions. It has been a very popular format around the world since the 1990s. The reality TV shows display a variety of human activities, such as dating, auditioning and playing games. Reality TV can even be considered the zeitgeist of America. In Korea, the reality shows usually cast entertainers, but in the Western world, they mostly feature ordinary people. One of the biggest reasons broadcasters cast regular people in their shows is because they can pay them less.

Reality television has produced a new breed of celebrities. Without outstanding talents or strenuous efforts, these new celebrities enjoy popularity just by being exposed on television constantly. The families of the stars and the contestants on audition and survival shows suddenly become famous through their repeated appearances.

Unlike professional actors, singers and comedians, they attract the audience’s attention just because they are fresh and unadorned. These days, the level of privacy they reveal has been alarmingly enhanced. They dare to show their personal and secret aspects that used to be off-limits on television in the past. Therefore, these people easily become famous overnight. They can be called the media’s “new product,” and a new star is born.

“Couples,” SBS’s reality show on dating, has been canceled after a female contestant killed herself during the filming of the show. The program was very popular and received many applications from people who wanted to be on the show. The tragedy started a debate over the stress that the contestants experience and the ethics of the show’s production.

While similar precedents in other countries are learned, we have to reconsider the harsh show structure that put the contestants into overly competitive situations. However, we can hardly deny that reality television is driven by the very trend to enjoy media exposure, show off privacy on camera and become noticed and famous.

Joo Chang-yun, a professor at Seoul Women’s University, had linked the “mental hunger” of Korean society with the excessive popularity of the audition program “Superstar K.” The show received more than two million applications from aspiring singers, and he called the hype an “excess of narcissism” in an abnormal society. As a result, many people “crave for an idealistic self and experience a low-grade split personality between the idealistic self and the real self,” he says in his book, “Hungry Society.”

As the children’s song goes, “I would really like to be on television.” The children would draw a rectangle with their fingers as they sing this song. This rectangular box of television is the shortest way to fame for them. It is a shortcut to enjoy the almighty star power. Also, it leads to the “capital of fame,” one of the most powerful capitals in the world.

While the tragedy resulted in the cancellation of “Couples,” people won’t be able to overcome the temptation of reality television as they undoubtedly help ordinary people to “fulfill their desire for fame,” though on television.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 8, Page 31

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


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