Saturday, July 26, 2008

oh horrible

Have you seen / are you watching I Survived A Japanese Game Show? The concept is typical reality-show brilliance: a combination of a fish-out-of-water experience and clumsy Machiavellian idiocy. Some ten yokels who've never been out of the country (southern yokel, urban yokel, frat-boy yokel, New Yorker yokel, wall flower yokel, etc. etc.) are taken to Japan where they are routinely humiliated on a Double Dare-type program. The winning team is given a high-class tour of Japan, and the losing team is made to do some kind of traditional low-class work for a day -- a typical show has winners visiting a Shinto temple, or going to a traditional spa for instance, while the losers have to plant rice or shell clams.

Then the losing team has to vote two members to compete in an elimination round, so that one person goes home each episode. And eventually the "winner" (no one wins, really) will get $250,000. That seems a little light considering the humiliation(s) you have to go through, and given that a few years ago you could win a clean million just by putting up with Regis Philbin and answering a few questions.

The bad part: The show encourages us to revel in the schadenfreude, sense of superiority, and even a kind of xenophobic spectacle, as we see "how weird those Japanese are." It's typically insulting to everyone, even the viewers, assuming they need to be reminded after every commercial break what's happening. And it's truly awful watching loud, obnoxious Americans fulfill every Japanese game-show audience's expectations of Americans as loud, and obnoxious, and a little stupid. But that's one of the reasons it's so fascinating.

As an occasional tourist, I'm always at pains to not be such a fish out of water. I want to fit in, to be respectful, to learn about and experience different things. And I tend to really enjoy new experiences. It's why I keep seeking them out. But these guys had no idea they were even leaving the country when they signed up for this game show. They are *only* really here to compete and win. And yet, everything in the show revolves around showing these guys Japanese culture. So my favorite parts are always the non-gameshow parts, where the winning and losing teams head out for their respective prizes/punishments.

It's fascinating to watch a herd of yokels "win" something like a tour of the Tsukiji fish market, and then try to define their experience as one of pleasure. These are people who have never had sushi before. Which you can get even in Alabama these days. So, they are in many ways the least adventurous human beings the show could have found, and their "prizes" are always adventures. You can see the rictus-like smiles frozen on their faces as they troop through the market, a little scared, a little uneasy, trying to remind themselves that they're getting the good day. And the losers -- who earlier that day, or the day before, were on a game show, where they wore giant diapers, or rolled around in oil and feathers, then tried to pop balloons with their asses -- revel, revel! in the "humiliation" of being a rickshaw driver, or making mochi (both of which sound like a lot of fun, actually).

And that's actually the fun of the show -- it's the real fish out of water. Not simply Americans in Japan, (and certainly not Americans on a "crazy" Japanese game show, which is mild Compared to the ways that Americans find to humiliate themselves) but people who would never think of setting foot outside their country, suddenly coming face to face with tourism, and recoiling.

1 comment:

Eddie said...

Chris - you gotta see a REAL Japanese game show called "Gaki No Tsukai Ya Arahende", or "Gaki No Tsukai" for short. Better yet, look up "Silent Library Subbed" on YouTube and start at part 1/7. I guarantee HUGE schadenfreude and lots of laughs.