Let’s say an enterprising Romanian television network wanted to make a “reality show” in the American mold. For authenticity’s sake, Executive Producer Bogoescu and his team travel to the United States, where they work with a few lower-level TV hands. Although they base the central concept on ideas gleaned from American TV, their production ultimately aims to exaggerate the “reality show” experience to the point of absurd parody, where half the appeal is poking fun at the “conventions” of American TV and the other half is “playing around” within someone else’s television morality. I mean, Romanian networks would never do such terrible things to their cast members. To reinforce the “otherness” of the material, every backdrop of the Romanian show would be made up of Stars-and-Stripes and a rousing Sousa march would provide the opening theme. The audience would have Uncle Sam stovepipe hats and fake guns to shoot in the air. With no real American celebrities willing to host such a two-bit fiasco, the production team would have to bring in a few Romanian-American ringers to act like “real American hosts.” The final product — American Reality Show: I Want to Learn to Torture Terror Suspects and Eat Big Steaks — would retain some elements of North American reality shows, but would be, honestly speaking, a completely Romanian creation.
This “hypothetical situation” is not some strange post-Borat fantasy: this completely explains what American TV network ABC did to make its new reality/game show I Survived a Japanese Game Show (or which the Japanese of the title cryptically explains as 「ム番組を生還したぞ」— mu?). ABC producers went all the way to Japan to make their own TV program, vaguely based on silly segments from Japanese variety shows. And after completely rewiring the original program formula to fit their own needs, the producers had the gall to blame the final product on the Japanese. “I survived a Japanese game show“? This is like placing the onus of Guantanamo Bay on the Cubans. American rented the space, borrowed the know-how, and made it all happen, but in the end, the Americans maintain: hey, we were just “following orders” to this crazy Japanese aesthetic.
The national propaganda effort fortunately backs up their premise. According to the New York Times, “The Japanese originals [on which the show is based] are known as batsu games, or punishment and humiliation games.” There is either fundamental confusion or willful truth-bending here: Japanese “game shows” tend to punish talento (celebrities or aspiring celebrities), and for the most part, extremely-unfunny comedians. While game shows in the past have sadistically meted out punishment to normal contestants, this has become relatively rare in recent days. Yes, even the Japanese race thinks it’s kind of sad and depressing to see everyday people humiliated on television. Now in the case of the fame-lusting, money-grubbing reality show contestants on I Survived a Japanese Game Show, such punishment would be justified, but the premise of the ABC show is that “Japanese game shows punish contestants in terrible ways.”
But does Japan even have “game shows” in the Price is Right or Jeopardy vein? Comparing “polite American behavior towards guests” on prize-focused game shows and then “terrible Japanese treatment of C-list stars” on variety shows isn’t exactly fair. Like, Did you know that Japanese people wear all black to weddings? Weddings, funerals — same thing, right?
There may be a silver lining of “cultural exchange” — the idea that Japanese TV is making inroads within the United States. Although Japan has many superior products and life concepts for export, TV is not one of them. The recent U.S. interest in Japanese TV can only be explained in context of North American’s unrivaled entertainment cornucopia. These crazy shows fit in the never-ending quest for more diversity. But is the concept of “doling out retribution for unsuccessful completion of ridiculous task” going to completely replace Lost or The Wire? American TV is definitely “Japanizing” to a certain degree but I am not sure that’s a particularly progressive direction. Of course, when prompted, American network execs can just blame their lowering of standards on the Japanese.
1) That “oriental melody” at the beginning of the song is Chinese. Or at least, every Japanese person understands it as Chinese.
2) “Turning Japanese” is essentially a racist euphemism for masturbation. Stop using this song as a way to signal “Japan.” This is like using Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop” as a theme song for Tootsie Roll Pops, but way more offensive.