In the Loop

In the Loop: June 24, 2008 Archive

Japanese game shows versus American egos

Posted at 12:18 PM on June 24, 2008 by Sanden Totten (2 Comments)

Japanese games shows are a unique beast of entertainment . . . somewhere between American Gladiator and Fear Factor, with a side order of Nickelodeon's Double Dare thrown in for color.

If you are having trouble imagining what that would be like, have no fear . . . Japanese game shows are coming to a TV near you. ABC will launch two new shows tonight, "I Survived a Japanese Game Show" and "Wipeout." The premise of a these shows is simple: embarrass the snot out of the contestants for the amusement of the crowd.

The challenges are almost always physical, often degrading and uniquely Japanese (from the NYT article):

In one event on "I Survived" a contestant serves as the claw while a blindfolded teammate operates a life-size arcade crane. In another, one contestant runs on a fast-moving treadmill while another tries to eat from a plate atop the runner's head.

Another challenge involves dressing the contestants up in diapers and bibs and spinning them around in cribs.

The interesting difference between the American and Japanese versions of these shows is that in Japan people compete for a sense of pride and honor. Americans do it for cash.

To me, this highlights one of the difficulties these shows will have. Japan is an extremely hierarchical society and self deprecation is hardwired into the culture. This makes contestant uniquely willing to play their embarrassment for the entertainment of others. For an extreme (and utterly gripping) example, check out the story of Nasubi - the Japanese comedian who was locked in a room, stripped of all his clothes and broadcast on TV for months as he attempted to complete a game show challenge . . . twice.

But therein lies the charm. Having lived in Japan and watched countless hours of TV there, I know there is something endearing about these character's willingness to take one for the team. People who are motivated by cash prizes seem less sympathetic somehow. Will Americans be able to suck it up and make a fool of themselves in an equally adorable way? I guess we'll have to see.

And now . . . Human Tetris:

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