Even with the growing prominence of internet, television still flaunts itself as one of the major modes of mass media. Just a click on the remote control and voila! A stream of information flows out. But what makes the audience frown is whether or not that "nformation" is really informative. Comments criticizing vulgarity and offensiveness in TV programs have become something of a familiar topic; becoming an issue every once in a while, like naked sushi in a reality show named Millionaire's Shopping Bag, which was strongly censured for its sensuality and crude, offensive remarks. "The topic of the show was totally unsuitable to be aired on TV. The show made it look as if a woman's body is a commercial item," a netizen said on viewer's corner of the show's internet site. One of the main culprits of such criticism is reality shows, now easily seen infesting a big part of TV prime time. It is frowned upon for vulgarity and aggressiveness in language. Why are reality programs going vulgar and remaining popular?
|▲ Jun Jin of Jun Jin's High Scholers 4, which made audience frown with violent language and manners. Jo Jeong-rin from Azilhan Sogaeting, mainly accused of its lookism and itemization of competitors
Change in Reality Shows and Problems
Janet Wasko, a professor and Knight Chair of Communication Research in University of Oregon, focuses on television as a part of cultural phenomenon in her book A Companion to Television. A TV program is a reflection of society and is inevitably influenced by politics, economy and culture. Korean society had been strongly guided by orthodox beliefs and customs, but with so-called "Wsternization" of our culture, the programs came to be under fewer restrictions, and people have become more accepting of its contents. "When two cultures meet, there is bound to be a collision and friction between the two and what one side sees as 'negative' affects will seep in," said An Hyun-woo, publisher of online TV critic site Mediaus. This trend of what can be seen as more openness seems to encourage bolder contents in reality shows. "Many foreign shows go against traditional Korean views, but their influence cannot be denied. For example, the reality show Dokgoyoungjae's Site Report Scandal is similar to America's Cheaters, which digs out affairs of spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend. The show received strong condemnation for its vulgar scenes which were considered way too lascivious and aggressive," said Kwak Jae-sung of Cable Broadcast Review Team at Korea Communications Standard Commission. Also, economic growth has given people more leisure and view TV as a mode of relaxation, lacking seriousness and becoming more tolerant.
Reality shows or reality televisions have existed even in the early times of television. This genre of program, like We got married broadcasted by MBC, has since gained popularity among the viewers and developed to present more extreme and humorous situations. "When one compares two different kinds of programs having the same theme, the reality show has the advantage that without a script and unintended drama, the viewers can feel more reality in the show and sympathize deeper," said Kwak. The present reality show often goes centered on a celebrity but initially it was more ordinary people with unscripted situations that make people feel it is more real and familiar compared to soap operas or movies. Those changes to draw in the audience are fine, but what come under the criticism are actions, contents and language in them that are thought unsuitable to be viewed by all age groups.
The reality show, Pursuit, X-boyfriend, that finds ex-boyfriend of the show invitee and lets the two meet, is criticized for invading privacy in the course of searching for the ex and showing the person in such light the audience might misunderstand. Yoon Hae-ran, of Media World, Open Minded, a media critic association, said that this kind of program lowers moralistic consciousness about privacy and individual rights in people. Another program that received sharp remarks was Azilhan Sogaeting, a blind date with tough competition to win over the day? prince or the princess. The show was mainly accused of its lookism and not editing the speeches which were deemed insulting. "In the show, the men and women were almost evaluated and chose from, lacking respect," said Kwak.
Producers and Audiences
It may be the producers who introduced the concept of reality shows in Korea but it is the audiences who accepted it and watered it to growth. Holding only one side responsible about the increasing violence and sensuality in reality shows would be almost as meaningless as debating "Which one came first, the chicken or the egg?" People, regardless of the initial meaning and object of reality shows, are accepting it as a kind of "Entertainment" by peeking at others?lives through TV. Have you never found yourself laughing at one of those meaningless jokes or taunts in reality shows? When one of the actors faces trouble or gets tricked, it only seems to trigger a laugh, almost bringing out our sadistic side. The reality show nowadays looks as if its very identity is chaotic. And again, it is the audience who welcomed such side of shows and gave high audience rating. Weekly rate survey carried out by TNS Media Korea from July 28 to August 3, 2008 revealed that top six rated shows were occupied by soap operas and in the next four places were reality shows.
Then again, turning the needle to the producers, their blind race for the success of the show is criticized. "Reality shows broadcasted by cable TV channels especially come under heavy criticism for its contents. In case of cable channel producers, earning attention on the show itself leads to advertisement of the channel, and thus benefits the producer in a double way," said An.
Reality Shows: Which Way to Go?
German TV programs in 2001 were flowing towards a constant increase in entertainment programs. Between 8 pm and 11pm, prime time for German TV, the entertainment programs occupied up to 60 percent. Even with such popularity, RTL, a private broadcasting company, aired infotainment (compound word of "Information" and "Entertainment") programs not only in free afternoon times but also during prime time. This strategy acquired unexpected success, and recorded high audience rate (ALM-programming research report, 2001). Such an example would be a good guideline for broadcasting companies and producers to follow. They need to recognize that high audience rate of reality shows does not reflect that viewers are after low, meaningless programs. The producers set age limits but with parents so busy, it is not always possible to check what their children are watching.
The programs cannot be expected to eliminate all the not-so-mild scenes and speeches, but producers need to take into consideration that even a child might watch it and thus add a respectable amount of moderation.
Correction by Both Sides
Reality shows play a great role in presenting viewers with laughter and enticing them to forget all their stress, even if it is just for a moment. And in serving the viewers with entertaining contents in this light, producers should take care the show does not cause offence among the audience and on the other hand, the audience too, needs to discard their indifference towards the content of the show.
"Maybe the reality show and the theme of the show are not at fault, but the way the show is presented is what comes under the debate," said An. The concept of reality shows is not at fault itself. It is all of us making the show, us on the stage. It needs effort for both producers and the audiences to bring it to successful climax to receive a standing ovation.