The Japanese Entertainment: the Viewer/Entertainer Relationship

From an outside point of view, Japanese entertainment may seem rather harsh, demeaning, and very odd. Pointing out the obvious, it’s because our sense of what is “entertainment” is very different. However the difference stems from how entertainment is viewed by the “tv personality” vs. “viewers” interaction. This relationship shapes how the programs are designed and how the entertainers present themselves.

For clarification, this one is about TV actors or stars, meaning those whose job it is to play other people or host shows. This analysis does not include reality TV stars or the current trend of getting everyday people on the street into shows.

For base comparison, I’ll start with Western TV, specifically American TV. Now the relationship between the TV stars and the viewer is a form of superiority to the viewer. The original mindset was that those of TV had a talent or special reason compared to those viewing. So they were meant to be admired, respected. And return, those on TV responded by trying to admirable or respectable or more like had the image of being that way forced on to them. Any deture from this image would cause issues, as known for the common example of innocent teen pop stars developing into more sexier adults. Also let it be noted that you’ll rarely see TV stars outside their show unless its to promote and rarely ever at that. Other than that, they’ll be in the gossip magazines about their horrible outfit.

However in Japanese entertainment, the entertainer will purpose show their embarrasing/silly/whimsical side to make the viewer relate more and feel more connected to the entertainer. This “gap” (or gyappu) from often their serious acting counter parts or roles they play is one that is one that makes the entertainer seem more like the viewer, prompting viewer sympathy or support. Often in American TV, the star will try to keep a perfect image, avoid anything too embarrasing or too personal. They’ll keep a feeling of distance from the everyday person. In Japanese entertainment however, they will laugh at themselves, pointing out their flaws and weaknesses. This is done for several reasons;

A Japanese show

1) Fans want to know everything about them and “telling” them is one way to make them seem personable and friendly. This is also a popularity trick often used. Give the fans what they want, show off the sweet-girl next door or the kind popular guy in class image. Japanese entertainment, like Hollywood entertainment, is more often about liking the entertainer then liking the shows/dramas they’re in. So often popular acts may not be more talented than the next but create a large fan base because of who they are and how they act. In so the relationship between the viewers and entertainers is one of mutual benefit. Get more fans, get more roles, get more tv time, get more famous. One big publicity stunt.

2) This comes from the cultural value of humility. Often when someone compliments them, they’ll do a small embarrassed act and deny it. The main difference between Japanese entertainment and the western entertainment is humbleness. Not to say that Hollywood doesn’t have it’s humble actors, but the point being made is that the whole system of entertainment is set up on the intent knowing the entertainer has to be very humble to the point of embarrasing themselves.

3) The last reason is the most practical. Entertainers do humiliating/embarrassing things on TV because it gets people to watch, simple enough. Have the entertainer just talk, you’ll only get strong fans or a random channel flipper. Get them to stand in a cage with bugs or lose a challenge to go through a “batsu” (Punishment) game? You’ll get people to watch to laugh. Laughter is an important thing to Japanese entertainment or any entertainment. The more funny it is, using entertainers, then more viewers you’ll get.

So the next time you see a Japanese show clip and an entertainer is getting pied in the face or doing a silly comic dance. Know this; it’s a very good publicity act. Enjoy it, appreciate, be glade you don’t have to do it.

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