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Who Really is the Biggest Loser? December 3, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Taria @ 9:23 pm

In class this week we talked a lot about reality television and how it has become a cross-cultural phenomenon. While we touched on it in class I do think that reality television has the potential to be a type of public diplomacy, but it also has the potential to be a detriment to new societies. From our own reality television we know that people who go on reality television shows are not the type of people we want to be. We watch these shows and these people for entertainment, but the majority of the shows are set to humiliate contestants and make us feel better about ourselves. The fact is that reality television can have such a negative connotation that we feel embarrassed to admit to others that we watch it and if we do admit it we call it a “guilty pleasure.” The fact that these people are representing a small subset of Americans who have some psychological need for attention and are usually at least a little bit unstable makes reality television exports a dangerous exchange if left in its original format. In class one of the groups showed a clip of Bulgarian men getting into a fight. While the clip amused us, we were clearly laughing at the two men, and this clip did nothing to enhance the view of Bulgaria to us (this does not mean that it was a complete detriment as I am sure that we all new that this was not a true projection of Bulgarian society). But this is why so many reality TV shows take a premise from a country but nothing else. The entire original culture must be wiped from the show in order to transpose a new and relatable one to audiences in new countries. However, if we would be embarrassed for someone from another country watching our version of a reality show and felt as though we had to defend it and ourselves, then the show is not only a detriment to our outside appearance but to our internal view of self as well. I am not saying that we should not watch reality TV, I know that I will still watch Bad Girls Club and enjoy it for its tacky superficiality, but its wise to realize that reality TV is not as harmless ad we might think.

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4 Responses to “Who Really is the Biggest Loser?”

  1. Renee Says:

    It’s interesting and a bit scary to think what role American television might play in public diplomacy. And while some reality shows might be localized, some dubbed versions are also successful. Take the case of Jersey Shore, for example. Maybe this show is popular as a spectacle, as the average American doesn’t even believe it to be representative of American culture.

    http://www.newsweek.com/2010/07/22/america-s-new-icons.html

    This Newsweek article discusses the international appeal of Jersey Shore in its original format. MTV aired it in 30 countries and it debuted at number one in Mexico and Columbia with 18-24 year-olds. In Italy, the show was most popular with the 25-40 demographic, who found it to be a humorous representation of their American “cousins.”

    The author wonders what kind of messages are being sent worldwide by shows like Jersey shore. He asks: “It’s one thing to have Snooki as a guilty pleasure, but how is she doing as an ambassador?”

    And there’s one quote I find particularly interesting: “The thing about exporting this stuff and showing it out of context,” says Syracuse University professor Robert Thompson, “is that there are a lot of people from other countries who—everything they know about the United States is what they’ve seen on TV. Just like the only thing I know about the mating habits of marsupials I learned on TV.”

    • laurawry Says:

      This is interesting to examine against Singhal and Rogers suggestions for the theoretical investigation of resistance in the message environment. Media discourses termed, “entertainment-degragation” and “entertainment-perversion” oppose positive health behavior message strategically embedded in alternative media. Much like “entertainment-perversion” behave in the context of health communication, public diplomacy messaging counters a plethora of resistance messaging. Perhaps American cultural messaging could be re-conceptualized in the same way that Singhal and Rogers ask us to reverse the question about how social messaging can be enhanced by entertainment in thinking about how the education function could enhance the entertainment function.

  2. Jessica F Says:

    I think it is important not to put all reality television in the same category. There are shows where we merely follow the lives of a bunch of losers and divas, but there are other shows were people seek to change themselves in some way or another. Your title references the Biggest Loser, a show that does just that, people get on the show for public support in their difficult weight loss journey, and to win money. While there might be a subset of people who watch the Biggest Loser to make fun of fat people repeatedly trying and failing, I doubt that that is the majority of the viewers.
    In general, when we watch reality shows like Big Brother in all of its many international formats we see some things that are distinctly cultural and also some things that are universal. The two Big Brother clips each showed two men fighting. Both were displays of masculinity. In both cases there was name calling. In both cases the men were boasting about their fighting skills. One of the different things that I noticed in the Bulgarian version, not just that they were actually physically fighting, but that one man called the other man (or his mother, I forget) a ‘gypsy’. Whether or not the man and his mother were Roma, the use in the video displays a form of cultural and ethnic friction that is often hidden in American television, though it goes on backstage without a doubt. So while we cannot take everything for face value, ‘it was just a fight’ if we look deeper and start to make sense of our universal traits we can actually learn about other cultures even in a somewhat mindless setting.

  3. Neal Postman’s book ‘Amusing ourselves to death’ is an interesting insight into this, even though he was writing well before reality TV. The issue is not just the damage to the way we are perceived by those watching ‘reality’ tv and thinking it IS real. The biggest damage is done to those who watch this junk – just as junk food dulls a proper appetite, junk TV dulls the ability to think straight and live life to the full.


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