Thanks to the trailblazing efforts of programmes such as MBC’s I Live Alone and SBS’s My Ugly Duckling, reality shows that depict the everyday lives of celebrities have become an inseparable part of today’s TV entertainment landscape.
They have notched the top viewership ratings and become a part of the pop culture conversation, with channels making subsequent spin-offs of hit programmes such as Grandpas Over Flowers and online show Wassup Man, nabbing millions of viewers each week on YouTube.
As comical as reality TV can be, it also has harmful detractors – those who feel these reality programmes are “unrealistic” – closely planned or scripted, in other words.
One particular example is Kim Gun-mo in My Ugly Duckling. Dubbed an “event guy”, the 50-year-old singer never stops exploring new events and activities. To name a few, he has tried making a soju fountain, soju cake, gigantic bbopgi (traditional Korean sugar candy made of caramelised sugar and a pinch of baking soda) and taking a drone certification exam.
In another show, Daughter-in-law in Wonderland, which depicts the daily lives of daughter-in-laws and how they handle domestic chores, comedian Kim Jae-wook called it quits recently, saying the production team turned his family vicious and the way they had been edited made their relationships awkward.
Before he issued his statement, netizens heavily criticised Kim’s parents for their disrespectful behaviour towards their daughter-in-law. Footage showed them demanding their daughter-in-law should deliver her baby naturally, not by C-section, saying otherwise the baby could have a lower IQ. This scene provoked outrage among viewers. Meanwhile, the comedian was also mocked for his incompetence to mediate marital disputes.
After Kim announced he would leave the show, he made it clear his family had already decided to deliver the baby via C-section for the sake of his wife’s health, even before airing the show. Thus the footage was overproduced and scripted, he said.
Furthermore, comical portrayals of sexual violence in JTBC’s web reality show Wassup Man drew public ire recently. In the show, Joon Park, a member of K-pop group g.o.d, visits trendy neighbourhoods and tries out restaurants, cafes and activities. Subscribers to Wassup Man say Park’s friendly attitude and the producer’s editing make his videos fun to watch.
The channel had a small number of subscribers when it first started, but the number has skyrocketed as Park’s clips went viral on social media. On July 4, Park uploaded a video announcing his channel had 100,000 subscribers. Less than two months later, that figure surpassed 900,000.
An episode that aired on August 10 showed Park going to Yangyang, Gangwon Province, a popular surf spot in South Korea. There he asks a random woman the purpose of her visit. She gives him an answer, but the video editors intentionally cut her words short, making it seem like she came to seduce men.
The woman called the producers out for malicious editing afterwards. The producers apologised, clarifying to subscribers that the woman’s response at that time “had no inappropriate content”, but since the show had already been released, the damage was already done.
Critics say that although more people seek aspects of documentary and reality from television shows, incorporating fun elements is the prime concern of the producers.
“They want a show people might watch, so making it fun and friendly is of the greatest importance. Adding real and speculative elements is supplementary,” culture critic Park Ji-jong says. “Of course there are some ethical concerns over problematic editing that need changing, but people often play down such issues to get a few laughs.”
This article was originally written by Kwak Yeon-soo for The Korea Times.