Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about the not-so-subtle sexism behind a lot of media-related work, especially with regard to teenage girls. In the column I discussed a new NHK show, Muchimuchi, which may or may not turn into a series (so far, they’ve only shown one episode, and that was on Aug. 20) but which has attracted a fair amount of criticism for its suggestions of sex and the stereotype of high school girls as being frivolous and ignorant. However, within those complaints in a deeper distrust of TV production techniques, the kind that manipulate reality in order to create a semblance of spontaneity. Among the Tweets that writer Chika Igaya cited in her Huffington Post article about the show was one that mentioned the “whole staged feeling” of the presentation, that the entire setup of the show was suspiciously artificial, which made the viewer also question the truthfulness of the girls’ reactions and responses.
This Tweet illustrates a significant aspect of media literacy, the ability of the receiver of information to sense how that information has been filtered by the medium itself. Japanese TV, and NHK in particular, has perfected this ability to the point where people know that what they’re watching is fake but have somehow been conditioned to accept it as part of the presentation and adjust their comprehension accordingly. The example that comes to mind immediately is NHK’s travel show, Buratamori, in which veteran TV talent Tamori goes to a neighborhood in Tokyo or some other city and explores the history of that place using old maps and existing landmarks. During the show, Tamori and a female announcer walk around the area and inevitably bump into some local expert, who then answers their specific questions. This narrative device is borrowed from Tamori’s other show, the very long-running Tamori Club on TV Asahi, where Tamori always just happens upon a group of comedians on the street who help him address that week’s funny theme. No one, of course, thinks these meetings are spontaneous. If anything, Tamori plays them for laughs, but it says something about the way TV producers’ minds work that everyone copies it, and it follows that they probably have no problem faking or manipulating other things, like the girls’ responses on Muchimuchi, which means that the sexism on display is intentional. I’m not saying that high school girls are all erudite and sexually self-possessed, only that their complexities are necessarily flattened by the prejudices of producers. And as anyone who watches NHK knows, the people there hate surprises.