It’s a Reality TV World, After All

Travel Blog  •  Julia Ross  •  05.26.09 | 12:49 PM ET

Photo by Aaron Escobar via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Is reality television a viable conduit for cross-cultural understanding? It’s an interesting question now that the world has gone reality TV-mad.  Global versions of “Big Brother” have sparked discussions on everything from racism to AIDS, and wacky game shows continue to fascinate foreigners trying to understand Japan.

Now, the medium provides a peek into Indonesia as well. According to the New York Times, the nation’s reality shows recently surpassed soap operas in popularity, with hits that include “Sobbing,” focused on reuniting long-lost loves and relatives, and “If I Were,” in which a wealthy Indonesian slums it for a while in the hinterlands. 

Though I don’t speak Indonesian, I’d be interested to watch a few episodes of “If I Were” to get a sense of the social undercurrents at play.  It’s a tactic that served me well in Taiwan, where I’d regularly catch a dating show geared to the island’s indigenous communities. The format was designed to boost self-esteem among aboriginal youth as much as anything else, and gave me a better understanding of how minority cultures are being mainstreamed in Taiwan.

And then there’s fashion. I was surprised to discover that Project Runway has aired (or is currently casting) international versions in the United Kingdom, Canada, Norway, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Australia, the Philippines, Belgium, Israel, Finland and Korea.

Project Runway is the only reality TV show I watch at home, so I’d love to see how designers in different countries find their inner muse.  Are Norwegians more “one-note” than the Dutch? Do Filipinos have a strong sartorial point of view?

Project Runway Korea, which aired its first season this winter, includes a design professor named Kan Ho-sup (looking hip here) to fill the role of mentor Tim Gunn.  I have a hard time believing anyone could be as great as Gunn, but maybe Kan’s got a fan club just as loyal.

You can check out a preview here.  What, I wonder, is Korean for “Make It Work”?

Julia Ross is a Washington, DC-based writer and frequent contributor to World Hum. She has lived in China and Taiwan, where she was a Fulbright scholar and Mandarin student. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Time, Christian Science Monitor, Plenty and other publications. Her essay, Six Degrees of Vietnam, was shortlisted for "The Best American Travel Writing 2009."

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