There’s something strange happening in the land of television. It’s a phenomenon that has been prevalent overseas for a while, and has slowly and covertly crept its way into American programming. But the winds are picking up and a storm is a’brewing. It’s the wind of TV voyeurism and a storm of live online streaming, and together they just make me pretty ill at ease.
When I say “TV voyeurism,” I don’t mean any of the typical reality TV shows. There’s nothing wrong with watching ordinary people doing extraordinary or unusual things. To me, it isn’t creepy watching people compete for love, money or fame by enduring bizarre challenges because these aren’t experiences we’re likely to have ourselves. I know the closest I’ll get to outwitting, outplaying and outlasting castaways on a deserted island is on TV, and so I’m perfectly content to tune in to “Survivor” for that experience.
What is a tad unsettling are shows like “Real World” and “Jersey Shore.” The casts of these shows don’t do anything other than live their lives, but with all of America watching. Don’t get me wrong, I’m among those millions of viewers, but part of me always wonders why, exactly, I tune in. Why am I watching people do what I could be doing if I weren’t glued to the TV? TV in this vein makes me a little uneasy; the advent of live online streaming and Hulu’s latest project “If I Can Dream” make me outright uncomfortable.
Here’s the premise: Five 20-somethings with aspirations of fame move into a house in Hollywood with half-hour episodes airing on Hulu each week. And here’s the innovation: The “Dream House” (cute, right?) is equipped with 56 cameras that stream live footage online 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Anytime you want, you can log on and see what Amanda, Ben, Giglianne, Justin and Kara are up to. They may be lounging by the pool, cooking in the kitchen or even (as Ben is doing as I write this) sleeping. And let’s be honest — this is hella-creepy!
These kids aren’t doing anything other than attending the occasional acting lesson and yet, people want to watch them do their laundry, make meals and other completely ordinary things they could be doing themselves. The gimmick of wannabe stars isn’t enough to save the show from its disturbing atmosphere. If you really want to observe some aspiring artists, hop on a bus to North Campus and befriend some Music, Theatre & Dance students.
What’s even stranger to me is that television abroad has been doing this for years.
One of the most extreme cases of TV voyeurism took place on one of Japan’s many insane game shows. A Japanese comedian Nasubi was stripped naked and locked in an apartment with absolutely nothing but large stacks of magazines, envelopes and stamps. He would be released after winning ¥1 million (about $10,000) from mail-in sweepstakes. If he wanted clothes, he had to win them; if he wanted food that wasn’t rice, he had to win it. He was unaware that the footage from the cameras was being streamed live online and that a team of editors were always on call to keep a cartoon eggplant over his man-bits.
And crazy enough, it was a hit sensation. People all over Japan logged on to watch Nasubi. It was so successful that once he reached his goal, the producers took him to South Korea, threw him into another room and made him win enough money to make it back home. It sounds incredibly cruel, but people loved it. The diaries he kept from his 15-month journey became best-sellers. He became a national celebrity and had no idea. And most of the time, he did nothing but fill out sweepstakes forms. Still, the gimmick was pretty insane: At least he was doing something extraordinary instead of just going to class.
Maybe I’m just behind the times or resistant to change and should just get used to the way things are going to be. After all, foreign versions of “Big Brother” have live feeds into the house. The United Kingdom and German versions even broadcast sex between the housemates on national TV, so pretty much everything goes in Europe. Maybe this phenomenon is an inevitable result of cultural differences and the ongoing cultural globalization. We took “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” and “The Office” from the United Kingdom, so it was only a matter of time before one of the online streaming shows fell into the mix. Maybe in 10 years we’ll all be carefree and uninhibited like the Europeans.
Is it really creepy to be a voyeur if you’re watching an exhibitionist? At least on “If I Can Dream,” everyone is aware they’re being watched online at all times unlike poor Nasubi. It’s not something I understand — you certainly won’t find live footage online of me anytime soon, nor will I be signing on to watch others. But who am I to deny you the pleasure of watching people in their everyday lives? I’d rather you watch the cast of “If I Can Dream” as they sleep than stand outside my window at night.