How To Empathize Without Seeing Each Other
How To Empathize Without Seeing Each Other
  • Kwon Jung Eunseo
  • 승인 2021.03.01 09:58
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The alarm went off, and someone crawled out from the bed. Waking up with chaotic hair, she stretches on the bed to wake up fully. After a shower, she takes a seat on the sofa and turns on the TV. She feeds her pets and then has breakfast, leftovers from the night before. Her routine does not differ from ordinary people. The panel who watches her actions says, ''We are the same! When I'm at home and resting, I do the same thing as you.'' This is a simulation of TV shows that feature entertainers carrying out their daily routines. Why are people interested in observing the daily lives of celebrities? What has brought about the popularity of observational entertainment shows?



Fascination with simplicity and specialty

Observational entertainment is attracting the attention of many viewers. It is an entertainment program that has minimal intervention from a production team and allows others to view the activities of people on the program through cameras that are set up in places around the person. Namely, the programs document persons' lives, and it is considered popular entertainment. Unlike typical entertainment shows, most of the programs are not centered on a specified theme that matches a planned situation or designed by the production team. Instead, the filming crew only informs the cast about the subject of the show and films. Some of these shows feature celebrity families, and others center on ordinary people without any famous personalities. Also, because the shows draw laughter from audiences from activities common in life, anyone can relate to them. The main difference with this entertainment show is the absence of a host. MBC has been focusing on these entertainment programs ever since the boom in observational entertainment. The program <I Live Alone> captures the daily lives of celebrities living alone through hidden cameras in the living quarters. It highlights life among the growing number of single-person households, and it won entertainment program of the year at the <2019 MBC Entertainment Awards>. In addition, the longevity program, <Dad! Where are you going?>, which first aired in 2013 and ended in 2015 with two spinoffs, is often considered the show that changed the nature of the entertainment industry. As this show illustrates, observational entertainment shows have become more popular since the airing of the MBC program in 2013.

PHOTO FROM The Segye Times


Although Observational entertainment started some time ago, many observational entertainment programs are still popular even now. According to DIGITAL CHOSUN, in a survey of 337 office workers conducted by the job portal CAREER, 35% said they ''very prefer'' and 58% said they ''prefer'' observation entertainment.1) In other words, 315 of respondents (93.5%) prefer observational entertainment. Choi Soobin, a student who often watches observation entertainment programs said, ''Entertainment shows in which the filming crew intervenes or there are predetermined situations are no longer attractive because the content is not funny even if the cast includes famous persons. Many people prefer observational entertainment now because it is easier for audiences to connect with the cast of the show in a friendly way.'' Choi shows the limitations with typical entertainment shows and the preference for observational entertainment nowadays. Broadcast companies are also currently airing more and more observational entertainment programs, and the types are becoming diverse from daily life, to childcare, to travel, and so forth. There are also programs that show daily life from more varied households like single-person households and married couple homes. Examples of daily observational entertainment shows include <On and Off>of tvN, and <Housekeeping men season2> of KBS2. <Superman is back> of KBS2 looks at parenting and has been airing since 2013. At the moment, observational entertainment based on travel is rare due to the spread of COVID-19, but before the pandemic, there were various shows. The increase in show numbers highlights the popularity of them among both viewers and broadcasters.


Utilizing the universal characteristics of people

There are two reasons why observational entertainment has become popular. First, it evokes empathy among audiences. Viewers feel empathy and become more interested in celebrities who are no longer distant from them. According to the job portal CAREER, 215 of the respondents (63.7%) chose ''Watching others' daily lives forms a natural consensus'' for watching observational entertainment.2) That is, daily life observational entertainment connects viewers with cast members. discussing love observational entertainment program <Heart signal> of CHANNEL A, one anonymous viewer said, ''I got immersed in the situation of the cast members, so I started to think about love again.'' Another anonymous viewer said, ''Romance dramas feature fictional characters, but these programs show the true emotions of the general public. I am able to see myself in the actions of the cast.''3) Namely, audiences are able to recall similar circumstances in their own lives and more closely sympathize with the love stories on love observational entertainment. The purpose of using panel talk on observation entertainment shows is also to make it easier for viewers to sympathize with the shows. SBS's program <My ugly son is a bad boy>, has mothers of the cast narrate their son's daily lives. It has the mothers join the panel talk, which leads the show's huge popularity, and it won the grand prize at <The 2017 SBS Entertainment Awards>. Talking about the program, Kim Kyoseok, a pop culture critic, stated that ''Panels help viewers reflect on the situation they are viewing in order to better relate to it, so panels will continue in the future.''4) In other words, besides feeling individual empathy for celebrities through observation, viewers can also have more opportunities to further empathize with the cast through panel talks.



The second reason why observational entertainment has grown in popularity is the change in public character. Audiences have gotten tired of variety programs that highlighted laughter and fun from infinite competition and winner-takes-all. Columnist Jung Inho said, ''Viewers always seek new things. Producers say the game of entertainment has changed. In the past, entertainment shows invited famous persons to host a program that was pre-designed to match the famous person, but now shows are selecting the right cast to match the theme of the show.''5) As Jung illustrates, interest in other genres of entertainment has decreased, and observational entertainment has become a hot ticket item to viewers looking for new things. Moreover, observational entertainment can be a means to observe others' lives and prevent people from feeling isolated offline as they often establish relationships through SNS. In fact, according to Lee Donggyu, a professor of Broadcasting & Entertainment at Dongduk Women's University, ''The online world has enabled people to establish relationships on SNS who would otherwise be isolated offline. People overcome isolation by discovering themselves in others as they watch their lives unfold on the shows.'' Along with SNS, people are using observational entertainment as another way to communicate with others. The development of the mobile industry has also contributed to growth in observational entertainment. Lee said, ''Nowadays people watch TV on their mobile devices, instead of sitting at home in front of a TV. Under these conditions, reality entertainment has stronger storytelling elements, but observational entertainment is booming because a show can be viewed starting from the middle and stopped at any time.'' In other words, with online activities expanding and the number of people using mobile devices increasing, observational entertainment has been able to grow.


Too much is as bad as too little

There are also side effects to observational entertainment. In particular, there is the issue of privacy invasion because there is a risk of reaching the level of voyeurism beyond mere observation and revealing the private information of celebrities. In particular, concerns and critical views on shows featuring couples are increasing. <Can't be NO.1> of JTBC caused controversy when it showed the private lives of a comedian couple. The woman said she was suffering from panic disorder because of her husband's affair and gambling. The controversy over the details of the private information made the ratings rise to about 5%, and her husband and the filming crew were ridiculed after it was aired. Experts are not offering favorable comments on the strategy. Jung Dukhyun, a public media critic, said, ''Observational entertainment, itself, is the peering into the lives of others. It invades others' privacy, much more than showing a couple's relationship. There is no doubt there will be side effects.''6) Experts are also fully aware of the excessive invasion of privacy in observational entertainment. In order to respect the privacy of celebrities and casts, it is important to set standards to limit provocative materials.



Observational entertainment programs have received both favorable and unfavorable reviews from viewers. However, nowadays, more and more viewers are complaining of observational entertainment program fatigue. Entertainment programs limited to the observation of life are saturating the market, so they are now all showing similar content. One viewer said in a YouTube video, ''There are so few interesting entertainment shows left to watch these days'' in response to another user commenting that ''Most shows are observational entertainment shows, and they are boring.'' The user who said the show has all become too similar received about 500 likes of agreement. This shows that TV viewers are unhappy with the excessive number of observational entertainment. As a result, many viewers have now turned their attention back to old style entertainment shows. MBC's <Infinite challenge>, which ended in 2018, was viewed by hundreds of thousands to millions of people per episode, even though it was not an observational entertainment show.7) That is, interest in observational entertainment seems to be gradually decreasing and people are longing for more traditional entertainment shows. Observational entertainment programs will need to reconsider their content if they wish to continue to attract viewers.


Endless Enjoyment

Observational entertainment was addictive because it pulled in viewers through collective empathy, a type of entertainment show that differed from traditional ones. However, because of concerns surrounding privacy violation, and people no longer being meaningfully engaged in the shows, change is needed. Society should reflect hard on whether TV broadcasting companies should be allowed to do whatever they want to get high ratings from viewers, or whether it is time to start a new ethical style of entertainment broadcasting. People will have to wait and see how broadcasting companies will proceed.


1) Kwon Yeonsoo, ''Reason for the Popularity of Observational Entertainment Shows, 'Natural Consensus Building' and Preference for Observational Entertainment'', DIGITAL CHOSUN, June 18, 2018

2) Same as 1

3) Jo Subin, ''Is It Okay To Watch Love-Based Entertainment Programs Such as 'Heart Signal' and 'Somebody'?'', Hankyung Job & Joy, December 23, 2020

4) Park Jihoon, ''Popular Entertainment Shows Have a Witty Speaker Called an 'Emotional Agent''', KUKMINILBO, November 9, 2018

5) Cho Sungmi, ''TV on-Screen Always Shows Observational Entertainment, Why?'', The PR, September 24, 2018

6) Lee Junghyun, ''''From Affairs To Sex…'' Becoming Severe in the Flood of Couple Observational Entertainment'', YONHAP NEWS AGENCY, September 12, 2020

7) Kim Minji, ''''There Are Not Many TV Entertainment Shows To Watch These Days.'' Revival of ‘Infinite Challenge''', Herald Corporation, January 21, 2021

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