In an attempt to cash in on the popularity of the ‘reality TV’ craze, KBS launched a program earlier this month where ten participants lived together in a small apartment covered by cameras which ensured every aspect of their lives were recorded. It was a concept similar to the ‘Big Brother’ show which has been a hit in various countries, although participants were still allowed to go to work during the day since it would be impossible for them to get time off in Korea. Instead, cameras followed each of the house members around as they undertook their jobs.
The show was canceled after ten days - audiences, while curious at first, had quickly switched off. 24 year-old Kim, who works in a Seoul supermarket, was typical of the reaction. “Watching the reality show made me realize how depressing Korean life was.” she said. Other viewers generally agreed that they were shocked to find Korean life was a monotonous monoculture largely consisting of long working hours, enforced socialization with colleagues, five hours sleep per night and almost endless tension over the dinner table.
Professor of Media and Culture at Seoul International University, 42 year-old Kim, explained that there was an expectation among viewers that other people’s lives would be similar to the luxurious ones portrayed in the numerous soap operas or K-dramas which are shown by the Korean TV networks, but in reality it turned out that other people’s lives were just like theirs. “This could create a dangerous social upheaval.” he told us “Much like that of religious followers, people only put up with their lives in Korea in the belief that if they are devout or determined enough they will climb the socio-economic ladder and wake up to a new life one day. When they realize that isn’t true, and it's actually a tool of social control propagated by Korea's chaebol, the enormity of the suffering becomes clear - at which point people might just give up and decide to enjoy their lives instead.” Korea has a long tradition of hardship and it is not clear what might happen to the economy if the Korean people stop pursuing it.
Despite its premature cancellation, the show did change the life of one participant, 26-year-old Kim, an office worker from Seoul. She explained that until the cameras stopped following her, her boss hadn’t tried to touch her breasts for almost a week. “That was really liberating.” she told us.