March 20, 2024

The show business panda

This Wikipedia article about the tarento (タレント) and talent agency system in Japan includes a smart quote by the gaijin tarento (外人タレント) David Spector about what it means to be in the entertainment business. It means you are getting paid to entertain.
I'm doing things like the lowest bozo, circus kind of stuff. But it doesn't bother me at all. Foreigners on television [in Japan] are often compared to pandas because they're cuddly, you can have fun with them, throw them a marshmallow, and that's about it. You don't get involved any deeper than that. But since I'm making half a million dollars a year, I'm very happy to be a panda.
This strikes me as a healthy attitude to have about being a celebrity in general. And perhaps the kind of variety talk shows that earn David Spector a generous living aren't quite as silly as they might seem. Erik Luebs argues that beyond the entertainment value, variety talk shows in Japan serve utilitarian ends.
Whether intentional or not, watching these celebrities chat with one another serves as an instructional guide for what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior in society. They give the viewer a clue into how to participate in any number of conversations, and how to react in any number of situations. These programs are just as much a form of entertainment as they are a framework for establishing social order.
My only caveat here is that I read "social order" in the most benign sense: lessons on how to play the game of living an ordinary Japanese life.

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