One of my tiny obsessions - cultural fetishes, if you will - is the game show industry. Alongside becoming an astronaut, rock star, and inventor of the wheel, one of my dreams has always been to either participate in a well-known game show or to host one. As of yet, the closest I’ve gotten towards either of these is being in the audience for one back home. (The host probably hates me for what transpired, but that’s another story.)
Now, I don’t consider myself a particularly intelligent person. I lack common sense half the time, and if being my high school’s ‘03 valedictorian is supposed to be a marker of coherence, mine easily runs out of ink. When I watch shows like "Jeopardy!" or "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" I fully expect to react in ways meriting the punctuation marks. “How could he NOT know about polyphasic sleep!” “Wow, what IS the capital of Bulgaria, anyhow?” These are the sort of responses I expect.
That said, it is with greatly mixed emotions that I present to you the state of quiz shows in Japan. Let me begin by saying that there are, still, a select few shows which reward knowledge both general and trivial. For example, "Nekketsu! Heisei Kyoiku Gakuin," airing Sundays at 7 p.m. on Fuji TV, tests participants’ advanced kanji knowledge, as well as challenging the contestants - all celebrities. Most contestants on the show are known for being of at least above-average intelligence, although for the sake of balance, Aya Hirayama is a necessary constant.
Another is "Nep League," airing Mondays at 7 on Fuji TV. Teams of five work together to solve various problems, the content of which differing from "Heisei Kyoiku" really only in terms of presentation. As an example, five people line up in a row. If the question, “What is the Japanese word for ‘thank you?’” were to be asked, each person would be responsible for their respective character. Person A would write “a,” person B would write “ri,” and so on. This can be both challenging and hilarious, especially when the answer should be obvious.
Which leads me to "Hexagon II: Quiz Parade," Wednesdays at 7 on Fuji TV, arguably the exact opposite of the first two shows. Granted, the contestants are still celebrities - mostly singers or would-be equivalents - but here, the selling point isn’t intelligence, but idiocy. Pure, unbridled vapidity, to the point where out of 18 regulars, our love for the two or three smart guys pales in comparison to utter hate and disgust for the remaining 16. Now, yes, said hatred may merit a “!”-worthy response. Watching grown men and women fail to remember third-grade math, however, is nothing short of “…” or even a “@$%&.”
Yes, there are several more quiz shows out there, some far more challenging or rewarding than "Heisei Kyoiku" or "Nep League." The problem is, most of these shows air either far too early or far too late at night for the majority to appreciate them. Moreover, the cast of "Heisei Kyoiku" and "Nep League" are, on average, in their 30s or 40s, whereas the vast majority of "Hexagon" contestants either are in their 20s or produce media that target people no older than their 20s. Arguing, then, that this sort of academic agnosticism is supposed to be something to enjoy, or even look up to.
Don’t get me wrong. I can enjoy good, thoughtless fun - "Family Guy" is an immediate example - but when people are watching Aya Hirayama or Suzanne treat basic intelligence like broken glass, and when people happen to be liking or even approving this, really the only question that matters is, “Why?”© Japan Today