|Double wipe action!|
That little picture has a name, and it's called the ワイプ ("wipe").
Even in my initial encounters with the "wipe," I felt a bit insulted. It feels like a subtle dissmissal by directors, all but saying aloud that TV viewers are so unintelligent that they'd be otherwise unable to divine the correct emotional response to the actual goings-on of the show: "Oh, the celebrities laughed when the kid fell off his bicycle. I should therefore laugh, too!" Thank heaven that wipe was there, or else you might not have known the correct thing to do.
But, I thought, that's absurd. Surely there's another reason for the wipe?
That's when I started looking into it. My first stop was the Wikipedia article for Japanese variety shows:
ワイプ：VTRと出演者のコメントを交互に配置する番組において増えた演出方式である。VTRの端（主に右上や右下）にそのVTRを見るタレントの顔を写すようになった。これによりタレントのリアクションと、視聴者のリアクションに同期が取れる。つまり「笑うポイント」を視聴者に明示出来る利点もある。また、話術に難のあるタレントであっても、変わった表情や、その他のリアクション（手を叩く、拍手）といった行為で「笑いどころ」を創出出来る利点もある。Come on. Really? Even Wikipedia's gonna tell us that the wipe is only there to cue brain-dead viewers their vicarious merriment and tears? And apparently to make fun of less popular talents, too? That's depressing, even for content flagged as "requiring a reference" on a community-edited encyclopedia project.
Wipe: An increasingly common production method on television shows which alternate between recorded videos and commentary from performers on set. Along the edge (usually the top-right or bottom-right corner) of the recorded video, the faces of the performers are displayed as they also watch the video. From this technique the reactions of the performers can be synchronized with viewers' reactions. Thus, it has the advantage of clearly indicating the "punchline" of a video to viewers. Also, even performers unskilled in speech can, with their interesting facial expressions or other reactions like clapping, create laughing points for viewers.
One TV blogger says outright, "The wipe tells viewers, 'It's time for you to react like this, OK?'" (As a bonus he notes that Japanese TV editors have not only laugh tracks on hand but also "Ohhhhh!" and "Eeeeeeh?!" tracks to dub in to shows at their discretion.)
I was beginning to despair in my search, until I stumbled across one guy who seemed to be moving in a more logical direction. And following that line of thought brought me to Yahoo! Chiebukuro. Who would have thought "Yahoo! Answers Japan" would yield the most level-headed, economically-minded explanation yet?
(OK. Clearly our Q&A series guy would have.)
Here is perhaps the Holy Grail of wipe explanations:The wipe creates one more hook to capture viewers who are flipping through channels. If Viewer A sees his favorite talent in the corner of the screen and thinks, "Oh, it's that guy. I like him. Maybe he'll say something funny today," then maybe he'll continue watching the program, regardless of whether he was interested in the main content or not. For competitive prime-time slots, just an extra 0.1% viewer rate in the Tokyo area means another 40,000 people are watching. Networks will use any tactic they can muster to draw in more viewers. In that way, the wipe is just a marketing tool.Well done. That sits a lot better with me than "conformist Japanese wouldn't know what to do without a constant emotion guide," occasional case though that may be.
Anyway, I can understand now why the wipe exists. But that doesn't mean any of us have to like it. In my searching I was relieved to find that some Japanese people even hate the thing, and some of them passionately.
As for me? I guess I've come around a bit since I started writing this article, because this video showed me that the wipe can generate far more laughter than I ever expected:
Thanks for reading. Tell us how much you adore or hate the wipe yourself! And if you enjoyed reading this article, consider following us on Twitter or Facebook.
This comment has been removed by the author.ReplyDelete
Great article on why the "wipe" is so common on Japanese TV. I always wondered why it was so prevalent on nearly every program out there. Even the news uses this method from time to time. I wish there was an anti wipe or wipe blocker feature on TVs for people who prefer to watch the program without all the extra frills.ReplyDelete
I often feel as if Japanese TV is being produced for the lowest common denominator of audience members in Japan. Why must the producers of these TV shows treat their viewers as if they are all children that need to have their hand held through every thing or they'll get lost?
Oh well, there's only a handful of shows I frequently watch anyhow that aren't as wipe happy as most variety and quiz TV shows. I think I'll just continue to live with it because it probably is here to stay.
One overused feature of Japanese programming that I do like are the emphasis subtitles. I think it makes the show easier to follow for people learning the language. I doubt that was the intention though.
Thank you for the comment. I agree about the emphasis subtitles. I find them really useful, too.ReplyDelete
In fact, usually I just leave closed-captioning on at home. For live recordings like the morning news, I find captions especially useful because if I didn't catch something the commentator said I know the same information will be coming up again in a few seconds as the typist catches up.
Though it's not always the case, I have noticed that program subtitling is used in travel shows to help people understand thick regional accents. While an interviewee speaks in almost incomprehensible local dialect, the subtitles provide a standard Japanese "translation" below.
Can I just commend your article on the refusal to be satisfied with the regular "Japanese are conformist" explanation. I know a lot of Japanese who aren't really satisfied with what Japanese TV offers - the whole medium is largely considered to be pretty low brow. In fact I even spoke to an NHK managing producer who lamented the low production standards in Japan, looking enviously towards the BBC's more globally recognised and prestigious brand.ReplyDelete
I feel Japanese TV has it's place, but it doesn't expect to captivate it's audience like British or American TV. It is meant instead as background pap - just there to kill time or to switch your brain off to (the constant subtitles are another part of that too - you don't need to pay as much attention). And as there is a minimal global market for the resale of Japanese language programming, there is scarcely any need for it to be much more than that... for better or for worse.
I personally enjoy the wipe. It's a nice addition for both the fans and the person.ReplyDelete
It would bring fans closer to their favorite actor/singer when they find out that the actor/singer also finds what just happened funny. It would make them feel like they share a bond with them or at least the same sense of humor.
It's always nice to find that their favorite actor/singer isn't just some robot acting out every emotion in an attempt to garner a fan base. Though they might still be 'acting' them, it still feels more real then their normal positions.
It might be a marketing tact to bring in more viewers, but it's also a popularity boost for those people who are shown in the wipe. After all I'd go out of my way to listen to a few songs or watch an episode or 2 if the singer/actor shared the same sense of humor or found the same story as sad as I did.
Thank you for the comment, and thanks for the words of encouragement, too. :)ReplyDelete
It's not that Japanese people HAVE to be told when to laugh, they just like to laugh with others, especially celebrities they like. It's a more intense version of a laugh track. And isn't prerecorded laughter (common in US sitcoms) weirder and more patronizing than watching someone react to the video live? X reacts to Y (and Z reacting to X reacting to Y) is a super popular genre on youtube -- people love that shit.ReplyDelete
OK, who hasn't watched any of the "reaction" videos on YouTube? An individual or group watches Two Girls One Cup, One Guy and a Glass, etc. Their reaction is the entertainment. Why do you think Gaki no Tsukai's "No Laughing" series is so popular. What is making them laugh isn't the point, it's when the Downtown team laughs that is funny.ReplyDelete
The wipe is a small reaction video to add to the entertainment.