Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Saturday 4 February 2023

Expecting Squid Pro Quo

Some years ago, this blog celebrated the butcher from Orpington who, in keeping with the macabre theme of the occasion, obliged a group of zombie-costumed Halloween trick-or-treaters with genuine animal hearts and other assorted innards, to the outrage of their parents (“I was so angry they had been made to touch raw meat”).

I said at the time that it was a bit like going on the ghost train at the fair and then complaining because the ride was genuinely haunted. The same simile sprang inevitably to mind this week with the numerous tales of woe from contestants who had put themselves forward for the real-life version of ‘Squid Game’.

While the original series was a sharply satirical and well-made depiction of how far a group of people can be driven by desperation and mercenary greed, it takes a special sort of warped mind to contrive a real-world version - albeit without the mass murder element - and recruit contestants from among the general public.

Forty years ago, Clive James encouraged us to laugh at the extremities to which Japanese game show hosts pushed their unhappy victims or the exhaustion of American dance marathon competitors; now celebrities being showered with maggots or ‘Touch the Truck’ endurance contests pass without comment in our own TV schedules.

In such a climate, it seems excessively naive (or disingenuously compensation-hungry) of contestants to be surprised or shocked that filming a show derived from ‘Squid Game’ would involve a degree of discomfort, yet a number of them took to the tabloids to express their anger at being woken at 3.30 to spend a day outdoors in the cold playing Korea’s version of Grandmother's Footsteps. 

A particular grievance seemed to be the time taken to set up a camera shot, as if it had completely escaped them that they were taking part in a television programme. Despite their suffering, however, the $4.56 million prize fund seems to have provided sufficient incentive for most to stay put: 

 “Even if hypothermia kicked in, people were willing to stay for as long as possible because a lot of money was on the line. Too many were determined not to move so they stood there for too long.”

Even though Netflix explained that, as well as making the contestants aware well in advance that they would be playing in cold conditions, they provided them with warming facilities and thermal clothing (oh, to have had such things on winter games afternoons at my Northern school!) and that there had been no serious consequences from the cold, one disgruntled participant compared the scene to a ‘war zone’ and said they were ‘dropping like flies’.

I may be mistaken, but I thought that was the whole idea.


  1. Wow, that old post was from ten years ago. Them were the days.
    I used to watch Chris Tarrant (Tarrant on TV). He mainly did funny adverts but would always have a section for crazy Jap game shows, some hilarious.
    I avoid any kind of reality TV on telly now though. It's just embarassing. I dispair at what people will put themselves through to get on TV. (I also dispair that these people later become 'celebs')

  2. That last comment was mine. Can't log in to comment for some reason . - Bucko

    1. Hi, Bucko, and sorry - commenting is glitchy at the moment.

      I agree about reality TV; it’s all gone a bit meta, so to speak, to the extent that the BBC are now promoting reality shows presented by people whose only claim to fame is having themselves been a participant in a previous reality show.

      It’s hard to see where it will all end; the media seem to have an insatiable appetite for celebrity ‘news’ but, what with rampant nepotism and a never-ending supply of reality TV, surely they must reach saturation point soon. (Meanwhile, given the ubiquity of smartphones in the workplace, I suspect the burgeoning amount of celebrity-based media content has a great deal to do with the UK’s woeful productivity statistics.)

  3. I've had comment issues too. I don't know what's caused it, but it seems ok now. I'm logged in here now, too

    E4 Is a terrible channel for 'celebs'. We used to watch the Big Bang Theory there, and there were constant adverts for 'Celebs go dating', celebs learn to drive', 'Celebs have a poo'.
    I can't belive anyone could actually be watching this claptrap, but E4 seem to make a whole channel out of it

  4. Has your own comment about Channel 4 been put in moderation? Can't see it here.

    It's amazing you can use the words 'resulting viewer demand' in that context. Makes me wonder what kind of prople these viewers are and what kind of a generation are they going to raise

    1. Er no...I accidentally deleted it while trying to edit a mistake.

      Here goes a second time (from memory)
      “Channel 4 had a major hit with ‘Extreme Celebrity Detox’ in 2005 (going one up on an earlier Channel 5 programme which featured Kim Wilde and others having colonic irrigation with strong coffee; a concept and image I’ve been trying to wipe from my mind ever since).
      E4 appears to have been created, in part at least, to satisfy the resulting viewer demand for celebrities doing...well, as you say, pretty much anything, as long as they were famous.”

      I agree, it’s a worrying prospect for the future, not least the way in which the gullible rush out to buy products endorsed by a celebrity. I suspect much of it is fuelled the same immaturity and intellectual laziness to be found in today’s schools; find yourself a cool person to look up to, and why think for yourself when you can buy into the ready-made opinions and tastes of your idol?


Moderation is on as I’m having some technical difficulties with Comments