The limits of taste

By Xu Ming Source:Global Times Published: 2014-5-12 19:53:01


Following in the footsteps of the recent controversy caused by actor Jia Nailiang bathing together with his 2-year-old daughter on reality show Dad Came Back, yet another reality program is causing ripples throughout China's TV industry.

During Friday night's Laiba Haizi (Come on, Baby), a reality show on Shenzhen TV, the audience was given front row seats to the birth of new lives, from the beginning kicks of labor pain to the delivery of little bloody newborns.

Following the experiences of three expectant mothers from different backgrounds, the program used remote controlled cameras installed throughout the maternity ward, including the delivery and operation rooms, of a hospital in Shanghai to record every gory detail of the delivery process. 

In an attempt to show the realities of life, the hour-long program showed the anxious waiting of the three mothers, followed by the pain of birth and the final joy of seeing their newborns. Interspersed throughout, audiences got to witness the smallest details of the women's lives in the hospital and the intercommunication between husband and wife, patients and hospital staff.

The first show of its kind in China, this first episode of the series was bombarded with both praise and criticism after airing right before Mother's Day. Some stated that they found the program touching as it allowed people to see the greatness of motherhood, while others said the show had touched upon the limits of good taste on TV by "showing bloody scenes and selling private moments" just to attract attention.

Explaining medical terms such as amniotic fluid, contractions and oxytocin, as well as covering tips for staying healthy during pregnancy, the show was seen as a success when it came to educating audiences, especially expecting couples, when it comes to what they should expect from that final trip to the hospital.

Although we can't deny this positive aspect of the program, it is also undeniable that the episode was a blatant attempt to grab audiences by capitalizing on their curiosity about what would normally be a private intimate moment between family members.

I know that these three mothers signed contracts authorizing this sneak peak into their lives (at what price who knows), but as a mother myself, I can't help but feel that the episode shows a lack of respect toward the privacy of ordinary people.

Giving birth to a new life is one of the most intimate moments there can be. A great and sacred act that everyone knows about without being demonstrated in front of millions of onlookers. Stretch marks, faces twisted in pain and anguished cries are things that almost no pregnant woman wants to show to the public. Considering this, it's no wonder that the production team had to put in a mountain of effort to persuade the mothers to join the program.

Additionally, although the program's director has stated that at no time did the production interfere with the birth process, I find this hard to believe. As the mother of a five-month-old, I remember how important was to give birth in peace and quiet without any outside worries. Knowing that there was a camera following me everywhere I went would be rather upsetting, contract or no contract.

Although I'm sure that shooting a birth was a sure fire way to bring in eyeballs for the TV station, considering the subject and its sensitive nature, it might not be a wise or proper idea to put it on TV screens where everyone, from adults to little children, can see it.

When it comes to choosing what to show on TV, production companies need to keep audience tastes and limits in mind.

Unlike other shows where birth scenes are acted, when reality shows feature screaming women, painful situations, caesarean sections and newborns covered in blood, these can have a greater impact on the audience due to their realistic nature. Some pregnant women that watched Friday's episode complained on social media that they were scared by the scenes depicted on the program.

As more people in China born in the 1980s and 1990s are becoming parents themselves, a variety of shows have begun focusing on programming showing children in order to attract audiences, from last year's Dad, Where Are We Going? to this year's Dad Came Back; now it seems they've turned to showing newborn babies?

In their pursuit of higher ratings reality show producers need to keep respect for privacy and audiences in mind when it comes to their shows. Although they may not be breaking any laws, they still need to understand what the limits of taste are on TV!
Newspaper headline: Has reality TV become too real for China?

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