Hana Kimura, a star on Terrace House, a Japanese docu-soap on Netflix, appears to have killed herself after facing online bullying for her participation on the show. Because of Terrace House’s popularity, her death has gone so far to lead the Japanese government into considering new legislation against cyberbullying. Maybe it’s a nice gesture, but given the ease of anonymity on the internet, I doubt that whatever legislation they produce will have much real effect.
Instead, I might also look to the structure of reality television itself and the rude style of criticism of participants in such series, extending even to professional critics at major newspapers, not just a minority of hateful trolls online. And despite plenty of commentators noting the ways Japanese shaming culture might have contributed to the bullying, this is not a problem unique to Japan either: cross-culturally, reality television stars kill themselves with surprising frequency. I want to say that this death might bring some change — for example, Netflix quickly cancelled the show — but audiences seem to want more and decades of indifference across the world suggests that reality television will make another comeback.
If I can’t change the genre though, I can change myself — I’m done. I gave Terrace House a reluctant go once for being ‘gentler’ reality TV. But it’s just an illusion. I am not going back.