Saturday, August 11, 2007

Warrior Women

For a few nights this week, my wife had to work late which meant my son and I were able to eat at the counter in the kitchen while watching television. Every night, we settled in for an hour of Women of Ninja Warrior on the G4 network. The show is actually an import from Japanese television, the original show called Kunoichi. Basically it is a sports entertainment show where people compete through stages of a challenging obstacle course in order to be the winner and collect the 2 million Yen prize (about $16,700). This version of the show is a spin-off of an all-male version of the program (Sasuke) which G4 also occasionally shows.

They start with 100 competitors on the first stage of the course which has to be completed in a minute and a half or less. This usually weeds the group down to a half dozen or less for stage two. There are some 'regulars' who seem to come back to rechallenge the course in hopes of getting further. The ages of the competitors range from as young as 10 to as old as women in their 40's. Quite a few of them have some form of athletic background which is really key for getting through something like this. In watching the show over four nights, we only ever saw only one group of three women get to the third and final stage. It is really challenging.

The women's competition consists mostly of challenges that require balance and agility. In stage one, they start by crossing a series of poles raised out of water with rounded tops - they call this 'the Dancing Stones'. Then comes a 'the Windmill Cross' where they have to step on the narrow surface of a spinning obstacle to cross over the water to the next spot. The next challenge varies depeding upon which 'season' you are watching - they do change up some of the obstacles as they go; it is either something with a balance beam or a quick crossing narrow bridge. The next common obstacle is 'the Barrel Roll' where they have to stand on the side of a barrel on tracks and roll it over the water to the next spot. This obstacle usually slows everyone down and puts most of them in the drink. Again, after this, the next obstacle varies; usually it involves some kind of jumping/trampoline bounce. The final obstacle in most cases is an 'Escape Ladder/Pole' where the contestant climbs thirty feet to a platform in order to hit the buzzer in time to finish the first stage. I'm not really into sports much but I find these types of challenges interesting; I know even when I was in my prime I would have had a heck of a time with any of them.

What is even more fascinating about this show, for me, is the view into a different culture. The show features the original Japenese announcers, reporters and contestants all speaking in their native language. They then subtitle it for English viewers (there is also an English speaking announcer) that voice-overs stuff periodically. Seeing what the announcers have to say about the contestants while they compete is a really telling view into a society I've never been much exposed to. Sometimes it comes across as very sexist and condescending.

This does give me a chance to have some meaningful dialogue with my son during the commercial breaks about the way different cultures view women and how that is changing over time. It sure beats having to explain some of those commercials they run on G4 - clearly this network's target demographic is males 18 to 40 and it shows by the content and tone of their adverstisers and shows.

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