Back in year seven and eight when I had nothing better to do on a Saturday night, my sister and I would watch Iron Chef: Japan. Created in 1993, Iron Chef is a cooking competition on which cooks from all around Japan and the world challenge one of four ‘iron chefs’, who are experts in French, Italian, Chinese and Japanese cuisine respectively. The show plays out as a battle, between the challenger and the iron chef, in a torch-lit arena called the Kitchen Stadium. The show blends the genres of games shows and cooking shows and has appealed to audiences not only in Japan but also in North America, Western Europe and Australia. The global popularity of Iron Chef “epitomized a new trend in the 1990s, analyzed as the conspicuous rise in the exports of made-in Japan media entertainment and celebrated as the end of the era of Western nations’ dominance in the production and distribution of global culture”. (Lukacs, 2010).
The show was positively received in the West for a number of reasons. It was partly the English dubbing, and its “campy” charm. My sister and I would sit there imitating the judges’ comments in the ridiculous and amusing tone of the voiceovers. The food based nature of the show, made it a success, able to be easily received around the globe, with food common to all cultures. The sometimes bizarre, and over the top dishes, unfamiliar to people in the west made the show unique, and could in itself be seen as a ‘cultural’ viewing experience. The reality nature of the show didn’t rely on any prior cultural knowledge of Japan, and therefore the process of identification with the show, is quite different to the Japanese dramas explored in the lecture, which in many ways rely on a deeper understanding of Japanese culture and traditions. Game shows were already prevalent and hugely popular in the West when Iron Chef began to air, and the concepts of battles and prevailing champions was nothing new.
But perhaps it was Iron Chef’s foreignness that made it successful. Part of the enjoyment I got from my viewing experience was watching something quirky and unlike any cooking show Australia had produced. The dramatization of the show, it’s over the top nature, and the often-peculiar dishes, made the show enjoyable to watch. It was almost like a small taste or eye opener into another culture, done so in an inviting, rather than alienating way.
The shows positive reception in the West brings me back to the focus of this weeks lecture ‘national to the transnational. Iron Chef proves Iwabuchi’s theory that media globalization is not just the “the spread of the same products of Western origin all over the world…non-western players also actively collaborate in the production and circulation of global media products” (Iwabuchi, 2005). The show proved “Japan could harness the global appreciation of its popular culture as a source of soft power” (Lukacs, 2010), reflected in the American remake of the show.