SOUTH KOREAN television shows have been subject to controversies surrounding their utilization of devil’s editing. Devil’s editing refers to a deliberate act of cropping a certain scene or dialogue involving a particular cast member of a show, which in turn, encourages the television audience to form a negative perception of that character and turn against him or her. Although numerous television performers have denounced devil’s editing and asserted how they were victimized by their deceptively constructed images, devil’s editing continues unabated in mass media.
Devil’s editing carries a severe ethical implication, as it allows television producers, particularly of so-called reality TV shows, to distort events without informing the people being depicted that the events will be distorted and excessively dramatized. Their actions can even be taken as a form of violence, since they fraudulently depict and therefore exploit cast for the sake of attracting viewers and increasing media attention. For instance, a popular South Korean television show Produce 101 that features 101 trainees competing to debut as a member of a female singer group manifests a clear top-down relationship between the producers and the cast members. The show landed in a spiral of controversy when the contract between the producers and cast members was disclosed to the public. The contract revealed that the trainees were refrained from taking any possible legal action against the broadcasting company Mnet for cropping, modifying, rearranging the portions of the program in which they appeared, as well as any consequences of its editing. It thus demonstrates that the producers of Produce 101 were indifferent to any possible mental agony the trainees might go through as a result of devil’s editing. Moreover, after an acquaintance of one of the cast members on Produce 101 expressed her discontent toward producers and raised concerns about devil’s editing on Twitter, this particular cast member appeared on-screen significantly less than the previous week. This was not a mere coincidence but rather, it was done deliberately to warn the cast members that they should abide by the contract without complaining. The producers defended devil’s editing by saying that it would boost the program’s viewership rating and required the trainees to tolerate any distortion in their portrayal as trainees.
To address the root cause of this issue, it is necessary to examine what the audience considers to be amusing. The audience presumably seeks highly dramatic elements in programs and deems it as a source of entertainment. Therefore, conflicts and egotistical behavior among cast members are fed into the drama. The producers sketch out details of programs that elicit a strong response from the viewers and the audience uncritically accepts as reality. Such a symbiotic relationship between producers and the audience is the reason why devil’s editing does not wither away despite all the controversy. For instance, the use of devil’s editing has become rampant in so-called survival programs that place cast members under huge pressure by assigning missions that determine their fates. It is thus natural that cast
s members would act in a way that they would not normally act. However, the real problem occurs when the television producers exploit this by creating a plot of self-centered people crushing others for their own triumph instead of depicting the success of cast members whose talent blooms in the process of survival. In turn, viewers who watch only a fraction of the whole reality then jump to flawed conclusions and severely condemn the *selfish* cast s members for breeding unnecessary quarrels. Such a reaction from the audience is intended by production companies because viewers would be locked to the program to “see to swear”. Moreover, as manipulative editing practices helps certain television programs catch on with audiences, then other programs follow suit.
Both producers and viewers should reconsider how they influence television programs. Audiences need to balance their cravings for lively drama with greater awareness of how devil’s editing distorts reality. Viewers should acknowledge that their passivity then motivates more producers to exaggerate conflict and manufacture negative images of cast members. Thereby, the notion that entertainment comes from conflict between casts and selfishness should be abandoned.
This would allow producers to probe for genuine concepts of amusement that do not require devil’s editing, but instead allow them to be consistent with the original purpose of the programs. Rather than resort to devil’s editing, television reality programs need to depict human interaction and human drama as this actually unfolds.