Tearful Sojourns and Tribal Wives

Primitivism, kinship, suffering, and salvation on Japanese and British reality television

by Christopher Ball and Shunsuke Nozawa

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The Japanese and British reality television programs Tearful Sojourns and Tribal Wives both feature protagonists’ adventures and residence in “tribal societies.” Each program constructs different primitivist images through distinct tropes of kinship; Tearful Sojourns fetishizes filiation and consanguinity, while Tribal Wives fetishizes marriage and affinity. The emphasis on descent and affinity reflects and contributes to cultural kinship crises—the breakdown of filial piety in Japan and of marriage in the United Kingdom—felt among their viewers. The shows subtly manipulate images of kinship, the primitive, and suffering to generate a globally mediatized primitivist discourse that purports to therapeutically help audiences find in the primitive Other something they have lost, providing a path to redemption. This discourse contributes in turn to popular perceptions of anthropology.