Hey Taiwan! Is This Um… Stuff… Really News?

Watching a nation’s newscasts provides insight into a culture’s psychology, at least the narrow slice of what captures people’s attention and brings in ratings for news stations. In Taiwan, which is a fairly small island, pleasantly peaceful and prosperous, the news reveals the country’s interests and concerns.

Major news stories garner airtime, like the MRT murders last year, the 黑心 recycled oil scandal, the Sunflower movement protests, the Kaohsiung gas explosions, local election coverage, the TransAsia plane crashes, etc. These stories would likely make news headlines just about anywhere.

But what I find curious and amusing is all the other frivolities considered worthy of primetime news.

A typical Taiwanese news broadcast consists of stories about new and trendy eateries. Restaurants and edibles feature prominently in Taiwanese culture. Recently there was a broadcast about a bakery that makes bread resembling watermelon. If it’s food and it’s cute, it’s sure to make the news.

And speaking of cute… Anything cute it is probably a trend worth reporting. Like the now famous mailboxes that were struck during a typhoon and left tilted in a way that was considered adorable by Taiwanese standards, drawing huge crowds just to pose for photo ops with the pair.

And speaking of queues… Taiwanese people are passionate about waiting in line for the latest and greatest food and other attractions. (To witness this, just go to Costco on a Saturday, lines of people snake around the store for a sample of food bits.) Taiwanese news reports on hotspots where queues are forming, and even on the phenomena of lining up and waiting itself.

A Taiwanese news broadcast wouldn’t be complete without dash cam footage of car wrecks and scooter crashes, which are plentiful.

It’s always a lucky day for news journalists when they can sniff out a story, pretty much any story, featuring a westerner in Taiwan. Whether causing a ruckus, or just reacting to local culture, or speaking Chinese, 外國人 are a sure to create a buzz.

And the ultimate Taiwanese news sensation features a combination of the above mentioned elements, as in this clip below. A western guy speaking Chinese, trending food, long lines… A Taiwanese reporter’s dream!

Finally, the news story that seems the most comical of all… Now and again something happens in Taiwan that gets picked up and reported by foreign news channels. When Taiwan is covered on the news in other countries, the foreign news coverage is news in Taiwan. “Hey look! We made CNN everybody!”

What makes this all so amusing to me is the fact that it is news at all. American news, while not being qualitatively better by any stretch, is just different. Food, lines, foreigners, car crashes and cute things are the stuff of Youtube videos or morning shows, but hardly feature stories on the news.

Taiwanese news seems more gossipy and lighthearted than its fear mongering American counterpart. The Taiwanese news aptly reflects what it’s like to live in an ordinarily pacific society, where people don’t have to bear the heavy burden of wars, police brutality, gang violence, racial discrimination, sexual violence and abuse, drug wars, gun violence, human trafficking, etc. being broadcast daily into their living rooms.

Sometimes I scoff when I see trivial Taiwanese news stories, and I’ve often argued, “But that’s not news!” At the same time, Taiwanese news reminds me of all there is to be grateful for. I appreciate being able to live in a peaceful country, where it’s generally safe to be any race, gender, or age. A country where guns are illegal and violence is the exception, not the rule.

What type of news stories do you consider odd or amusing? Let me know how Taiwanese news compares to news you’ve seen in other countries.

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