On Wednesday last week, Taiwanese-Canadian model and actor Godfrey Gao (高以翔) died while filming a Chinese reality TV program called Chase Me (追我吧).
In addition to the criticism generated on both sides of the Taiwan Strait toward the TV station that produces the show, Gao’s death has been covered by news media in other countries.
Viewers are no stranger to programs made to maximize audience ratings and advertising revenue.
The TV channel and the producers of the program in which Gao died are money-worshiping outfits who are willing to put people’s lives on the line for the sake of profit, but what about those who find these shows interesting and amusing? Are they not also complicit?
The medical view is that Gao died of cardiovascular problems brought on by cold temperatures on the night of the filming.
Gao’s death has attracted a lot of attention because he was a celebrity who often appeared in the media, but the significance of this case goes beyond one individual who apparently died as the result of professional malpractice.
That this sort of thing often happens in Taiwan should not be overlooked, ignoring it would be to miss the forest for the trees. Indeed, it would be a selfish and coldhearted attitude to take.
The truth is that occupational accidents due to overwork happen every day in Taiwan, sometimes leading to serious disability or death.
Over the years, many bus drivers have died, or become seriously disabled, at the steering wheel, and government labor inspections show that the situation has not greatly improved.
The same kind of tragedy continues to affect scooter couriers in the emerging food delivery sector, dispatch workers employed by personnel agencies, firefighters and those who work under the responsibility system, which is overused and abused by employers.
When all of these are added together, overwork is an ever-present shadow in the daily lives of countless workers in Taiwan — be they blue or white collar.
Sadly, the government is no more capable of solving this problem than it is of reining in the high price of housing.
There have even been cases of government departments setting a bad example by breaching labor laws. These tragic workplace environments are what Taiwanese should really be concerned about following Gao’s untimely death.
Overwork and bullying have always existed in Taiwanese workplaces. International organizations have reported on the abuse of foreign fishers in Taiwan.
On Wednesday last week, psychiatrist Su Wei-shuo (蘇偉碩) of Kaohsiung Veterans General Hospital’s Tainan branch, backed by the Taiwan Medical Alliance for Labor Justice and Patient Safety, told a news conference how he had long been subjected to vulgar verbal abuse by the director of the hospital’s psychiatric department, and how when he reported the abuse to the relevant department, he was demoted and pressured to resign.
As Taiwan tries to follow South Korea’s example of developing its artistic industries, perhaps it should consider why South Korean entertainers such as Sulli, Goo Hara and Kim Jong-hyun have chosen to commit suicide.
For some, while the conditions they endure in dark corners might not kill them, the mental and physical torment that they suffer might give them unending anxiety.
Gao was driven to his death in pursuit of TV ratings.
The producers could quite truthfully say: “If you don’t want to do this scene, there are plenty of other people who will.”
For the sake of his career, Gao had to grit his teeth and run the race, but this time he did not make it to the finish line.
The same kind of thing happens every day to salaried workers around us, whose bosses’ message is: “You can do it or not. It’s up to you.”
To earn enough money to survive from one day to the next, many workers find themselves walking a tightrope. If someone falls, their colleagues can only talk about it in cautious whispers, out of earshot and out of sight of their supervisors and employers.
Indeed, Gao’s tragic fate is not an isolated case. There are countless Gaos all around us.
Chang Hsun-ching is a writer.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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