Thursday, September 14, 2006

We are not the people you see on TV

I was chatting with a friend overseas yesterday and I realized that she had derived some of her conceptions of what Americans are like from our TV programs that are shown over there.

It's only fair, I suppose. We Americans get most of our ideas about foreign countries from popular entertainment. Thus, we know that Norwegians are a bunch of tall blondes and redheads who carry large axes and wear helmets with horns and regularly raid neighboring countries for their gold. We know that Australians all wear khaki clothing and bush hats and carry big knives and hunt crocodiles* and say "G'day" and "shrimp on the barbie." We know that the Irish are a bunch of scrappers who like nothing more than getting drunk and getting into fights. Only it ain't so. (Well, except for the thing about the Irish, that's totally true.)

When I was in Ireland I saw my first episodes of Gilmore Girls. Sure, the show has snappy writing and engaging characters, but the setting didn't resemble anything I'm familiar with in America. In one episode the entire town lines up to bid farewell for the umpteenth time to its oldest citizen, who is once again on his deathbed; when he dies, a town meeting is held to determine what to do with his property. (I guess he didn't have any heirs or willed it to the town or something.) But those things don't happen here. And don't get me started on Dallas or Melrose Place or Beverly Hills 90210, which are all very popular overseas. And CSI - well, the bad science alone makes me incapable of watching one of those shows all the way through, but what I saw (again, while I was in Ireland) was pretty unrealistic in the non-science areas, too.

No, if you're in another country, you probably won't get a good idea of what America is like by watching our TV programs. Well...maybe one.

The single most realistic depiction of American life is Married...With Children. Watch that show, understand that, and you might understand us. Otherwise, bear in mind that what you're seeing on your TV is not America.

*R.I.P., Steve Irwin. Thank you for all you did. I always thought you'd die doing something stupid and risky. You didn't. Your death reminded us of how precarious a thing life is.


Jennifer said...

I spent 1986-87 studying at a university in England. Some of the popular American TV imports were "Dallas," "Dynasty," and - wait for it - "The Waltons." So, Americans were either filthy rich or dirt poor. Take your pick.

Ashley said...

I always said that if their was one fictional character that was exactly like my mom, it would be Peg Bundy.
My dad is very similar to Al but he's just a bit more like Dale Girbble from King of the Hill.

Camilla H. said...

You know...I basically meant shows like Oprah, Ricki Lake, etc. Meaning shows with "real people", not just sitcoms and such.

Anonymous said...

I'd have to say "The Office" (American version) is scarily close to what I live through each day. And, not just because it's set in Scranton - the only thing is, we don't have a Jim and Pam. We make up for it with more than our share of Dwights.

D.B. Echo said...

Wow, Camilla, I didn't realize you had those shows in mind. Compared to them, Married...With Children is a documentary! Seriously. Oprah may be one of the most popular shows in the country, and in many parts of the world, but that doesn't mean the people she has on accurately reflect anything about America! And Ricki Lake, Dr. Phil, Jerry Springer, and a host of others are just worse! We are not the people you see on TV, ESPECIALLY not on Oprah!

Gort said...

Like Jennifer I lived in England for 3 years. One of the first questions people would ask me was 'how many guns' did I own, not if I owned any. Whenever I rented a new flat my landlord insisted that I couldn't paint the walls purple and I assured them I wouldn't paint the walls, period. And almost every Sunday I found myself in front of a TV watching the Dukes Of Hazzard. No wonder they think we are all nuts.

Anonymous said...

America seems mind-bogglingly cheap and violent from overseas. A little like our view of Nigeria.

Bill @ IB

anne said...

Did you happen to catch the interview on NPR with Sayed Badreya and Hesham Issawi about their upcoming movie American East? (I hope it somehow arrives in NEPA.) During the interview, they mentioned that when they were growing up, shows like Dallas and movies like Scarface let them to believe odd things about Americans.

They mentioned how the typical family dinner conversation would revolve around "Who shot JR?"

Hopefully we will all learn that about each other. We/they are not what we see on TV (or hear on the radio for those of us who don't have TV). We/they are the ones dicussing it with family over dinner, or with coworkers at the office, or friends on a night out.

We are more alike than we can ever know.