How Global Does It Get? the Teletubbies in Israel

Article excerpt

This study sought to determine how interpretations of Teletubbies, a program designed for very young viewers and broadcast internationally, is contextualized within local frameworks. An analysis of interviews with 44 mothers and experts revealed themes that lend support to the claim that audiences actively employ interpretive processes in contending with foreign texts. The crucial role mothers may play in reconciling the global and the local is discussed within the framework of parental mediation.

The globalized nature of children's television has recently surfaced as a focus of research interest in the field of children and media (see, for example, Drotner, 2001; Lemish, Drotner, Liebes, Maigret, & Staid, 1998). The tension between the trend for cultural homogeneity on the one hand, and the growing self-awareness of local cultures on the other, raises the issue of children as the future creators and consumers of culture. Many children around the world share similar leisure activities, similar media preferences, and similar interests. Taste markers such as media products (mainly American) and media language (mainly English) play an important role in the transnational media positioning process. Two parallel but seemingly contradictory processes are occurring simultaneously. The first is the adoption of a global media system, and the second is the coexistence of multiple and hybrid cultures in the lives of youngsters.

The argument put forward recently is that

   the issue is not a matter of oppositions. It is not globalization versus
   localization, international versus national, universal versus particular.
   Rather, globalization involves the linking of their own locales to the
   wider world. At the same time, localization already incorporates trends of
   globalization (Lemish et al., 1998, pp. 552-553).

The meeting between the global and the local can thus be seen as coexistence and conflation, rather than assimilation versus isolationism. Robertson (1994) has labeled the process by which global content is deemed locally meaningful as "glocalization."

This is particularly interesting in the Israeli context, where television was originally conceived to serve the role of national integration, enhance Israeli values, and develop a common cultural identity (Katz, Haas, & Gurevitch, 1997). Dramatic changes in the television environment over the last decade in this country, together with the advent of an additional commercial channel and cable television, further stimulated the debate over television's potential for cultural imperialism in general, and Americanization in particular. Since over 50% of the television diet of young Israeli viewers consists of imported television programs, it was interesting to examine reactions to a program marketed as being culture-free--Teletubbies.

Teletubbies, launched in March 1997 in the United Kingdom, is an unusual children's program designed for very young viewers in the first stages of language acquisition. It represents the BBC's largest-ever investment in the area of children and television. The program does not contain distinct cultural characteristics, thereby enhancing its wide marketability around the world. Television companies in over 60 countries had acquired broadcasting rights to the program by the end of 1999. The program revolves around four child-like, non-human characters--Teletubbies--differing from one another in size and color, known respectively as Tinky-Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa, and Po. Their catchy, easily pronounced names and playful behavior represent the happy world of childhood. These cheerful characters, full of curiosity, live in an imaginary land consisting of two complementary environments: a pastoral landscape of green lawns, flowers, and rabbits; and the characters' underground home, which is technologically rich. The merging of nature and technology in the program represents the contrast typical of modern existence to which children are expected to adapt. …