Cultural Dispatches from around the Globe

The Christian Science Monitor, May 9, 1991 | Go to article overview

Cultural Dispatches from around the Globe


"Tell us about the mass media of your region," we asked each of the Monitor's correspondents stationed around the world. Is Hollywood taking over? Is the local culture holding firm? Are Ninja Turtles battling everywhere? Some excerpts follow. HOME-GROWN VERSIONS of "America's Funniest Home Videos" (a concept that ABC-TV bought from a Japanese broadcaster) are popping up on TV screens worldwide: The Germans have "Smile, Please," featuring not only German home films but many American ones as well. Dutch television has a similar show, and then there's "Australia's Funniest Home Video Show with Jacki MacDonald." Late last year, a British version called "Beadle's About" attracted a staggering 17 million viewers, displacing (for a while) the most-watched shows there. `WESTERN CULTURE HAS BECOME Kenyan culture," says Kenyan journalist Mobogo Murage. "Living in a modern house and putting on a (Western-style) suit and tie is no longer Western as such," says Mr. Murage, who writes radio and television reviews for the Daily Nation newspaper. "It has become a kind of universal culture." The major exceptions to this are found in West Africa, where long, flowing robes still are commonly worn by men and women.

A small group of Kenyan intellectuals speak out against Western culture, says David Kamau, another Kenyan journalist. But if you follow most of these self-appointed critics home, he says, you'll find the trappings of modern Western culture. A CHINESE INTELLECTUAL who was released from several months in jail last year (he was arrested after the June 4, 1989, crackdown) wrote a list of complaints to his captors. One was that he was not told at the time of his detention why he was being taken in. Nor was he "read his rights." "I said they should have done it the way they do on the US television show `Hunter"' he told the Monitor's Ann Scott Tyson. The American detective series is very popular in China, with men saying they like the main female character and women liking the central male character. JAPAN HAS ALWAYS ADAPTED foreign influence to its own uses. Tempura came from Portuguese sailors, who landed in 1543. Dubbed Hollywood movies have altered the way Japanese speak, as dubbers try to follow the sentence structure and lip-movements of English-speaking actors. In the 19th century, Japanese eagerly studied the waltz, drank coffee, and wore Western-style suits (sometimes over samurai armor).

But in basic character, the Japanese have changed little. Foreign and domestic things are governed by different rules, to keep the foreign at bay and the domestic pure. Style is copied without the meaning.

Some new museums, for example, display replicas of Van Gogh paintings or Michelangelo's David as if they were the real thing. And sometimes the culture transfer is just plain absurd, as when one department store used Santa Claus in a window display - on a cross. TELEVISION IS SO PERVASIVE in Brazil that many favela (shantytown) dwellers buy a television before they get a refrigerator or stove. One network, Globo, has dominated the airwaves since the 1970s. Globo invented "horizontal programming," in which the same shows air six days a week, at the same time every night. This locks in viewers from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. or later. There is a telenovela (soap opera) at 6, one at 7, national news at 8, and another soap at 8:30. Last season, Globo introduced another soap at 9:30, so there were four nightly soaps, plus an afternoon rerun, six days a week. IN MEXICO CITY, middle- and upper-class people can afford cable TV: six local stations plus ABC, CBS, NBC, New York's WPIX, a sports channel that shows mixed United States and Mexican programming, and two movie channels (primarily subtitled or dubbed Hollywood films). Because the government is concerned about generating insatiable appetites for US consumer goods, all commercials on the US-based channels are blocked out. …

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