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 t he 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.
THE PASSING OF COMEDIENNE Lucille Ball was deeply felt in India. Many acquaintances of Monitor correspondent Sheila Tefft had seen the ``I Love Lucy'' shows and were ``genuinely saddened by her death,'' Ms. Tefft says. She observes that ``It was apparent that [Ball's] brand of slapstick humor was able to transcend the wide boundaries of culture and understanding.''
CLASSICAL MUSIC ON BRITISH TV is a marked - and surprising - trend. The BBC's assistant head of Music and Arts says broadcasts of classical music programs have doubled in the past five years. Channel Four's ``Orchestra'' series, showing how orchestras operate, with comedian Dudley Moore and conductor Sir Georg Solti, scored well in the ratings. On ITV, Melvyn Bragg, doyen of arts program anchors, pulled an audience of 7 million for a two-hour show featuring the New Zealand-born soprano Kiri Te Kanawa. John Whitley, who writes on the arts for the London Daily Telegraph, commented: ``A ratings war has broken over the heads of bemused arts programmers who previously could barely find two viewers to rub together.''
BRAZIL'S `TELENOVELAS' (soap operas) last only about six months. They mix humor, drama, and romance, and usually conclude with multiple wedding ceremonies. They almost always involve someone rich who gets poor and someone poor who gets rich, the main message being that the rich are unhappy. They introduce new fashions and fads, make hits out of theme songs, address all social levels - and plug products, which are written into the script.
Some of the better telenovelas have contributed to a lower crime rate during the time they aired, since everyone was glued to the tube. The soaps are so popular that imported programming takes a back seat: Here, ``Dallas'' was a flop.
SOUTH AFRICA HAS HAD TV only since 1976, but already it is the strongest cultural influence. Until 15 months ago, television was blatantly slanted toward the interests of the ruling white minority, particularly the Dutch-descended Afrikaners.
Because of the tough anti-apartheid line followed by the British actors' union, British television films and features are not distributed here. The same does not apply to American TV films, despite the US's pivotal role in imposing economic sanctions here.
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA Turtles have launched an assault on the senses of young South Africans. The impact they have made on children - and on the collective consciousness through children - is unequaled by anything since ``ET: The Extraterrestrial.''
TV'S NEW FACE IN AFRICA is Cable News Network (CNN). Now seen in about half a dozen African countries, including Kenya, South Africa, and Ghana, it attracted huge audiences during the Gulf war. Almost everyone who could afford a TV or get in front of someone else's was glued to the set for hours, making Kenyans as well-informed on the war as anyone in the developed world. (The Kenyan government, however, blacks out any CNN news on Kenya.)
Currently free, CNN will eventually cost viewers nearly $20 a month, putting it well beyond the reach of most Kenyans, whose average monthly income is $30.
RAMBO IS AMAZINGLY POPULAR in the Soviet Union, along with other action film heroes like Clint Eastwood and Arnold Schwarzenegger. ``Video salons'' across the country show badly dubbed Western films in small, dark rooms. In the theaters, older Western films are being shown for the first time, such as ``One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest,'' ``Ragtime,'' and even ``Gone With the Wind,'' which had its Moscow premi`ere last fall to a glittering audience.
DISCO, A MAJOR FAD IN CHINA in the mid-1980s, is still popular. It has also been reincarnated in the park lining Shanghai's famous Bund (boulevard), and in countless other parks around China, as a form of early-morning exercise for the elderly.
GERMANY'S SECOND-MOST popular TV show (after soccer broadcasts) is called ``Wetten, dass...?'' (``Do you bet that...?''). The two-hour show airs monthly on a Saturday night. Viewers send in postcards describing what they bet that they can do (for instance, that their dog can bite 66 balloons in three minutes, or that upon hearing only the soundtrack of a woman screaming, a couple could guess which movie it was from). Viewers whose challenges are selected appear on the show before a panel of cel ebrities (including politicians). Panel members wager on whether the person can perform the feat. Panelists who lose must perform some stunt or service, such as serve orange juice and water in the Bundestag (parliament), sing a song in Moscow's Red Square, or give a concert at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.
IN BRITAIN, THERE IS A MARKED trend away from imported soaps and detective series. ``Dallas,'' ``Dynasty,'' and ``L.A. Law,'' for example, which have had high ratings over the past decade, are losing viewership to homegrown fare. The most popular British soap is the BBC's ``Eastenders,'' a nightly early-evening series about a group of families in the East End of London. The shows address such topical issues as race relations, unemployment, juvenile crime, and more. ``Eastenders'' was designed t o counter ITV's ``Coronation Street,'' built around the inhabitants of a street in the north of England. In March, ``Eastenders'' established a modest ratings lead over ``Coronation Street,'' but both are rivaled by ``Neighbours,'' a soap from Australia about a small suburban community.
ONLY ABOUT 5 PERCENT of the movies in German cinemas are German. The rest are straight from Hollywood - dubbed, of course. Current films here include ``Dances with Wolves,'' ``Kindergarten Cop,'' ``Not Without My Daughter,'' and ``Misery.'' A cult movie hit is ``The Blues Brothers,'' starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, which can be found playing at midnight in almost any city. German audiences laugh their heads off at the neo-Nazi played by Henry Gibson.
THE AVERAGE JAPANESE FAMILY has its TV on more than eight hours a day - longer than in any other country, though sometimes it's no more than a background presence. Television influences every aspect of culture here: Many programs set trends in speech and attitudes.
MEGA-SERIALS BEGAN to appear on India's state-run television four years ago. Based on the Indian classics - the ``Ramayana'' and the ``Mahabharat'' - the shows kept Indians glued to their TV sets every Sunday morning for an hour. It was nearly impossible to get a taxi; a reporter who dared to phone anyone then was usually told to call back. During the last 18 months, when tensions between India and Pakistan have run high, many Indians joked that a Pakistani invasion would most likely come Sunda y morning during the ``Mahabharat.''
IN SOUTH AFRICA, Western culture (primarily British) vies with the powerful impact of traditional African culture, dance, storytelling, and theater. The poet - ``peoples' poets,'' as they are known in these political times - give poetry a centrality and immediacy it does not enjoy in Western society. Peoples' poets like Mkwakhe Mbuli are folk heroes here.
AMERICAN-STYLE FAST FOOD - McDonald's, Pizza Hut, and Kentucky Fried Chicken - have come to China with great fanfare. It is a popular novelty among Chinese, but they remain choosy. ``I tried some of your Kentucky Fried Chicken,'' said a Chinese journalist to Monitor correspondent Ann Scott Tyson. ``It was really mediocre!''
POPULAR LITERATURE in the Soviet Union is awash with foreign books. In the past - and still among intellectuals - writers such as Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Twain were popular. Today, on the highbrow side, John Updike is very popular. But popular taste runs to detective stories and spy novels: In a cold war irony, Ian Fleming and John le Carr'e are popular, as are novels by Erle Stanley Gardner, Agatha Christie, and Stephen King. Margaret Mitchell's ``Gone With the Wind'' in book form is quite p opular: It is viewed as an American version of a Russian epic, though not of ``War and Peace'' quality, of course.
BOOKS IN AUSTRALIA are very expensive - about A$29.95 (US$23.50) for a typical bestseller. This is because the market is so small, and books are expensive to import. Almost all the top fiction books are imports, while many of the top nonfiction are Australian. Current nonfiction hits include a coffee-table book about Sydney, memoirs of an Australian clairvoyant, and the story of a nationwide airline pilots' strike.
MANY AMERICAN BOOKS are translated into Japanese, badly, but few reach bestseller status except for books about Japan, such as ``Japan As Number One.'' Comic books are the popular literature here. Also popular are Cliff-Notes-type booklets that explain the meaning and dialogue of foreign movies, since dubbing and subtitles are rarely sufficient.
Writers contributing to this report: John Battersby (Johannesburg), Clayton Jones (Tokyo), Francine Kiefer (Bonn), Alexander Macleod (London), Julia Michaels (Sao Paulo, Brazil), Robert M. Press (Nairobi, Kenya), Ron Scherer (Sydney), David Clark Scott (Mexico City), Makiko Shinohara (Tokyo), Dan Sneider (Moscow), Sheila Tefft (Delhi, India), and Ann Scott Tyson (Beijing).