I’m thrilled you elected Obama. I really am – lord knows, you’re well overdue for a leader with smarts and social priorities. For the first time in long time, you’ve got a certain hefty percentage of world sympathy on your side. We’re happy for you.
But there’s something we need to discuss.
First, it was The Office. Remember that show? It didn’t always star Steve Carell. Then there was Kath and Kim, a beloved pair you left in tattered ruins. More recently, there’s been Life On Mars, a truly spectacular TV offering that, once again, you failed to comprehend. And now, just now, I see you’re already planning a US version of Let The Right One In, a Swedish vampire flick that has only just come out.
Are you struck by this information? Does it seem odd to you that, apart from an endless parade of nation-specific reality TV spin-offs or the occasional new take on a old idea, you are the only ones who consistently remake viable, up to-date television in your own image? If there was a language barrier, perhaps you’d have an argument: successful dubbing is rare. But that’s not the case.
Back in the nineties, lots of people were worried about the influx of American television into Australia and the UK. Critics argued that it was killing off local product, while others fretted about the kids they saw wearing baseball caps and trying to talk like the Fresh Prince. They were worried about cultural identity, but ultimately, that turned out to be a teething phase. Once the novelty wore off and local producers started getting back in the game, we shrugged our shoulders. You make some damn good TV, after all. Why stifle ourselves by forcibly ignoring it?
But now, your cultural hegemony isn’t the issue. Cultural isolation is.
Because we learned from what you showed us. Seeing LA, New York, the ubiquitous ‘hood, even the soft-lens airbrushed worlds of the daytime soapies were like windows into America. Cracked and dirty windows at times, or maybe the glass was warped, but sometimes, it shone beautifully clear, and we could see you. We learned how you saw yourselves.
But America, you won’t look at us. You don’t want to learn about the rest of the world, our slang, our peculiar humour, or even gaze down on our unfamiliar streets and wonder what it might be like to walk them. Instead, you turn each potential window into a mirror. And you see nothing but yourselves.
And this, when non-Americans get together and whinge about your country, this is what bothers us: more than the wars and more than the politics, if we’re honest, because those things are distant, as incomprehensible to the average us as to the average you. But our shows, their characters, are personal. We love them. Because of that love, we want to share them. And yet that step into the unknown, into renouncing your nationhood for just a half-hour to be someone else, consistently proves too frightening. Instead, you look away.
America, what you’re doing isn’t healthy. You need to see new things. And not all of you are to blame, I know that too – it’s the network executives who choose the content, who decide to remodel rather than import, but the time has come to stand up to them. Speak. Be brave. Watch something new. Watch something unAmerican. See us as we see ourselves.
And let that be a good thing.