Television is often a strange window into a culture.
Whenever I come into a country for the first time one of the first things I do is watch a little local television. It’s like looking in through a big picture window into the living room of the culture — this is what these people spend their time thinking about.
Now, what you can really take from this may seem a little dubious — I mean, you’re not going to say, “I learned this about that culture because I watched TV last night so I know what to do in this situation.” No, it’s more subtle than that. It’s just enough to give you an impression, just enough to give you a feel of the cultural contours of a place, just enough to see where the sense of humor begins and a little of where the values lie — or, more often, don’t.
Mostly, I watch it because it’s hilarious. Not hilarious as in finding the shows themselves particularly humorous but hilarious as in “What the fuck?”
Sometimes, what is happening on the screen seems insane — like in Indonesia. Or just plain weird — like in Japan. In rural China one of the most popular TV shows is Tom and Jerry, and watching old people cracking up over the cat and mouse hurting each other tells you a little about the culture and what’s considered funny out there.
There is sect of humor that is derived from the unexpected and abject thrashing of your own morality and parameters of taboo — the shock value of someone saying something offensive in a witty or unfathomable way. Applying American morality when viewing television in many countries often produces this type of amusement in torrents.
I’m in Lodz, Poland now sitting in the dining area of the Relax Hotel watching TV and drinking a cup of coffee. On the screen are a bunch of white people with their skin painted black with costumed, exaggerated African features — curly afro and dreadlocks wigs, ridiculously painted on accentuated lips. They are acting like they are in some kind of Southern Baptist church service, singing gospel songs.
What the fuck?
Political correctness is an abscess of far western culture. The concept just doesn’t exist in most other places, and making a sport out of being offended isn’t really a popular thing to do and stating what’s perceived to be the uncomfortable obvious isn’t as taboo.
On the other hand, real racism also often rampant in many of these places as well, and the mainstreams of these cultures tend to lack awareness, acceptance, and tolerance for other cultural and racial subsets.
About the Author: VBJ
I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. VBJ has written 3657 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.
VBJ is currently in: Astoria, New York
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