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To paraphrase Harry Potter - if you're holding out for universal popularity, you're gonna wait a very long time. There's no such thing as a show everyone will like equally or watch in the way it should be watched.

In general I wish people would branch out more. Like watching Korean dramas or South American telenovelas or French docu-dramas about hairdressers.

Not just to see TV created with a definite end date in mind, but because TV is more representative of a culture than any movie can ever be. Someone watching Todd Solondz Happiness will see a very different America than someone watching Transformers. The same breadth exist in most cultures fortunate enough to have a movie industry.

TV, as the popular medium, needs to succeed in a more immediate on-going way because you don't just purchase that ticket once but you tune in day after day, is usually closer to how a culture perceives itself. It doesn't show reality, but it shows how a culture wants to see reality.

I don't wanna analyze every American tv show of the last two decades to show how American culture sees itself, you can do that on your own. But there in the heightened reality of that impossibly expensive Friends apartment and those Jersey mobsters, cancer-ridden teachers brewing meth, the way the South is portrayed on True Blood - hysterical, trashy, but honest and small-townish - the good Doctors from ER to Grey's Anatomy, all those shows where the criminals are caught by lawyers, lab technicians, writers, mediums, private investigators, ex-spies, sharp shooters and once in a while a cop, the vast conspiracies that replace fate in the X-Files and Lost... in all these things, you can see aspects of an entire culture: values, morals, beliefs, suspicions, hopes... and dimly even reality itself.

No movie can capture this much. Only TV can.

And this the reason why international TV is so interesting. Because what is true for American TV is true to some degree to everyone else's. You will not see reality, you will see criminals that get caught and impossibly expensive apartments. But beyond that you see a lot of the little things, the value of family, the value of love, the value of money, the value of greed, the value of ambition, of religion, of sex, of music, of lies, of alcohol, and the ability to cook noodle soup when someone is ill.

I stayed in Thailand once and one of the most memorable things was the Thai drama I saw on TV one evening. A young woman was seeing an young man and another girl was apparently very jealous because she put bleach in that girl's shampoo just shortly before the young was supposed to come over. So much to the heroine's horror her hair turned into a rather interesting shade of orange. Much panic ensued. Then the young man appeared at the door, took a look at his lady love and was not horrified at all. He said the only thing I actually understood from this whole thing because my Thai is non-existent and there were no subtitles: "You look European." I missed a lot of nuances there, so I couldn't really decide whether he was supposed to be blinded by love or was just being nice enough to lie but that sentence is how I figured out that he was supposed to be the good guy.

I could never draw a significant conclusion about Thai culture from that moment but thit struck me as weirdly significant in a way.

Watching the entire run of a Japanese tv show where a business woman got a young man as a pet (sounds incredibly sordid but it was played for cute and actually worked as cute) or the gay panic of the South-Korean Coffee Prince and the Catholic Church in the kind-of-Irish Father Ted are, if not telling, at least incredibly interesting.

As for the show that everyone should watch?

I'm a cynic. I believe that there are facts, history and realities everyone should know but I also know that somewhere some douche will be in denial and somewhere else an even bigger douche will get their jollies from seeing other people suffer.

So in lieu of a show that everyone needs to see and a show that everyone would enjoy, I think there's a documentary made for tv that is far removed from today's reality that someone getting their jollies wouldn't be too offensive and yet so universally relevant that everyone should see it.

That is Peter Watkins' Culloden.

Watkins did many things in Culloden. He invented and popularized the re-enactment of historical events in documentaries. You don't recognize that when you see it because it has become so standard that only the way he frames (and explains) that re-enactment sticks out - as if the BBC already existed in 18th Century.

What is truly amazing and very unusual for this particular and usually very romanticized subject is that Watkins does not take sides for either the Scots or the English. He's full of scorn for the leaders of both faction, for being incompetent, useless, greedy, cruel. He takes the side of the common soldier and later the Scottish civilians. He shows you the faces of the children pressed into service by the clan system and shows you faces and faces and faces. (Fantastic casting by the way. I don't what was going on in Inverness in the 60s that extras could easily be casted as people who had never seen a doctor or a bath but it cannot be good.)

And then one of the most convincing battles ever which considering that this whole thing was more low-budget than low-budget (one borrowed cannon) is a thing of remarkable craftsmanship.

But what really matters here is that by siding with the soldier on the battlefield, with the common man, Watkins transcends his subject and makes this documentary about more than a battle fought two-hundred years ago. He says something universal and devastating about war and in the end something as universal and even more devastating about peace:

In the end, he lists the way Culloden changed Scotland forever, changed its culture, changed its people forever. He says: "They've created a desert and called it peace."

Date: 2010-08-09 02:38 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
That is such a good point about international TV. I have only watched British/UK TV in addition to American TV (and Canadian TV), and there were definitely some surprises. For example, it may seem silly but the first time I watched Doctor Who, I was amazed at how "normal" Rose looked. She looked like a real girl, not a thin model. It was very refreshing.

International TV does broaden one's horizons. It is amazing to see how similar, and how different, television can be around the world.

(I have never heard of the documentary you reference, but it sounds very well done. Did the BBC produce it? Back in the 1960s? That is amazing -- it sounds almost like "Braveheart?" Is it a similar story?)

Date: 2010-08-09 10:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
She looked like a real girl, not a thin model. It was very refreshing.

Weirdly enough I really notice this with actors on British tv. Women are usually usually at least conventionally pretty if not outright stunning.

But men... they can be very charismatic and play characters very charismatically. I can name you a dozen British tv actors who're probably making someone's sexiest man alive list right now on basis of charisma and talent alone. But conventionally attractive? Let me think...

(I have never heard of the documentary you reference, but it sounds very well done. Did the BBC produce it? Back in the 1960s? That is amazing -- it sounds almost like "Braveheart?" Is it a similar story?)

No, it's very sober and in parts even static approach. Like a news story recording an on-going even, it accompanies its images with "interviews" and narration. It gets poetic only in the very end.

And then of course, Braveheart is very pro-Scottish independence. Culloden is very much "what right do these people have to sentence men and children to die on a battlefield, fighting their own kin, to serve their greed, ambition and incompetence?" (Half of the English army were made up of Scottish people, so it shows literally a case of brothers on opposing sides.) It's not nationalistic, it's just humanist.


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