Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Television: A Universal Medium

Television is a universal medium. The reach of television has dramatically increased over the last decade and it has truly become a universal language. True, the spoken language of the programming may change from country to country, but the content is the same.

The Iraqis love their satellite television. I think to a degree it is a status symbol, even though it is truly everywhere with electricity. The TV is always on in any office or home; that is something that is quite common in the United States as well. What I have noticed is that the Iraqis we are meeting with always leave the television on during the meeting. They may make the extra effort to pick-up the remote and mute the TV, but the TV remains on. The TV certainly draws one in and it is somewhat entertaining to watch during a meeting - the eyes being drawn (even quickly) to the TV for a quick peek.

Iraqi News Programming resembles its American counterparts. On nearly every Iraqi News Program one can see an Iraqi Flag flying in a corner, just like Fox News. Many of the reporters wear Iraqi Flag Pins, and on 30JUN, often wore Iraqi Flags, something that is also found on FOX News (sans the flag wearing). There is a news ticker at the bottom of the screen, fancy graphics, guest panels, etc. All the hallmarks of an American television news show on a reputable network (we have hereby excluded MSNBC) are there on the Iraqi news programming. Al Jazeera was the first Arab news station to attempt to mimic the western model and they even went a step further, creating an English language news station. While the content might be slanted to the Arabs, the theatrics and production is a hallmark of the West and America.

Stupid Gameshows. Let’s be honest, it is one of the keys in the American television empire and it’s a format we can easily be sucked into. The Iraqis have it too. There is one program that features reformed terrorists confessing to their crimes and asking for forgiveness (I’ve never seen it, so I don’t know if it then turns into the “Running Man” with Arnold Schwarzenegger, but I wouldn’t put it past them). The weirdest foreign game-show I’ve seen was in Italy, Casa Parola. To this day, I don’t have an idea what was going on, but there is now a close second. The Iraqis have a game-show about backgammon. It has the lights and theatrics of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”, a host, and a giant backgammon board that uses black and white Frisbees for the chips. I had no idea what either the host or the contestants were saying, but it had to say something. But backgammon has been turned into a TV program, much as EPSN has turned Poker into prime-time Television on ESPN 2.

When I see that, one realizes that perhaps the Iraqis are closer to being us than we would like. Yet at the same time, there are those moments that they seemed “Culturally Doomed to Fail”. But if they are, we have given them the gift of American television and they will at least be entertained by bad TV.

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