The neat thing about streaming entertainment from some media source, say Netflix or Blockbuster Online, is that one has access to lots of foreign shows. Lately I’ve been enjoying some of this foreign flavor and have been amused by the “different” way the other culture will view things. I am not claiming the American cultural view is “correct”, and it is actually a very good exercise to be exposed to a different point of view. However, there are occasions when I involuntarily raise my eyebrows, and get a chuckle out of a different perspective.
For instance, there is the recent Chinese-made, biopic, Ip Man, which chronicles the life of the inventor of Wing Chung style Kung Fu. It mostly focuses on his life during the Japanese occupation, and has some romping fun martial arts sequences. The movie also has some funny propaganda moments (remember it is Chinese-made, probably with heavy government involvement.), for example when it talked about “the kung fu fist bringing forth the unity and spirit of the Chinese people.” But the funniest difference in perspective was the end when the epilogue explained how the Japanese signed a total surrender on August 15th 1945 and the Chinese won WWII. Never mind a little ol’ thing called the USA or the Atom Bomb. It was the Chinese who won the war. Mind you, we Americans are subject to our own propaganda, and the adage, “History is written by the winners,” is a salient point. Nevertheless, I had a nice chuckle learning China single-handedly won WWII.
Another foreign show I’ve been enjoying is the BBC TV show called MI-5, which is an episodic drama thriller based on Britain’s domestic spy agency. I suppose, the closest thing America had to the MI-5 TV series was Fox’s 24 (which I never watched, thus I don’t know how the two compare). One thing I will say about British TV is that, regardless of the show, they sure churn actors. Imagine watching the 2005 Friends series finale with an entirely different cast than started the show in 1993. That’s Brit TV. Damn, but MI-5 sure kills off a lot of the good guys – I’m on season 4 and two out of the original eight characters remain. Anyway, watching the show gives this American a good change of perspective, and it is fun watching how my fellow Americans – usually CIA – are portrayed. I’m not surprised they are more often than not jerks, but I expected John Wayne/Ronald Reagan swaggering jerks. Instead the show gives us wonky, bespectacled, neo-con jerks. This is humorous and not inaccurate but they are played as outlandish caricatures. As if Americans have no subtly whatsoever; none, nada, zip. Another one-dimensional surprise to me is the caricatures used to portray Jews. A couple of the episodes involve outlandish plots by the Mossad to assassinate Britons, and they are shown as bumbling, hawk-faced, bogey-men. So much for the Balfour declaration. It seems Europeans just can’t quite set aside their semite-phobia.
If fiction – be it book, play, or TV show – reflects the culture it is reared in, then the episode that really sprained my eyebrows was the one where the good guys mess with an election. The plot was something like this: A far right political party is about to win enough seats to be able to enact their platform of evicting “immigrants” from public housing (i.e., brown people of a non-christian persuasion). The indignant MI-5 team kicks into high gear to infiltrate the party, cause fractious discord, entrap high members into concocted scandals and bring the party down.
Okay, let me take a time out for some qualifying statements: No, racism is not good. No, I do not think it is okay to evict people from housing based on race. Yes, it is admirable the team is indignant about the far right racism.Yes, I know the American FBI infiltrated left-wing organizations during the Vietnam War. Yes, I remember Watergate.
Now that I have that out of the way… I have to say that coming from the land where the ACLU defends the rights of Neo-Nazis to march through minority neighborhoods, AND, not only that, but sends their Jewish lawyers to do the job, I am astounded the screen writers wrote such an episode without batting an eye. The MI-5 team is messing with a legal party, in a democratic society, and they never have soul-searching conversations about the ethics of what they are doing. If this reflects British mores as a whole, then this means the average Briton thinks it’s okay for government institutions to fuck with the democratic process. Astounding.
The final observation I have about the show is their omnipotent ability to use CCTV (closed circuit television) coupled to face recognition software. It is well known that Britain is covered in CCTV cameras, and if you are walking the streets, or a shopping mall, you can bet your Magna Carta you are under surveillance. This idea is anathema to most American Civil Libertarians, and to our credit, America regularly debates whether or not to have CCTV and red light cameras and the like. Alas, I think CCTV is slowly creeping up on us, especially in New York. However it is de facto in Britain, and the Land of George Orwell seems to have no problem with it. Yikes!