Some Lessons from International Television
America's Problems are not much Different from Anywhere Else
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
- Leo Tolstoy [Anna Karenina]
I once had a Shakespeare instructor who was a shameless lover of modern romantic comedies. His defense of this indulgence- despite being a Shakespeare scholar- was that he is so familiar with the format of comedies he was interested in seeing it done in an infinite variety of ways. Knowing that they will always end with a wedding or the characters romantically getting together, all aspects of the production can be enjoyed without any concern about what is going to happen to the characters.
Though I love the classics and War and Peace is currently my light reading outside of my studies [It’s so good, I had only read it once before], I have a similar indulgence as my old Shakespeare teacher, except that I don’t love romantic comedies, what I love is TV mysteries.
Most specifically, I love the mysteries where they catch one killer over the course of a season. This could be called the “Broadchurch” format, as perhaps the most famous example, though actually “Twin Peaks” is the oldest show like this I can think of. Like romantic comedies, this is a ludicrously trope-heavy genre.
For a brief explanation of this format: a person is murdered [usually an attractive young woman]; a man and a woman team up to solve the case; one detective is recently divorced or widowed; one has usually had a recent affair with a married person; one detective has always lived in town and one is either newly arrived or returned after a long absence; one has recent career problems; there is generally an unusual personal connection to the case. This can vary in a lot of ways, but how the case goes is similar, some suspect seems really guilty 1/3rd of the way through, this turns out to be a general sketchy person guilty of a different crime, the murderer ends up being someone you’ve known since the first episode but had no reason to suspect, then the detective ends up dangerously alone with the killer. The killer is often cop or someone who works with them and I never think it is! Things vary in each show, but the overall formula is basically the same.
I have watched these shows from countless countries. I have two seasons left on all of Netflix, and they’ve made a lot of these shows. Since these shows are all basically the same, when you watch them from different countries you learn quite a few things about how those countries function. If you’re an autistic nerd like me, there is all sorts of random bizarre information just about how their police forces are organized, what cars they drive, what the region is known for within the country, what languages people commonly speak or any number of things like that. For one example, in the German show Perfume the legal procedure the adult woman goes through to get an early-term abortion is basically the post-Roe nightmare that the liberals shriek about [it was portrayed as normal.]
This isn’t the only genre of foreign shows I watch, but it is my favorite. A fair amount of these tropes show up sporadically in anything with an investigation element.
One of many egregiously annoying things about American liberals is that they constantly want America to be like their perception of other countries. But they know nothing about other countries, so essentially they are just operating on the assumption that America is uniquely bad. Of course, we should be trying to do things better wherever possible, because this country has a ton of problems. However, most of those problems are more universal than one would imagine. Watching an excessive amount of foreign shows demonstrates to the viewer that the liberals have very little idea of what other countries are like, especially for people of their social class.
Here are some things I have learned about the world from watching international television:
The wealthiest, whitest, most secular, and most urbanized segment of the population dominates television shows in every country:
The portrayal of class in any country is the same as it is in America. The vast majority of people on TV only ever have financial problems for dramatic purposes and they are often the financial problems of very rich and/or irresponsible people. From Poland to Colombia to Korea the great majority of characters on a tv show will have all of the same things you do in one form or another. They still show the poor now and again, but there is an Anna Karenina principle here: all rich people are alike, poor people are poor in their own way. There is a great deal of diversity amongst the global poor, but the wealthy are all “Westernized.”
Further, when watching Mexican shows, the racial makeup is the same as on American TV; that is to say, only the help and some government employees are brown. Of course, the help is in fact the exact same class of Mexicans who are portrayed on American TV. It does need to be mentioned that Latins racialize themselves far less than Americans, so this is very rarely brought up, though to the outside viewer it is quite obvious that the white people are in charge.
Mexico is not a ghetto place to be from in other countries:
This continues the issue of class on TV. Mexico is a major economy in Latin America. On Mexican TV shows the characters frequently work, live, and study in the United States. This class of people never shows up on American TV shows, because it is somehow not believable that a wealthy Mexican person would be in America. In Mexican shows, the United States is the main place abroad a wealthy character would be. However, in other countries in the Latin speaking world, the Mexicans who travel to those places are lawyers and businessmen and other highly educated people. I’ve never seen a show from any country but America portray the Mexicans within that country as poor. It makes sense, of course, because there is no obvious reason an impoverished Mexican would immigrate to Colombia.
You do see various Latin American laborers in Spain, but the Mexicans on Spanish TV shows are always wealthy.
Everyone speaks English:
This comes back to the class issue yet again. The class of people who would be main characters on most TV shows are always fluent in English. In most countries English is used for a wide variety of purposes, especially in northern Europe where it is a true lingua Franca. This is less true of Spanish shows since there is an enormous number of Spanish speakers and a large number of the foreigners they deal with are from other Spanish countries.
It is quite specifically the class of people who travel to America to work as low-skilled laborers who don’t speak English. Anyone on television from a social class where it would be expected to get a college degree will always speak English.
No one ever has trouble getting a gun to commit a crime:
This is a plausibility issue. You can’t make a show set in the real world where no one would believe a basic premise. I have never seen a storyline where a person actually had trouble getting a gun to commit a crime. Liberals can shriek about American gun laws as much as they want, but there is no country I have found in which story writers think that difficulty acquiring a gun is necessary to make a portrayal of gun violence believable; in fact, since most American television shows are set in areas with strict gun control and the creators want to make points about gun control, it is more likely that an American show will dramatize the process of getting a gun.
Lack of access to healthcare is a common problem:
The “medical debt” storyline exists the world over. If it is not that a surgery is too expensive, it is that for some reason the government refuses to provide it. Universal healthcare doesn’t actually work that well, and very often doesn’t cover the things that we expect to be part of healthcare. For example, dental work is very expensive in Europe because the people who run government healthcare have decided it doesn’t matter. They don’t generally do much to explain why the person couldn’t get healthcare under a universal system, they simply expect the viewer to understand that the government is dysfunctional and it is difficult to be seen or receive good treatment.
Just for one example, I recently started the French political drama “Marseille”, and they reference that when the guy was sick the doctor both didn’t charge him and paid for his medicine. Demonstrating that even in France you pay for the doctor and for prescription medication.
The funny thing is, this storyline is rarely used in poorer countries which lack heavy government involvement in healthcare, because as I said above, the characters on TV are of an economic status where they could pay for healthcare in their country.
Every country has “Miranda Rights”:
This obviously isn’t true of every country, but every country wealthy enough for Netflix to make a show there has some version of being read your rights. I actually don’t know the history of this, but I suspect that the practice existed before the court ruling, it just wasn’t formalized in the same way.
It may not be properly respected much of the time, but people of the social class to appear on TV always have some form of the right to remain silent until being represented by a lawyer. It is interesting to note that the Miranda ruling came about due to the arrest of a non-English speaker who wasn’t aware of his rights, which is to say, someone of a disadvantaged social class. What remains true globally and has always been known to be true is that the wealthy fair better in the justice system of any country- except when communists use it to purge the wealthy.
Marijuana is Still Illegal Places:
Obviously, marijuana is actually still illegal in much of the United States, But they don’t generally set shows in those places. I live in Washington, and the 10~ years since marijuana was legalized seem to be a very long time, and since legal marijuana is clearly completely fine it seems excessively silly for it to be banned. Further, since medical marijuana has been around in the United States all the time and large amounts were always diverted, it was some time ago when marijuana became increasingly less sketchy on American TV shows. Storylines about illegal marijuana growing or or the cops catching you with it have greatly declined in America over several years.
In other countries, however, they still have the same marijuana storylines that we were all used to in the ‘90s and 2000s. You know they are usually homicide detectives so the classic “We don’t care about drugs” trope is generally in these shows, but it still comes up. There is an interesting social class note here as well, which is that the people who are growing illegal marijuana are generally the children of powerful people [the mayor, etc], whereas it would generally be a minority involved in smuggling hash.
Though the ideology is nonsense, one thing I will give the critical theory types is that there is much to learn from society by consuming media critically, and it does actually make things more interesting. What gets me the most about all of these things is that liberals have internalized some sort of inverse “American Exceptionalism” whereby they believe the United States is the worst place and its problems are unique amongst developed countries. In reality, either through ignorance or being intentionally misleading, all of the things we hear about other countries to justify big government either aren’t real or don’t work. It is quite clear that the reality is that, in general, governments lack the resources, power, and competence to implement the policies which the left wants us to believe the rest of the “Developed World” follow. Of course, it generally isn’t possible to get the liberals to acknowledge reality, but at least knowing these things you can avoid arguing with their false premises.
Two bonus observations:
The French government owns many gorgeous buildings they seized from the nobility after the revolution and thus use them for random purposes, now having them.
Organized crime in Iceland is comically mild.