Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Lost in Translation

I was watching TV the other day. I know, huge surprise there. Anyway, someone was interviewing a foreign celebrity. The celebrity was talking about how they learned English by watching American television. This got me thinking about the kind of assumptions that one would make if their only exposure to American culture came from popular television shows. Here's what I've come up with so far:

Central Park is the Most Dangerous Place in the World. This one comes from Law and Order. I think about 50% of Law and Order episodes begin with some jogger or biker finding a body in Central Park. I don't know if there's any truth to this or not, but last time I went running in Central Park, I was definitely looking for bodies and/or Mariska Hargitay. Didn't see either of them, but doesn't mean they weren't there.

Editor's Note - I've been working on a Law and Order hierarchy to help me when their are multiple episodes of the various spin-offs on television at the same time. Here's what I've got so far:
1. Criminal Intent (with the big guy)
2. Old school original Law and Order (with Sam Watterston as D.A.)
3. Criminal Intent (without the big guy)
4. New School original Law and Order (with Antonio Anderson)
5. Special Victims Unit

Okay, back to things that one would learn from watching only American television...

America is a Magical Place with Talking Animals and Talking Babies. This one pretty much just comes from commercials. One in four commercials includes a talking animal, talking baby, or a woman talking to a dog (giving the impression that dogs can comprehend the English language). I tried boycotting products from companies that use talking babies or animals in their commercials, but it's practically impossible. Also, I can't say that I hate all of them, because those eTrade commercials with the baby making stock trades are pretty damn funny.

Miami is full of Dead Hookers. Thanks to David Caruso and the supporting cast of CSI: Miami, the fifth most populous city in the United States is best known for dead hookers. When I watch CSI:Miami, there's never a question of whether or not there will be a dead hooker, it's just a matter of whether there will be one dead hooker or multiple dead hookers.

We'll buy anything, as long as the bearded man yells at us. This Billy Mays guy is on my television as much as the talking babies and talking dogs. What the hell qualifies him to sell stuff to me. This goes against pretty much ever marketing principal that I know. The dude wasn't really a celebrity before he started yelling, he isn't much to look at, and his delivery isn't really polished. Yet we trust him enough that if he yells something about Mighty Putty, we say 'yeah, I DO have a hole in my garden hose, and this is the way to fix it.' If we see lots of English as a second language people coming here in plaid shirts and beards who shout instead of talking, I think we'll have Billy to thank.

We have cameras everywhere. I know that Reality television isn't an American invention, but I think we've done the best at over-saturating the airwaves with this nonsense. There are cameras in the kitchen, cameras on some remote island, cameras in the bathroom (thanks Real World) and cameras in houses with people doing nothing in particular (Big Brother). Throw in a couple of bad hidden camera shows, and I think we've got about 85% of the surface of the United States covered with cameras. 

I guess there are worse ways to learn a language. My Spanish classes used a fake Spanish soap opera (Destinos) as a teaching tool. So that has left me thinking that Spanish-speaking countries are full of people who are having their brother's baby and have faked their own death. Not sure which is worse.


Kath said...


I used to hate Mer-ce-des

Nate said...

Osito! Osito!

Vixen said...

Will it be Hispanic hookers or
Causcasian Hookers...

thechiclife said...

This isn't that far from the truth...when I went to France, they asked me if my family was just like the one in "Life Goes On"...nice!