Two years ago, when I arrived in Moscow for the first time, I was surprised to discover that the TV show Alf was much more popular in Russia than it was in America. One of Moscow's more popular channels aired the show every weekday evening, if I'm not mistaken, and then launched a day-long Alf marathon on a Saturday in September. When I saw the sorts of culture that America was exporting, I had to shudder at the fate of Western civilization.
Ever since then I've found it oddly intriguing to see which American movies and TV shows are aired on Russian TV. WB shows seem to be popular--you can often watch Charmed or Smallville on weeknights--and there's always a bad American movie being shown. Since I've arrived, I've seen parts of The Cable Guy, The Bachelor (starring Chris O'Donnell), Serendipity, Six Days Seven Nights, and Anna and the King. The last of these movies is inoffensive enough, I suppose, but I'd never dream of watching any of the other movies if they weren't being shown in another language. (Fun fact: in Russian, the title of Serendipity is translated as Intuition. Robert Merton would be intrigued!)
I've often wondered whether the bad movies shown on foreign TV have a distorting effect on international views of the U.S., but until this weekend, I never had any evidence for this theory. Then, on Saturday, I met an American grad student who--like me--lives in an apartment with a khoziaika, an older woman who owns a multiple-bedroom apartment and rents out one of the rooms to a foreigner. This woman apparently has some interesting ideas about U.S. popular culture. She's a huge fan of the actor Eric Roberts, for example, and is convinced that he's a big star in America. (All I know about him is that he's the much less successful brother of Julia Roberts.) She even knows his movies, and was determined to watch The Cable Guy because he appears in it! Roberts apparently appears in the movie for only a moment, but this woman apparently believed that this was because he was a famous actor making a cameo, not because he was a failed movie star taking a small role in a horrible movie. She was delighted, moreover, to have the chance to see him once again.
I wouldn't attach too much significance to the pop culture preferences of a 60-something Russian widow, of course. But I just can't help wondering: many people in foreign countries detest the pop culture exported by America, and consider the U.S. a corrosive force in the world of culture. Should we really be surprised, if what many foreigners see on TV are cat-eating aliens and third-tier Jim Carrey movies?Posted by Ed at January 17, 2005 02:24 AM