Monday, December 13, 2010

TV and Radio

I’m understanding more of the radio programs these days. Not just the sense or the feel (what I call the underlying language of gesture and intonation that seems to be pretty universal and is at least well shared by French and American cultures).

An aside: here’s a video of the facial expression part of this underlying shared language from an exhibit we saw yesterday at the Musée Dauphinois about machines trying to imitate humans. This is the language dogs have evolved to understand. This is the language key to my impressions of France!
video


And I am still finding everything fascinating, probably partly because it is like looking at something through slats in a fence: you only grasp bits and pieces and it makes it so much more enticing. If you see the whole, it might be boring, ordinary, or otherwise uninteresting. There is a thriving, blooming garden of a language and culture hidden behind a fence and I can only see parts of it. It’s rich, but just—out—of—reach.

The soap opera we watch every night, Plus Belle la Vie, would be totally uninteresting in English, I think. But for us, it is a real draw. We can understand the cheesy drama and the overacting, the music always lets us know whether it is meant to be comic or suspenseful. We can’t really comprehend its more mundane side. To us it is all new and mysterious, a puzzle, a mystery. We love it.

I tried to watch daytime TV one day, but it was too depressing. The shows were either dubbed soaps or those horrible talk shows where they have a conflict like “why Chantal hates Collette” and they have Chantal tell her part of the story in front of Collette, then it is Collette’s turn, and the host makes no attempt at resolution, everyone gets whipped into a frenzy, etc.

But that was not the most depressing part of French daytime TV to me. The thing that really bummed me out was the commercials. I was devastated to learn that “French women” according to the advertisers (the obvious target audience for daytime TV) are just as insecure and worried about what to feed their family for breakfast, wrinkles, how to get softer whiter laundry, etc. as “American women.” What a bummer! My illusions shattered! Tell me it isn’t true!

So I am not peeking through that part of the fence. Instead, I listen to “France Inter,” which I think is sort of like French public radio. There are interviews with artists and writers, political discussions, comedy shows, music, etc.

One show was about sex education for teenagers. First I was interested because the show was about jeunes gens (young people) and this is good for me because I find those two words difficult to distinguish. Thank goodness yellow (jaune) does not often come up in the same sentence or I’d be hopeless (Greg told me to think about saying “Jean Jen John” and that helps!).

Also, it was interesting because the conversation started out in such a much more practical and reasonable place than a similar conversation would in America. In America, sex education wouldn’t even be the issue, it would be about privacy and states rights versus individual family values. It would be about religion, beliefs, respecting difference.

Here, they had a couple of teenagers and a couple of adult experts in the field who worked in the school system or in public health. The radio interviewer asked the teenagers if they had sex education in the school and they said yes. They asked the teenagers if they liked it. They said no, it was awkward and embarrassing. They asked the teenagers if they talked about such things with their parents. Of course not!

Meanwhile, the adults calmly pointed out that there were many streams of information informing the teenagers about sexuality: the media, the internet, their friends, their families, etc. And it is a basic fact that not all these sources of information have an interest in being detailed and accurate.

Though uncomfortable for all, they conclude, it is important to society, a simple matter of public health, that correct information about preventing disease be put in the schools. (There are condom dispensers on the street corners here.) It was all so sensible! They really got to the key issue very quickly.

So on this topic I felt the French were in a much better place and addressing the real issue at its core. However, on the topic of race and immigration, I think America is more able to get to root of the problem and have a productive discourse. [Keep in mind this is the view from my very limited understanding!]

In America, the race conversation, while also controversial, starts out from a place of the idea of equal rights and respect for difference (on NPR at least). In France, it seems to be all about “them” becoming “us.” There is ONE right way to live and it is the French way. When I hear these discussions I always feel they are talking about the wrong things (just like I do in America when the topic of sex education comes up---it gets derailed by other deeply held beliefs).

I guess sometimes having one right way works, sometimes it doesn’t…

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