Friday, July 13, 2007

You've Got a Friend In...

I spent three months studying in Krasnodar Russia in 1996. It was an eye-opening experience. I'm sure many things have changed - since that was eleven years ago.

Things changed very quickly there. The first set of American students in the program may have taken jeans or other things to sell in Krasnodar. By the time we got there, there were lots of cheap jeans made by Russians that would work fine.

They had some things (like Mars bars), but not others (Reese's peanut butter cups). They had regular coke or pepsi, but not diet coke. Krasnodar is a city around 16 hours by train south of Moscow. It had a population of one million.

Some Russians (in 1996) had never seen Americans before and thought we might be German. But we were not the focus of intense scrutiny that I'm sure we would have been fifteen years earlier.

But one of the things I found fascinating was the wealth of bad American television that many Russians watched.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, televisions became more accessible to everyday Russians.

With the advent of television, in came a ton of overdubbed foreign programming. Most of it was from Hollywood, and a lot of it was really bad. For example, I remember watching the movies "Warlock" and "Harem" with my host family. No offense to anyone who may have worked on the movies themselves, but they were pretty bad.

My Russian Literature professor claimed that all American movies had to do with s_ex, drugs or criminals, and it was difficult to contradict him. I finally came up with the movie "The Mission" - but he claimed it was a historical film and therefore didn't count.

Most Russians watched the movie "Pretty Woman" and thought that was a good example of life in the US. It should go without saying that we had a lot of stereotypes to fight against.

So with all the B movies that were translated into Russian, there were a ton of soap operas. The soap operas typically ran in prime time and the whole family watched them. One I remembered watching was a Brazilian soap opera called New Victim, or in Russian Novoy Djertva. It was definitely a soap opera - with evil mothers in law, young couples in love, etc.

Some of the Russians I talked to were fascinated by the new programming. They remembered the old tv shows that were not necessarily very interesting -but Soviet correct. Others bemoaned the loss of community. My host grandmother remembered sitting in the apartment courtyard and singing folk songs. Whether or not this was true - without television, people probably found a great deal more to do.

A Russian joke went:
A Russian woman wanted to travel to the United States. The consulate asked her who she knew in the United States, who she would be visiting. She says "I'm going to Santa Barbara. I know all the people there".

1 comment:

Freckle Face Girl said...

I lived in Qatar 10 years ago & it is sad for me to think how much it has changed. There is something about being overseas that changes you forever.