Friday, August 29, 2008

Familiar Faces

Let's face it, for many of us who grew up in America, television and movies represented integral teaching devices.

My TV taught me about the simple truths in life. For example, I learned that liberal hippie parents can actually produce Republican offspring, that alien life forms actually had normal human names and that a rich white guy adopting two orphaned kids from Harlem is just really, really funny because it would probably never happen.

But, you know, while TV and movies taught me a lot about other people, they didn't always teach me about myself.

At least, not the part of myself that had parents that believed that children who didn't agree with them were inherently evil and had no respect for "their elders" because said children were too "Americanized." Or that being a doctor, lawyer or engineer was not part of a cultural identity, it was the only cultural identity you had.

What I mean to say is that Asian Americans, particularly those from the subcontinent, were few and far between in movies and TV.

So, when I did see that occasional brown face on the tube or silver screen, my immature little mind clawed at a deeper truth. Surely, these characters could teach me about myself, the way Alex P. Keaton taught me that Republicans, too, can be kind of hot in a money grubbing, if not completely self absorbed, way.

Here's some of the stuff I learned:

If you walk around India in a white sheet and get a lot accomplished, maybe you will be lucky enough to have a very talented white actor play your role in fifty years.

Religious tolerance is critically important in America. Do not offer people's gods peanuts.

If someone says you have an "exotic" look, retain your humility and think about how they mean it.

Fake Indian accents are about as funny as Steve Guttenberg. Which is to say that they are not. At all.

On a side note, all of these characters were Indian in their origin. Even on that level, I had to compromise because I'm actually Pakistani-American. I would've posted a few people hijacking airplanes, but it would have been too depressing.

Be assured, I have a very good sense of humor about these things (or is it that I have simply given up?), so this wasn't some subtle diatribe about how racist American TV was when I was growing up.

I get that I wasn't a big priority in terms of advertising revenue in the 80s. I also appreciate the evolution represented in my own daughter's favorite TV shows which are about a little Chinese-American girl and a little Hispanic boy. (Where, exactly, does Diego come from?)

I'm curious about what other people thought of these characters and others like them, and how TV and movies might have affected the general perception about other cultures.

So, tell me how did television or movies affect your perception of cultures, whether that of your own or others?

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Anonymous Zia said...

There is no doubt that growing up in the eighties was a trying experience. I spent a portion of my childhood as a young African American with an affluent white father. As you can imagine, my sense of identity, both socioeconomic and simply cultural, was not well defined.
My father understood the gravity of the situation. He understood that the certain human instincts tend toward xenophobia. But he also understood that there is a nobility within us that eventually must overcome our fears if we are to truly progress as a society. It is because of my father that I was able to become a successful Pakistani American.

When I first met my father as a young child, I remember the poem he wrote me, which epitomizes his consistent appeal to humanity's noble nature:

"Now, the world don't move to the beat of just one drum,
What might be right for you, may not be right for some.
A man is born, he's a man of means.
Then along come two, they got nothing but their jeans.

But they got, Diff'rent Strokes.
It takes, Diff'rent Strokes.
It takes, Diff'rent Strokes to move the world.

Everybody's got a special kind of story
Everybody finds a way to shine,
It don't matter that you got not alot
So what,
They'll have theirs, and you'll have yours, and I'll have mine.
And together we'll be fine....

Because it takes, Diff'rent Strokes to move the world.
Yes it does.
It takes, Diff'rent Strokes to move the world."

Never was the truth spoken so eloquently.

Tuesday, 02 September, 2008  
Blogger Faiqa said...

BUWAHAHAHAHAHA. Only in America can a young African American hope to grow up to be a successful Pakistani American. On a completely unrelated note, isn't it weird that Alan Thicke wrote that song? He is so multitalented. Go Dr. Seaver!

Tuesday, 02 September, 2008  
Blogger Avitable said...

Well, porn affected what I thought sex was going to be like.

Tuesday, 02 September, 2008  
Blogger Faiqa said...

sad. very sad.

Tuesday, 02 September, 2008  
Blogger Miss Britt said...

I'm a blonde haired blue eyed girl from Iowa.

I've always been fairly well represented in the media.

It wasn't until I was much, much older that it even occurred to me that other people weren't. And what that must be (or might be) like.

The only thing I remember thinking as far as how TV related to me was that no one else in the whole world must be poor. Until Roseanne.

Friday, 05 September, 2008  
Blogger sybil law said...

Oh my, Britt - she stole what i thought! (About Roseanne.) Even those idiots on soap operas who were supposed to be "poor" were never, ever dressed poor, or if they were, not for long.
I watched the same shows as you, it seems, and I don't think I ever even noticed, because I had no need to (brown hair, green eyes - total American girl next door).
I'm really enjoying your blog, though!

Friday, 05 September, 2008  
Blogger Faiqa said...

miss britt: I loved Roseanne. Except when the dark haired daughter's boyfriend moved in with them when she went away to college and when they switched the older sister, then it just got a little weird.

sybil: That's cool. I wouldn't expect the self described girl next door to notice.
ALTHOUGH, did you ever notice how women with brown (or dark) hair are generally more evil than blondes in movies? Examples: Veronica (from Archie) and the evil genie from I Dream of Genie, Ursula when she disguises herself in the Little Mermaid...I'm just saying.

Friday, 05 September, 2008  

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