Glocalization on TV

The Desperate Housewives of Latin America

Another week, another confession: one of my guilty pleasures is watching Desperate Housewives. When I lived in France, my  roommate and I had to watch new episodes online on shady Chinese-subtitled websites. Yes, there were episodes shown on Canal+, but they were several seasons behind.  One night I remember watching Le Grand Journal, a very popular news/entertainment show, when they were interviewing Eva Longoria, one of the stars of Desperate Housewives. The interviewer asked her a question about the plot. Eva looked at her, puzzled, and finally said something like, “Oh, you guys are WAY behind.”

To me, Eva’s off-hand remark sums up how television has been for many years in other parts of the world. In many countries, many of the television programs shown are imported US shows that are either dubbed in the local language or subtitled. In my travels, I have seen Gilmore Girls in Italian and French, Jerry Springer in Japanese (talk about bad public diplomacy!), and Sabrina the Teenage Witch in about five languages. Even in France, a supposed cultural mecca, some of the most popular shows are dubbed versions of CSI, Grey’s Anatomy, How I Met Your Mother, and The Simpsons. While watching TV shows dubbed into other languages is endlessly entertaining for me, research has shown that audiences prefer media products that are culturally proximate (meaning they somewhat reflect their own culture).

Today, while American shows still dominate many international stations, many shows are getting the “globalization” treatment. In this case, glocalization is the adaptation of a product for a local audience. One of our readings this week’s class talked about the adaptation of the telenovela “Betty la fea” for audiences around the world, including the US (we know her here as “Ugly Betty”). In “Ugly Betty Goes Global: global networks of localized content in telenovela industry,” Jade Miller discusses the changes made in order to appeal to local audiences; for example, in the US it was shown once a week instead of every weeknight as in South America. Changes can also reflect societal issues particular to another country. For example, in another class, I am looking at international versions of Sesame Street. In the South African version, Takalani Sesame, there is a muppet who is HIV positive and whose mother died of AIDS. Sesame Workshop is using this character to give kids age-appropriate information about the disease.

On a happy note, I am pleased to see that some countries no longer need to wait for the dubbing process to be completed to get their Desperate Housewives fix. Miller’s piece spoke about a new version of Desperate Housewives produced for Latin American audiences, and  according to this blog, Disney is in the process of creating another version in Turkey!

And yet…part of me wonders is this is still US media hegemony. The names and places are changed, but they are still produced by US companies, and thus still crowding local media companies. What do you all think? Is globalized television good for foreign audiences?

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One thought on “Glocalization on TV

  1. I think in many respects hegemony can be negative thing when it blocks out cultural diversity or prohibits local industries from developing and competing. Living in Chile it was the same thing for me that I could see all the same shows in the US, just with the addition of Spanish subtitles. In some ways, it was disappointing to leave your country and still see the same shows from your home country (although other times comforting!). I met a lot of people who admitted to learning English just by watching all the US programming available and it always made me a little envious that we don’t get that same level of canned foreign programming so readily available here in the States. Why does it seem like the vast majority of the time shows are reformatted to be shown in the States? US media hegemony and the consequence of it?
    On the other hand, there were also a lot of local options available in Chile and there seemed to be a preference for the local – any US series had a lot of trouble competing for viewers against the latest Chilean telenovela. Also, a lot of the popular shows were formats from other Latin American countries. So, maybe globalized television offers more opportunity for smaller industries to develop either in producing their own local format version or by building up bigger markets for their media through selling a program to culturally proximate markets.

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