TV as a means of cultural imperialism


RECENTLY, at my usual watering hole, a friend started a conversation that was soon joined by half the bar.
He was reminiscing on the fondest childhood memories shared by the generation of ‘born-frees’ who grew up in the ghettos in the 1980s.
Although the contributions that came from the floor were varied and while people had different opinions on the factors that have shaped the mindsets of the young generation, all seemed to be in agreement television played a central role in the current generation’s conceptions of reality.
The debate had me thinking about my own childhood, which I shared with the patrons at the watering hole, and I noted a good number nodding intently in agreement.
This is what I told them.
In Chitungwiza, where I grew up, I remember how much of a big deal it was to own a television set, let alone a colour TV, at the dusk of the 1980s.
In most households where you would find a TV set, it was perhaps the most-prized asset.
Most of the TVs had a wooden frame, which had ‘legs’ and folding doors similar to dated wardrobes.
Despite there being one station and one TV channel, ZBC-TV, which went on air in the afternoon and would shut transmission just before midnight, it was surprising how much command TV had, despite the limited number of TV sets and limited time we had to watch.
A typical weekday when schools were open started with a hot-seating session at school and while waking up early was not the most preferable, it gave one enough time to play as soon as you knocked off from school.
As soon as you got home from school, you would be instructed to take off your uniform and put on your ‘home clothes’, the not-so-nice pieces of apparel that in most instances were hand-me-downs from older siblings.
Off to the streets you would go, spoilt for choice which game you would join, be it pada, raka raka, maflawu, ‘fish-fish’, country-game, hwishu, nhodo, chisveru, mahumbwe or tsoro, among many others.
Much as these games sharpened our minds, subconsciously we only took them as a pass-time until ZBC transmission began.
At times we would station a ‘scout’ at the house where we would be watching TV from to wait for the round coloured ball or the striped lines coupled with the eery continuous bleeping sound to go off on the TV set, then he/she would shout, alerting the kids on the streets it was cartoon time.
The ‘whole community’ of children of the same age would gather round and knock at the door of our mutual friend where we could gain access to a TV, but this was not before a chiding to wash our feet and sit on the floor quietly, watching TV until sunset.
First, we would watch our favourite cartoons, which included Voltron, Brave Heart, Captain Planet, Smurfs, Tin Tin, and Rambo, among others.
Then later on in the day we would watch Knight Rider, WWF, MacGyver, Tour of Duty, The A Team, Santa Barbara and Dallas, among others.
The following day at school during break time, each group would be buzzing with stories of what they saw the previous day.
My favourite recollections were from Night Rider, a hit in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
At a tender age, I had developed an acute taste for the fast cars and at that time, no car could surpass Kitt, the ‘talking car’ in the television series Night Rider.
Kitt brought to life my active imagination, it was fitted with cutting edge gizmos that were way ahead of their time, including voice command and a navigation system, much like the James Bond automobiles that determined technological drift in the motor industry decades after their conception.
This was the same time when the television series MacGyver was scorching hot. MacGyver was a streetwise, self-made ‘engineer’ who pulled a Houdini act each time he got in trouble due to his American roots.
I can also vividly remember the conquests of American soldiers in Tour of Duty.
I am also almost certain that those who grew up in my generation grew intrinsically fond of Bret Hart, the Undertaker, the charismatic Hulk Hogan and his arch rival Macho Man, on WWF.
But it was the rivalry between Macho Man and Hulk Hogan that would get immense coverage as they would fight for ‘the most beautiful woman in the world’, Elizabeth, whose name would be called out with much gusto by Macho Man that you just had to fall in love with her even if you did not know what love was at the time.
It was only later on in life that we realised WWF producers were controlling our minds and feelings when you looked at the roles played by the white wrestlers vis-a-vis the black wrestlers such as Kamala, a wrestler who was portrayed as a wild savage with brawn and no brain.
Kamala’s role in WWF wrestling was almost the same denigration that was accorded the Headshrinkers.
Yokozuna, the Chinese Sumo wrestler, was also cast in the same light.
Even the Headshrinkers were presented as a duo that had lost their wits, mostly known for playing the part of Samoan savages that would display uncivilised behaviour such as digging into a raw turkey carcass during a match, or at times showing deviant behaviour like savagely pulling each other’s hair during matches.
The Headshrinkers, like their name suggests, were also cast as having heads immune to pain, head-butting a Headshrinker would have no effect on the Samoan warriors, a stereotype synonymous with the professional wrestling portrayals of Samoan wrestlers.
I guess that was because we were watching too many American movies and television series.
One could only wish to have the ultimate masculine body physique, fastest car, innovative mind, eclectic fighting techniques, a colour television set and as a bonus if you could also have a car equipped with full-house accessories, then you would be living the life.
My cosmology was very much shaped by the media products I was consuming at that time and to a great extent, perhaps even the environs greatly contributed to my worldview and perceptions of reality.
Could this have been America laying the foundation for globalisation, which many assert is veiled Americanisation of world cultures, the height of cultural imperialism where one culture dominates another through the use of popular culture?


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