I asked my students to write a brief essay on the ideals of America as expressed in some television show or film they have viewed. What I should have asked was what elements of BiH culture are expressed in the shows that are presented on the local television station. The trouble with rebroadcasting American shows in BiH is that a critical component of culture is left out. These shows are carefully produced to target a specific demographic, and broadcast on certain times and days to capture this audience. They are carefully constructed stories. It is true, however, that certain basic cultural elements are present no matter the target audience. So, what happens when they are rebroadcast into a European country with a complex political system (shared presidency, contested cities) and a struggling economy (BiH rates as the fifth poorest country in Europe.)
Due to licensing agreements, current television shows cannot be broadcast here. ( Of course, there are the illegal uploads on YouTube but this is not the same as seeing these shows at the time and date of their broadcast schedule in America.) So, the broadcasts that I have seen are of television sitcoms, films, and interview shows that are older, or were not popular. True, there are some local productions of music shows, interviews and some soap operas and comedy shows. What I realized last night was how often these shows deal with some form of justice; of how the legal system in America can help the little people bet the system. There is the classic Law and Order, of course. And Bones. Oddly enough, the past few shows I have watched have included some narrative about the Bosnian War, or some fugitive from the war. I laughed a little when I could understand the Serbian spoken by one of the characters and didn’t need the sub-titles. These shows, called police procedurals, depict the order (police) in positive light, a police force that uses science and logic to catch the criminal. While there are carefully placed human elements in the character development, the focus is on the notion of a community standard that acknowledges the rights of the individual while enforcing community standards. I watched an episode of Blue Bloods, which deals with the framing of a police officer, and another episode of Scandal, which dealt with another incident of framing an innocent.
Seen through American eyes, I read these as the shows about the value of the individual over community values, which are subject to corruption. But who are the individuals to be praised? In terms of Scandal, I can see a reframing of the Bush presidency, which makes it a specific inquiry into truth, individual rights ( to vote) and so on. By presenting an African-American woman as the protagonist, but one with questionable morals, there is a reframing again of gender and race. Women, and people of color in the show are corrupt as anyone. There is no privilege attached to race or gender here. Worse, the women are merely another version of the spider women popular in the film noir. They are ruthless, ambitious, and destroy those around them for personal gain, and then are destroyed. By presenting a seemingly post-racial society, the focus returns squarely to gender inequity.
In America, one is innocent until proven guilty, and with means, can purse justice via the various law courts. While these efforts might fail, the fact is that there are options. Seen through BiH eyes, what is the message? They falter when I ask about their culture, their constitution, and so on. Perhaps, because this country functions with a temporary constitution, a twenty-year-old temporary solution, they feel it is not a concrete place. This will be the next paper they write for me.