Tangent: NYT Op-Ed: Foreigners Are Attacking … American TV, within US TV programs. Contrast with Japan.

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Hi Blog.  In my previous blog entry, I mentioned the disenfranchisement of foreigners from Japanese media, and my upcoming book (out in November) will discuss further the effects of that in terms of tolerance of difference and counteracting public defamation.  As a Debito.org Tangent, let’s contrast this with the degree of access that foreigners in America have to influence the domestic narrative and talking points.  I don’t know how unusual this is on a country-to-country scale (Debito.org Readers are welcome to mention the foreign anchors/pundits holding court outside the US and Japan), but given the influence that American media has worldwide, this is not a small matter.  The NYT does a survey below.  Dr. ARUDOU, Debito

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Foreigners Are Attacking … American TV!
By VIKAS BAJAJ New York Times MARCH 30, 2015
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/31/opinion/foreigners-are-attacking-american-tv.html

American late-night television shows have probably never had so many anchors with foreign accents as they will have soon. Trevor Noah, a South African comedian, will become at least the third non-American native to host a popular TV comedy show later this year when he takes over “The Daily Show” from Jon Stewart. He will join two Britons, John Oliver of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” and James Corden, who recently started hosting “The Late Late Show” on CBS.

Mr. Noah is an unconventional choice to host a show on American television, which has had plenty of British actors and comedians over the years. He was born to a black Xhosa mother and a white Swiss father and is from a country where mixed race unions are still uncommon. And, perhaps most important, many Americans have never heard or seen him perform.

But Mr. Noah’s foreignness might be just what the “The Daily Show” and American television broadly need. It is hard to remember now, but when Mr. Stewart took over the show and later spun off “The Colbert Report,” fake news was not a big part of our comedy diet. Yes, there was the Weekend Update segment on “Saturday Night Live,” but it came on just once a week and did not always deliver the goods.

Maybe what we really need now is to have foreigners apply their brand of satire to the United States — its politics, culture and race relations — to tell us something about ourselves that our homegrown comedians are not capturing. And they can perhaps also enlighten us about what’s funny and tragic in the rest of the world as Mr. Oliver has done ably on his show. Aside from a few jokes about Europe, most late-night shows rarely dwell on international subjects.

Still, Mr. Noah’s appointment has disappointed some fans of “The Daily Show” who had hoped that Comedy Central would pick a woman like Samantha Bee, who is leaving the show to start her own satirical program on TBS. It is disappointing that none of the several late-night shows on the air now are hosted by a woman. Perhaps, Ms. Bee will so successfully shatter that glass ceiling that the executives at other networks will seek out more women to be hosts.

There will probably also be criticism from some quarters that Mr. Noah, Mr. Oliver and Mr. Corden represent a foreign invasion of television that is depriving hard-working American comedians of important jobs. Just last week, a columnist for Deadline.com suggested that some deserving white actors were not getting roles on new TV shows because the industry was designating many more characters as reserved for nonwhite actors.

I for one am looking forward to Mr. Noah’s stint in the anchor chair. I found his three appearances on “The Daily Show” to be funny in a unique way — watch him explain why it was bad for the United States to try to lure top chess players away from other countries. And I laughed at clips of his standup act in which he mimics the odd speaking style of President Jacob Zuma of South Africa. I hope he is just as unsparing to our politicians.

ENDS

7 comments on “Tangent: NYT Op-Ed: Foreigners Are Attacking … American TV, within US TV programs. Contrast with Japan.

  • If you wanted to get nitpicky, there’s an argument that Brits, Canadians, South Africans or whatever still fall somewhat more or less in the “Anglosphere” umbrella, you know, the comfortable “different, but not too exotic” distance the mainstream audience can tolerate, and isn’t really grounds for congratulating how “so foreign, much diversity” America (or at least its latenight shows) really is. When they have anchors from Mongolia, Indonesia and Angola maybe, for example, then there’s a better argument.

    — A comedian from South Africa doesn’t count?

    Reply
  • “A comedian from South Africa doesn’t count?”

    count for what, though ? Sure, it’s a little more daring than just another lame british or canadian import, but like I said SA is still culturally anglo enough, that I’m not yet celebrating this as if it were some important victory for “diversity” (I’m still saving the party hats for the first Angolan. 😉

    Of course America has more foreigners in primetime positions (well, America also has more foreigners, in general) than Japan, no doubt. I think there’s also a good argument to be made (if this is what you’re getting at) that the visibility of those can influence their perception in the different countries (but if you overstate its importance, the argument becomes ridiculous again – it’s not like “american attitudes towards the british have improved since because so-and-so became a latenight anchor”). It’s just that the “obvious” prescriptions from this only bring us back to the old conundrum (often discussed here as well): Would japanese attitudes/treatment of NJ improve if there were more of them in prime positions ? Probably, sure. But then again, how does a foreigner get into a prime position in Japan in the first place ? Well, probably not by agitating for the cause etc, but by not rocking the boat, being an inoffensive/expendable entertainer. Call it a self-selecting feedback loop.

    In case of Japan, the best nearest example one could possibly take are the Korean dramas and music groups. Sure, it’s not exactly news anchors, still being of an entertainment nature. How has it influenced Japans attitude/opinions about Korea/Koreans ? Sure, for some parts of the population (bored housewives? /snark) it has maybe an improving effect, then again there’s also the nasty anti-reaction from others. All in all I’m relatively hestitant to conclude any big progress made. If any commenters can discuss this with more knowledge, I’m interested in being corrected on this!

    It’s just that we’ve been there countless times before: every time some “foreign” (or just “half”… wouldn’t want to get too uncomfortably exotic now, you know?) entertainer starts to make waves, every news outlet falls over themselves to observe how “attitudes are changing!” (this time, for sure!)… and after their 15 minutes of fame are inevitably up, we are squarely back to the ol’ square one.

    For what it’s worth, what I think Japan really needs is some sort of “Daily Show”, in the first place. (and I don’t even care if it’s staffed with foreigners or not). Something with enough reach and irreverence that isn’t afraid to speak truth to power, and pick against all the elites who hide behind the “wa”, with sharp humour. Again, if something like this is out there, please let me know 🙂

    — Your points are all well taken (especially the role of sarcasm and irreverence towards authority that is a hallmark of much English-language comedy and satire), and that’s why I posted this up for critique. And I am not one of those “falling all over myself” types of people either when it comes to people overstating the influence of diversity whenever it appears, either — quite the opposite, actually. Still, if “rocking the boat” is one of your qualifications, the fact that foreigners can be very critical of the US and yet maintain their prominent bully pulpits is pretty remarkable, no?

    Reply
  • Enginerd Says:

    but like I said SA is still culturally anglo enough.

    Have you been to South Africa?

    Outside of the southern cape, South Africa is culturally Dutch through the Afrikaner legacy, when its local culture isn’t determined by the local Bantu African culture.

    If I remember correctly this comedian has no anglo heritage at all. His father was German and his mother is Black South African.

    Reply
  • “And I am not one of those “falling all over myself” types of people either when it comes to people overstating the influence of diversity whenever it appears, either — quite the opposite, actually”

    I know, you wrote some good articles dissecting the occasional tarento and media circus. It’s exactly because of these experiences that temper your expectations about the real impact (on J-attitudes) that NJ-faces on primetime TV could make ?

    “Still, if “rocking the boat” is one of your qualifications, the fact that foreigners can be very critical of the US and yet maintain their prominent bully pulpits is pretty remarkable, no?”

    I think one needs to be discerning here:
    “Being able to criticize the country” has less to do with their origin, and everything to do with their target audience! In the case of the Daily Show, it’s majorly liberal and young – so these people are already quite predisposed to hearing/saying “bad” things about the country, dissatisfaction and complaints about the status quo. The show’s host is just being the voice/valve for that, not the source, and his origin is less of a factor than his arguments. In fact, criticizing the country is what is expected there, it’s what the audience comes for. They want to talk about what ills and ails the nation, cut through the PR bullshit and put the problems under the revealing lens of comedy. Whether the host is a yank, brit or south african is just a bonus, not a necessity.

    The “remarkable” thing about America is that a show like the Daily Show can exist in the first place, that America can make fun of itself, and that there’s a sizeable audience for that. Not saying it’s all gravy, and of course there’s people who dislike that (who have their own shows), but still also enough people who like it so it gets put on air, free market -style. I don’t know how that works in Japan, from what little I’ve seen of TV humour there’s next to none “big issue”-stuff, just dumb trite (and I’m definetly not saying America doesn’t have its fair share of that too). If anyone knows of a few rays of lights in that media cesspool, I’m ready to stand corrected! The most “political” satire I’ve seen so far were newspaper caricature comics, which is as quaint as it is inoffensive. Just imagine if a “Daily Show” might even work at all in Japan ? A show that, every night, heckles the elites, puts up their follies and counteracts the official “everything is awesome” narrative. A show whose humour is “kicking upwards” for once (instead of “kicking downwards”, laughing at the expense of those weaker than you). How terribly un-“harmonious” that is – unjapanese even! How would that even get made, and if it did, how long until it got bullied into silence like every other time some newscaster dares to have an independent opinion on Fukushima, Abenomics or History ?
    Again, it’s a matter of target audience, and whether the exact same concepts (young, liberal, politically conscious, receptive to snark and irony) are directly relatable in Japan (which I don’t think so, at least not 1-for-1). I don’t see where that show could be made, and I don’t see who it could be talking to (after all it needs a sizeable base to be able to put up at least a fight against officialdom).

    Also, to illustrate this point, and clarify the American example, consider the case of Piers Morgan. An opinionated british host on CNN whose issues (for example pro-guncontrol) alienated the viewership and was dropped for low ratings. Now, this says nothing about whether americans like or dislike foreign hosts in general (though I’m sure part of the audience thought “if you don’t like it, just leave it”), but his mistake was being on a “mainstream” network with this, not a dedicated channel more receptive to his ideas (on the Daily Show, for example, he’d be raking in the kudos for that). In America there’s a spectrum of audiences and a spectrum of shows that play to them. People who like Jon Stewart and people who like Bill O’Reilly (if you want to get really cynical you can make the argument that even this is all just kabuki theater dancing on the strings of the same media masters, but at least there’s the appearance of intellectual diversity). If you say something your audience agrees with, it’s secondary where you’re from (hell even Fox News has some token foreigners and minorities to tell them how awesome America is, for example, and they are quite “liked” if they play their role right). On the other hand this also leads to much more polarisation and “intellectual bubbles” (where you can arrange your life around your worldview and never have to be exposed to conflicting ideas), so I’m not sure how that’d go over in a society that prizes “harmony” (one all-inclusive mainstream for all, ordinated from above) above individuality of opinion (and the expression thereof).

    — Good stuff. Thank you for the feedback. I guess the bottom-line point for you is, in terms of Japan: “We need more niche TV in Japan where people, regardless of background, can poke fun and be irreverent.” I have a hard time seeing that happen in Japan, where the primary purpose of the mass media, in my experience of watching a LOT of it (not to mention participating), is to entertain, inform, and rally (and hardly ever to undermine established narratives).

    Reply
  • To pick up on both points.

    I also think that if, and i do stress if, such a show were to be aired in Japan, the presentation, “image” would need a real serious change too. All the current shows on TV…debates/whatever…it is so so hard to tell what the show is. If you turn down the sound and only watch the images….they all look the same and all look like stupid game shows with their flashing lights and images on the screen ( which resemble walking down the strip in Las Vages with endless distractions to the eye), and presenters pulling away strips of sticky paper from a cardboard plaque like a teacher to their young impressionable 8year old students to reveal….tada….yes….another kanji that no one uses….shock-horror….ugh!!.

    Reply
  • Jim di Griz says:

    Good points in #4.
    After all, remember at New Year, both on Kohaku and during a live performance, Southern All Stars made indirect criticism of Abe, and what happened?
    Abe got his friends at NHK to remove thier performance from all re-runs and pay-per-view viewings.
    Abe made comments to reporters about being ‘shocked’.
    Southern All Stars had to issue a public apology via thier management agency due to right-wing threats.

    Satire TV?
    Japanese aren’t allowed to do it, so there’s no way NJ could pull it off. They’d get murdered by right-wingers.

    Reply
  • [“I guess the bottom-line point for you is, in terms of Japan: “We need more niche TV in Japan where people, regardless of background, can poke fun and be irreverent.” I have a hard time seeing that happen in Japan, where the primary purpose of the mass media, in my experience of watching a LOT of it (not to mention participating), is to entertain, inform, and rally (and hardly ever to undermine established narratives).”]

    Well, it would have to be more than just a “niche” to have any meaningful effect, but yes, if there’s an improvement from the status quo to be made, sure why not ? My concern then is rather (to those of you more in the loop about the going-ons of j-society) is if there is actually meaningful demand in the audience for this ? Basically the same old chicken-egg problem that every media studies 101 student grapples with: Are the media the way they are because of the public audience demands, or are the public the way they are because they are shaped by the media ? In case of Japan (and I’m overexaggerating of course to drive the point), do the public really like and actually want all this dumb variety, cooking show, soap opera stuff, and the media just delivers, or is it (exaggerating again) all just a sinister ploy from TPTB to keep the public distracted and docile ? Of course, it’s cheap and easy everywhere just to bash on the entertainment section. What about the actual news, and political analysis, talking about the hard issues ? America is hardly the gold-standart for this (I mentioned issues of overpolarisation and intellectual bubbles, where every worldview can have its dedicated channel, for better or worse, and some debates are less about exchange of ideas than ideological pissing contests), but at least there’s a certain culture of pride taken in sticking to your opinion and resisting the dominant force – of course whatever THAT is depends on who YOU are (leftists think the right is in power, rightists think the left is in power. Having the plebs so squabbling amongst themselves, meanwhile the actual powers are laughing all the way to the bank. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose). Consider the battle over “american..” (as in, american values, or what is/isn’t “un-american”) etc, and how different political persuasions try to to get ideological hegemony of the term. Some say it is “un-american” to criticize the government (interestingly, always just when they’re in charge), others say it’s the most american thing you can do, freedom and all that jazz. The term is flexible enough to be used by any side of an issue as a means to further their agenda. Which has its own set of problems, but at least they’re having a debate, and the term has nowhere near the power to shut down whole debates on its own as something being deemed “japanese” or “un-japanese” has in Japan, which is something apparently everybody knows (or at least is expected to – and will be reminded of, when they deviate), and the elites completely control that term at their own disposal, instead of the people (quite ingeniously, having convinced the populace that deference to authority is apparently a core japanese virtue, thus altering the mental landscape in such a way that dissent itself places you outside the group for whom you are supposed to be speaking – but I’d be veering too far off into faulty Whorfism here). Let’s just say the next japanese constitution probably won’t have “We the people…” in the preamble.

    @Scipio:
    In it’s most restrictive definition, “anglosphere” is the hard core group of UK, US, IRE, CAN, AUS, NZ, of course. However considering the legacies of the british colonial empire, the commonwealth (and lets not forget, the modern american empire), a wide variety of groups with diverse native cultures, from Jamaica to Nigeria to India to Malaysia to Vanuatu, nevertheless share some important cultural influences from them. How much of it is or isn’t, depends on what you weigh, on a case-by-case basis. I have indeed been to SA, and found it (in my personal, un-academic and un-authoritative assessment) more anglo than lets say dutch, for example (can’t comment on bantu, though) – having also been to the UK and the Netherlands this was my subjective reference comparison (full disclosure: I’m not from an “anglo” background myself, so maybe that makes me more sensitive to differences an anglo-person themself wouldn’t notice). But my main point was besides geographic issues anyways.
    American TV already has lots of foreign hosts and anchors (well, more than Japan, at least), but to what extent do they bring a “uniquely foreign” (ugh) perspective into the discourse, that is substantially different from the american one, or couldn’t come from an american person (who already have quite a variety of opinions) ? Brits like John Oliver for example will sometimes do their self-depreciating “oi gov’nor” shtick (which is quite charming but hardly eye-opening or a meaningful cultural learning experience), and I’m eager to see what Trevor Noah will bring to the table, but he was not picked for any specific “South African-ness” of his (whatever that would be). He was picked to play to the usual Daily Show audience, and bring the usual Daily Show -style humour about the usual Daily Show -targets. You can make the case that this is just another “anglo” thing in itself (as per Debito: “the role of sarcasm and irreverence towards authority that is a hallmark of much English-language comedy and satire” – and to preempt any potential arguments: of course other cultures have their forms of fun as well). Again, to drive the point home via overexaggeration: You know what would be a really “unique foreign”, very “not-anglo”, diversity points-awarding viewpoint I haven’t heard on american TV before ? Give a fundamentalist muslim, the nastiest bloke from ISIS, his own show on primetime, let them speak and make their case, lenghty and uninterrupted. You get all the raw, “valuable outsider perspective on your country” you’d ever want, that is, for as long as it takes before the DHS shuts it down. Hell, I’d definetly watch it. BRB, pitching this to Fox…

    Reply

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