I was going to write about the Syrian situation today, but I have to write about TVs because it’s about to drive me insane.
I grew up in a household where we rarely watched TV. And by rarely, I mean my father and stepmother had a pint-sized TV in their bedroom on which we sometimes watched movies or my father watched the occasional football game, and after a while the TV at my mother’s house lived in the basement. I probably grew up watching under three hours of TV a week – most of it news, SNL (“America’s other news”) and British comedy.
American TV, or at least the variety of my childhood, is also quite a bit different than what I’ve encountered abroad: especially on serialized shows the voices and background sounds tend to be more natural, the sound effects less harsh. There isn’t a great disparity between what you might here on the street and what you hear on the TV.
Not so with all TVs abroad. China was an ear-massacre: TVs on all the time, everywhere (especially restaurants), always at full volume. TV shows tend to use these high, fake voices with lots of sound effects; the news sounds like it’s being barked out of a propaganda megaphone paraded through town by people who don’t want to pop their buttons. And the TV addiction is far worse than in America: when I lived in Foshan I almost immediatel moved the TV from valuable bookshelf space to a back closet; when my landlady came over with her six year old son he sat staring at the space on the wall where the TV had been. For an hour. He never came back with her again. Two years later, while staying with a local friend’s family in Keriya (Hotan, Xinjiang), the foreign friend I was traveling with noticed that the flat had three people – and three televisions, all of which were often simultaneously on. If we happened to turn down the (Uyghur-dubbed) barbie princess show on the living room TV to a volume reasonable enough to accommodate conversation, our local friend’s four-year-old niece would immediately come running into the room, turn it back up, and promptly leave. It’s like the TV was her safety blanket.
Turkey’s TV addiction is milder, but it’s still common to find TVs running all the time in households, usually from a prominent position in the living room or behind the dining room table. Even in houses where it isn’t running all the time, the TV is often turned on during or after dinner, sometimes to actually be watched, sometimes as a backdrop to conversation. And the sound is…. well, different. Turkey is infamous for serial shows dripping with melodrama and rivaling films in length. Heightened emotion, lots of sound effects forever hinting that something shocking is just about to be discovered, lots of crying and family arguments (to get a glimpse of the melodrama, read the twisting plot summary in the first paragraph of this article). I tried watching one once as a way to improve my Turkish and…couldn’t. Besides soap operas there are also plenty of game shows, again with heightened “excitement-generating” voices and sounds (not a lot of soothing Oprah Talk) and the news, which likewise seems to see a need to use sound to capture the audience’s attention – China’s strong, snapping voices coupled with copious gunshot. For someone who grew up in a low-volume TV household, it’s an assault on the ears.
But anyway, we’re all adjusting and finding a middle ground.