Vive La Television Americaine!
by Jessica Brody
I've always found other countries' obsessions with American pop culture fascinating. Our movies, books, television and music are imported and translated all over the world and yet how much do we really welcome back in return? The answer: not much. And even when we do, we usually just prefer to recreate it from scratch, slap on a shiny American package and claim it as our own (i.e. The Office and Dancing with the Stars which was based on a British show called Strictly Come Dancing.)
I just got back from a two week promotional book tour in Paris where I was promoting the upcoming release of the French version of The Fidelity Files and after speaking with several smart and savvy French journalists and publishing industry folk, one of the things that struck me as extremely interesting is the French's LOVE of American television. Even the shows that aren't translated and put on French cable are downloaded illegally from the internet with French subtitles a few days after their American release. They may scoff at our wine, our processed cheeses and our decisions to go to war, but when it comes to Jack Bauer, they're totally on board.
I know this is nothing new. When I lived in France in 1999, my host family used to regularly quote the show Dallas which I found incredibly strange yet endearing at the same time, especially since I had never seen a single episode. But what baffles me the most is the fact that they seem to be familiar (and quite enamored) with all the big scripted shows--House (called "Dr. House"), CSI (called "Les Experts"), Mad Men, Desperate Housewives, and even Weeds, but when I mentioned The Hills, I was met with a bunch of blank stares. And when I inquired further, I found that in fact, none of the popular American reality shows appeared to have made the translation. It became immediately apparent that although make-believe American characters may be all the rage, the French have yet to find a similar fascination with the characters that are allegedly "real". And so while Gabrielle Solis and Gregory House are gathering a huge Brie-eating following across the pond, I'm sure Speidi is going, "Where's the French love, people?"
Why do you think that is? I certainly can't figure it out. Why have the French so blatantly chosen our fiction over our reality? If obsession with American television stems from an obsession with American culture than surely watching Lauren Conrad and her cohort of stylized friends sipping cocktails at the hottest Hollywood bar would be appealing. But apparently it's not. Is our "reality" too much too handle? Or is it a question of simply not caring what our over privileged 20-somethings are up to? Or maybe it has nothing to do with enjoying our culture, perhaps we just have highly intriguing story tellers over here. I know the WGA would certainly like that theory but are there any others out there?