Globalization of American culture does not necessarily mean
By Hamid Naficy
October 28, 1999
From Hamid Naficy's The
Making of Exile Cultures: Iranian Television in Los Angles (University
of Minnesota Press, 1993), pp. 1-2.
A couple of year ago, my brother and his wife and their daughter who
live in Germany came to visit us in Los Angeles. Their daughter Setareh
and ours, Shayda, are almost the same age (then eight years old). They
did not share a common language -- Setareh spoke German and Persian and
Shayda English -- yet they communicated beautifully through the songs of
Disney's then-current hit film The Little Mermaid.
That such crosscultural communication by means of movies should occur
was, of course, nothing new. What made it unusual was that the version
Setareh had seen was entirely in German (including the songs) while the
one Shayda had seen was in English. They took turns singing the songs in
German and English, but at times they sang in two languages simultaneously;
their joint performance resonated with the film's story: a young mermaid
longing to cross the boundary of species and become her other, a human.
Setareh and Shayda, seemed to use this story to cross the boundaries
of their own specific cultures. Perhaps such differences made each alluring
to the other and the family environment permitted safe transgressions of
boundaries of culture and selfhood.
Four days later our guests left. On the way to the airport, Shayda decided
to learn one of the songs in German and Setareh set out to teach her. In
an amazing feat of mutual instruction, within the span of some 45 minutes
the mission had been largely accomplished--they sang the German song in
At the departure lounge, the two girls hugged each other hard and long.
Shayda was very sad, and she wanted to go with with Setareh. That night
Setareh's mother called to say that Setareh had cried when she left Los
Angeles, the first time she had done so upon leaving someone. She then
put her on the line to speak with Shayda and I stayed on to translate what
at first appeared to be a very mundane conversation.
But something remarkable happened: Setareh began singing to Shayda --
like a lover serenading -- the German song she had taught her earlier that
morning. Shayda did not miss a beat: she followed her in halting German,
missing a few words here and there and having to stop and start a few times.
The globalization of American pop culture does not automatically translate
into globalization of American control. This globalized culture provides
a shared discursive space where transnationals such as Setareh and Shayda
can localize it, make their own use of it, domesticate and indigenize it.
They may think with American cultural products but they do not think American.
As a result, the contents of the culture of transnationals is not only
transnational but also personal. The personal may become global.
The exile television that Iranians in Los Angeles produce and consume
is an instance of creating such personal and local voices amidst the cacophony
of transnational media in this capital of postindustrial era, Los Angeles!
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