That portal, appraising a refuge from that insistent insomnia which followed the uncommon and lingering cold of that Pennsylvania winter, made too dark by death and distance and recurrent themes of global iniquity, offered succor and satisfaction.
That sanctuary improbably contains entire unseen worlds: icy rivers, fragrant fields, ancient towers; long-lost seasons, war battered villagers, sun-kissed nordic children; human depravity; graceful forgiveness; unconditional love.
U.S. television never tantalized in this way. The “comedy,” too mean, or cheap, or base, rarely spawns a smile. The fantastical or blood-drenched drama fails to engage.
Is the “small screen” in truth a magnifier of larger culture?
I see in most US made television too omnipresent toilet humor and flesh bared for the sake of it. No longer, if ever it was, art or narrative, or even excitement, but seeming as a naughty child announcing his own defiant and dubious accomplishment. Rarely does the screen reflect the economic truth that is our life and will be our videographic legacy. Rather, fabulous images permeate: pristine interiors; not a single unwashed dish awaits the harried mother on her return from work. Poverty, so rarely seen, is never seen true: one can never see the broken glass in the subway or the detritus in the alley or the smells of urine, blood, rotted food and sex emanating from the darkened halls of the tenement where the brave and perfectly coiffed FBI agent with his shiny gun snakes through with such grit and virile vigor.
Too much physical beauty: the highest of the high-end of runway fashions painted onto idealized forms of starving actors who exhibit bodies turned out by gyms or film editing tricks to emphasise the muscles on anorexic female forms. Anachronistic: emphasize the female form in costume above historical accuracy. Inappropriate: what matter if no lawyer, doctor would truly wear such fashion in the hum drum halls of her profession? Product placement: Whether cable or subscription or the network: the means to market to the masses(the car, computer or refrigerator in the scene) must never be forsaken!
Sex and violence. Violent sex. Cannibalism and cult criminality. Such themes sell, apparently. Heterosexual, the predominant cultural fantasy but increasingly same-sex relationships are scripted into shows, much as “racial quotas” are often witnessed. The marketing of violence and male sexual fantasy is the persistent “sell.” Infrequent now, tenderness on the small screen. Rather, sexual encounters as violently “passionate” encounters, virtual rape fantasies. Not that the small screen lacks for the portrayal of actual rape encounters; whole series dedicated to sex crimes.
The Anglo-American television drama produces more than its share of the misogynist serial rapist murderer, frequently ritual misogynistic rapist/murderer.
It tires. Saddens. Disheartens. More than rarely, it disgusts.
The discovery of MHZ: a cornucopia of European vision. Perhaps, it sparkles brightly in proportion to its novelty. Possibly. Or, it offers a genuine thread to untangle worlds unknown.
The mind awakes to the varied patterns of language; attending not merely the sound of the tongue but the eyes, the face, the gestures and body movement of the language as well. Communication in each country emerges uniquely. In drama, in comedy, the actor engages her entire self.
Landscapes incorporate the narrative. The thrilling North Sea cliffs tell a different tale than the Palermo seascape, the mood of the autobahn is different from that of the fifth arrondissement.
Food and celebration are conveyed so clearly in modern Swedish Solstice celebrations but vivid too are postwar Danish Christmas rituals, spare and sincere. A family dinner in 1950’s Milan creates a different feeling than the urban family meal in a Parisian restaurant.
There is pleasure in the private discovery of the cultural codes and conventions one might learn from the unfolding presentations.
Many regions value food more highly than US television producers. Care is taken to demonstrate cuisine, kitchen tools and cooking methods of a period, of a city or a country. Restaurants and kitchens, dining rooms and patios emanate ambiance so bright as one watches the smells, almost the tastes come alive, one’s palate is tempted with the wines richly described and correctly poured on screen.
Styles of living through the years evolve so dramatically, yet change not at all. When marketing products or perfection is not the story, dust can accumulate on the mahogany furnishings beneath the open Roman window and water stains on the tile under the soggy boots of a Berlin winter. The casual elegance of a Parisian Sunday brunch in an over furnished 1930’s apartment arrests our attention. People live with wine bottles on the table from last night’s meal and newspapers still being read in the internet age. The viewer is permitted a more realistic, if not a true view, of how wealth distorts lifestyle through the decades whether in northern continental urban Europe largely residing in apartments, or the Scandinavian and the Mediterranean whose lives, rich and poor, may have some backdrop of the sea.
Together, these tales tease to discover the values which bind the culture. When the father who has been grievously wronged embraces his child with forgiveness , is it the omnipresence of the Catholic Church in Italy which allows him to do so? But would an Irishman do the same? Or is this generosity something unique to the Italian landscape, sun-baked and steeped in the sweet aromas of the Mediterranean?
Most striking, History is a character in so many of the dramas. Most especially, World War II is kept an actor of our time. The war as action, the war as precedent, the war as motivation. The man as hero, the child as orphan, the woman as love child. Often without a direct mention, it is ever clear that the historical created the dramatic conflict of the moment, the precise events of history, the reality lived: these people and events inhabit the stories which unfold on that small screen.
As an American watching a world in which the characters of the twenty-first century appear deeply connected to the events of seventy-five or one hundred years ago, I feel a void. One could argue our culture is more free, unburdened by the past. One could also suggest we are less prepared to craft a future.
That portal, still a haven for restless nights, filled with the fireflies and the lightening of these overheated summer days, too filled with replays of unending global conflict, enlightens and directs an understanding which feels a salve for the burdens of the day.