Even in the most interesting productions there are assimilated absences, incomprehensible errors, things that become invisible by force of habit: a phenomenon caused by the dominant culture.
The evidence that the film industry is in critical condition is stronger than ever. A general identity crisis is reinforced by professionals fleeing towards the production of TV series. It is hard to find more than five or six films a year worth seeing. We no longer ask that films blow our minds or make us think: only that they entertain us for a while, or that at least they don’t upset or depress us.
We see this happening with Interstellar, one of the latest bets of the year which, despite having a somewhat tired theme, is headed by Christopher Nolan, who at least passed all the film directing courses at school. In the world of romantic comedy, which is going through one of its worst moments, it seems that the classic formula of the hero overcoming obstacles and frustrations through bravery and effort to get the love of the girl is the only one that works, at least as long as the pace is sustained and the actors know what they are doing. See Cuban Fury or Chef.
But the audiovisual addicts among us have no reason to complain. The quality and variety of television productions have remained constant since HBO revolutionized the small screen earlier in the century. Diversity and webTV allow us to watch more series than ever, series that will be better or worse, will help us think or disconnect, and will engage more or less – but at least they are well done.
But regardless of their quality, there are assimilated absences, incomprehensible errors, things that become invisible by force of habit: a phenomenon caused by the dominant culture.
The numerical superiority of American and British productions over Spanish, French, German, etc., is obvious. But here we run into a serious and intractable problem: Spanish productions are, with few exceptions, terribly bad. They are poorly directed, poorly produced, poorly interpreted, and scripts, despite often being the only decent element, also cry to the heavens. So it is normal to see more series in English. If we decided to boycott the “audiovisual Anglo-invasion” the only option would be to stop watching TV because there is no way of putting up with so much trash, and the solution, as we are seeing, is not to “protect” the national product.
But even in the interesting Spanish productions we see these strange invisibilizing effects I’m talking about. First, the series are shot and happen by default in Madrid unless they are produced by a regional chain. When the script requires breaking with that centrality, as in Caso Wanninkhof, or recently in El Príncipe, we find that the main characters speak with a strong Valladolid accent (which is how well-off people from Madrid speak), despite being locals from Mijas, Castillejos, or Ceuta.
The friendly and conservative series, which aspired to represent the average Spanish family – Farmacia de guardia, Médico de familia, or Los Serrano – happened in Madrid with Madrid characters except these significant exceptions: the assistant in Médico de familia is Andalusian; in Los Serrano – the story of a remarriage with children from previous marriages that start living together – the Andalusian is a waiter, and the wife and daughters are from Barcelona.
When a series – a quite good one, for a change – happens in Valencia, it is because the plot is about corruption in the real estate business. When set in Asturias, it is to make a local version of Northern Exposure: a cold, strange, distant, and extremely isolated location (Alaska).
And the fact that Anglos produce good quality series doesn’t mean that they don’t do the same. It’s hard for me to watch Tyrant, despite being so interesting, due to how artificial it seems that the dictatorial court of an imaginary country of the Middle East communicates entirely in English, albeit with a perfect Syrian-Lebanese accent. The same happens in Homeland, where every single Pakistani or Iranian informant speaks English as if they just came out of Oxford. It is surely quite complicated to make a series for the English-speaking public in another language, making subtitles necessary, but if Mel Gibson did it, why not Fox?
Although we have seen that localizations are gaining variety, the number of them that take place in New York or Los Angeles is still much higher, followed closely by Washington and surrounding areas. When series take place out of the East Coast or California it is only to tell sordid stories in disturbing scenarios, to say the least: True Detective, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, or Fargo. It seems as if although the series might be a masterpiece, it tries to make sure no one ever dares go to these places, much less go there on vacation or move there. People will surely think, as they probably already do, that Louisiana is a dangerous and violent place full of sects and strange people.
Of course, there also are serial murderers in New York, but they are accompanied by Carrie Bradshaw wearing heels, Rachel and Ross wondering whether they should marry or not, Patty Hewes intimidating the court, or Don Draper drinking a dry martini. New York, like Madrid or Barcelona, engulfs the periphery, invisibilizing it except for showing the anomalies of others.
As the history of spaghetti sauce has shown, there is not (or should not be) a correct culture. Let’s not forget that value is almost always born in the periphery and that the center swallows and homogenizes, so the innovation and diversity necessary to continue living swept up by change are not usually accompanied by the “right” accent, the “right” language, or the “right” origin.