At home in the States, I often watch TV channels such as BBC America that help to give me different perspective on news and culture outside my own country. So when I get the opportunity to be abroad, I really enjoying watching television in the countries that I'm visiting to help give me insights into the cultures I'm visiting.
Granted, hotels offer a limited selection, but the diversity I have here at the hotel in England is significant. For example, within the past 24 hours, I have seen the following on the handful of channels offered:
- Global news channels such as BBC, CNN and Sky News. The latter channel often features a person using sign language for the hearing-impaired.
- Arabic, German, Japanese and Spanish language channels
- Proactiv and other infomercials -- in German (not dubbed). The Proactiv infomercials particularly interested me. They are so ubiquitous in the USA that I couldn't help myself and I sat through a whole 30 minutes watching the "program" unfold auf deutsch just to compare/contrast it to the American versions.
I'm not a fan of reality TV and I don't watch the vast majority of reality shows produced in the USA. The one exception I can remember was a PBS series trying to recreate early colonial life.
But tonight I discovered a gem on BBC2 called Tribal Wives. The series, produced by Diverse Productions, spends each one of six episodes with a different British woman who gives up her everyday live and spends a month living with one of the world's remotest tribes.
This evening I watched Yvonne, a 37-year-old mother of three from Blackpool, spend a month with Namibia's semi-nomadic polygamous Himba tribe. I was transfixed.
The production web site explained the concept of the series:
"To get a real sense of her new life, all the women will be expected to spend a month living with their new families and immersing themselves fully into their new culture. They will need to work, eat and sleep exactly as the other tribal women in order to experience what it is really like to live in the community.
In turn, the series will reflect on the tribe's perception of Western culture and garner their views on their visitors: members of the tribe will be interviewed each week to assess how the British women are doing, how well each woman is integrating into the community, how useful she is and the strength of the individual relationships she forges."
Caitlin Moran of The Times wrote in her review of the series:
For starters, the "wives" aren't ludicrous, privileged, shallow, Western cliche's.
Tribal Wives deftly avoids that trap, which made me reflect how an American production would have ruined the whole concept and taken it to a whole new (low) level by filming something like "The Housewives of Orange County Go To Borneo". We had none of that tonight. I was impressed by the way Yvonne really worked to understand and enter into the culture in which she was placed, in spite of all the expected and resultant culture shock.
Moran went on to write,
But where Tribal Wives really shows off its non-stupid chops is with the tribes themselves. As with [previous series] Tribe before it, Tribal Wives doesn't present the natives as a collective mass of spiritually superior primitives, with funny food, scary toilets and tiny loin-cloths. The film-makers feel as at ease and familiar with the tribes as they are with the Western women. The Waorani of Ecuador and the Kuna of Panama are presented as the joking, teasing, stroppy, tearful, analytical equals of the [British women].
Anthropologists and others will certainly find things to criticize in the series. However, I found it generally respectful and illuminating -- and very human. It's certainly a series I would recommend to anyone interested in international educational exchange and intercultural communication -- especially young women.
I hope we'll see it soon on BBC America. We could use more series like this.