Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Learning American Pop Culture While Abroad

You look like Robbie Williams the girl told me. At first I took offense at the little girls words. It was a long day and Chileans are blunt, and so being told I was going bald and then I was fat, and now this, it just seemed like too much. I figured Robbie Williams was some affectionate Chilean slang for the famous actor Robin Williams, and I mean, come on, I am only 23 years old for God’s sake, find someone else to compare me to. But then I was quickly informed that the Robbie Williams I was being compared to is not in fact the stellar actor but a current pop singer from Britain. I still can not name a song he sings, but at least I rest a little easier knowing that I am being compared to a British Sex Idol and not an incredibly funny but old and alcoholic comedian.

In Bolivia, I kept getting questions about this thing called High School Musical. Grant it the preliminary questions took place in Bolivia at a time when I understood even less Spanish then I do now. And so when the kids would start singing, I just assumed that perhaps there was a trend amongst high schools to add musicals to their theatrical rotation. While I still do not know what exactly it is, I have sense discovered that High School Musical is a hit movie, about what I have yet to discover. Daily high school drama I assume, and instead of just like, talking about it, they like, well you know, they like sing about it I try and say in my best high school slang if you, like, will. For a while, I thought it could not get worse. But then…

I just figured Grey’s Anatomy was a medical term. I mean I always heard it in the context of conversations about medicine, and who have I ever been to correctly identify medical terminology. I have had asthma for over 12 years and I still can’t tell you the names of my medications without looking at the inhalers. And so it was again when people explained that Grey’s Anatomy is not medical jargon but in fact a hit television show, apparently number 1 in the nation according to Natalie, and Grey is not the color gray misspelled but instead a character in the show. By now, you are either incredibly shocked at my ignorance or discovering your own pop culture ignorance, and so it comes down to the final pop culture point of reference that I was told by a friend, everyone knew about.

And this last one did not come from a Chilean but from a desperate moment of boredom in the Santiago House when I pulled out an old issue of People Magazine because sadly, I had nothing better to read at the time. Before you judge, I would like to point out famed Medical Doctor Paul Farmer is a regular reader of People, calling it the JPS- Journal of Popular Science. But back to the point, imagine my surprise first of all at the four page spread following Brangelina. For those who are as far out of pop culture as me, that little creative word is the blending of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s names. But more shocking to me, was that underneath my nose the two of them had shacked up (ok, this I knew) and in the process, had a baby together. Not just adopted a child, because this I knew about, but Angelina actually gave birth to one of her own!

Ironic in many ways that I learn more about “cultural” events in my own country while I am living here, but perhaps not too crazy. I have given up listening to popular radio as an educational tool to aid me in my Spanish since more often then not, the songs on Chilean radio are not from hit Latino Artists, but American hits and American has been hits. But never tell a Chilean that Guns N’ Roses and A-ha (think the song Take On Me) are not popular. And With the Starbucks and McDonald’s, infiltration of American movies and duplication of American reality TV, Chile has, in many aspects, really proven to me just how successful globalization, particularly at the hands of the American economy has been and will continue to be, both for better and worse. But now I am educated in the Journal of Popular Science, and as my favorite Chilean-English expression would say, that is SUPER Bien!


Anonymous said...

You brighten my day with your blogs. Cultural differences are amazing, aren't they? Hope all is well

Anonymous said...

I cannot believe you and me have been friends this long and you barely know what Grey's Anatomy is!!! Hello! Do you not remember after Sunday night mass we would leave right away? That's because Grey's and Desperate was really need to get into your pop culture if you want to survive in this world ;). I also hope you know what Sex and the City is...because if you don't, our friendship is terminated!

Anonymous said...

It is surely a sign of old age when younger people talk about their celebrities and you have no earthly idea who they are talking about.

JMac said...

It's too bad that you were not told that you looked like Barry Zito, because then you would have learned that he SOLD OUT for the money, and signed with the Giants.

PS Robbie Williams sings "Angels" and "Milennium"


John said...

I can't imagine what would have happened had you and I realized how big 24 and Grey's Anatomy was before you left. I know I never watched West Wing with you guys, but those 2 definitly would have been added to the list. God forbid we procrastinated more.