In the US, it often seemed that American culture has spread far and wide around the world. Many of my international friends or family members who visited from abroad described instant and constant access to American TV shows, movies, reality television, and news. In fact, many of my friends were more familiar with US shows, singers and news than I was.
In Tajikistan, however, US news in my host home are almost non-existent. The television is almost always on in the large reception area where the family eats all their meals, and hosts a stream of guests. The programs of choice include Uzbek TV and Russian sitcoms and soap operas. Uzbek television is truly unique- there are long stretches of music performances, including dancing in Uzbek traditional dress, professionally filmed music videos always including traditional dress, as well as various soap operas and fiction programs. Western faces are rare on Uzbek television- the Tajiks, similar to Uzbeks in ethnicity, are able to see themselves reflected in the television. Unlike US programming, which struggles with representing a balanced view of the various minority
segments of society, Uzbek television is unapologetically nationalistic and proud of celebrating its heritage. Themes of family, school,community are also often seen, especially in music videos. Russian influences occasionally crop up
in songs, which switch from Uzbek to an unexpected Russian chorus, or even a Russian rap interlude.
Russian television has also been a surprise to me. It has changed drastically since I left Russia in 1996. Russian programming is often a direct copy of US programs. For example, there is now Russian-style “Jerry Springer”-esque shows, complete with physical assaults, screaming, and DNA testing, themes and behaviors unheard of on the Russian television of the 1990’s. Fictional programs are often focused on intrigues of the rich and violent- and topics of money and murder for money are common. It is a relief to hear Russian, a language I can recognize, after a day of learning and attempting to speak Farsi and Tajik.
The Western 24 hour news cycle is also notable absent in Tajikistan. For the first time in a while, I have no indication of President Trump’s latest tweet, or the US’s latest trade move. My host family does not watch the news often. Much of the Uzbek and Tajik news focuses on reporting on the home country’s agriculture, or city-wide infrastructure improvements. I have yet to see a single foreign head of state, or international development in the programming my host family chooses.
The result of this media environment is a creation, or preservation of a certain type of mental existence. The traditional and peaceful ebbs and flows of Tajik family life, self contained, solid and stable, are uninterrupted by outside media influences. One never has to wonder how he measures up to a Kardashian, or worry about the state of the world as politics moves swiftly in worrying directions. This preserves one’s identity- ethnic, traditional, familial and reminds me of just how influential television can be on one’s psyche. It also makes me wonder how I will change after six months of living without Western media influences. For the time being, I have sneaked some SNL in the evenings and it does feel nice to be connected to what is familiar.
By: Margarita Valkovskaya
Program: Eurasian Regional Language Program
Term: Summer + Fall 2018