Why can’t American TV be this good?

I just watched an episode of the new BBC series, Holidays in the Axis of Evil, in which a reporter visits the world’s most evil empires, like Iran, Libya, North Korea and Cuba, and sees what they have to offer the holiday goer.

Tonight’s evil empire was North Korea, and it was every bit as surreal as I would have expected, and then some.

The reporter’s tour guide (and you can’t visit North Korea without one) walks him through one war museum after another where, predictably, the electric lights are always out due to perennial power shortages. She takes him to a bookstore where virtually every book (and there are lots) are either books by Dear Leader or his father Great Leader, or books about the two of them.

They visit the DMZ, where the tour guide explains how the Korean War began when the “US imperialists,” as they are always referred to, invaded North Korea. The reporter asks, incredulously, how so many North Korean troops made their way so deep into South Korea if they were simply defending themselves from an invasion coming from the south. Oh, that’s all propaganda, the tour guide blithely explains.

Most amazing, at least visually, was the reporter’s visit to the annual celebrations of Dear Leader, where 100,000 North Koreans put on this spectacular show in a huge stadium. Holding up diffferent-colored pieces of cloth, the masses create gorgeous and complex frescoes, one after another — I can’t describe it in words; anyone who has seen it knows it is quite beyond belief. Crazy, but beautiful in its way.

This really drove home just how bonkers North Korea is. In one scene that looked like it was going to be a bit normal, the tour guide takes the reporter to relax at the beach. Finally, something that kind of resembles life as we know it! But alas, the camera then zooms in on the fence behind the sandy beach — an electrified fence that the tour guide warns could kill a man. This is to protect N. Korea from American imperialists when they try to attack the beaches in scuba gear; they will fry on the fence. (It reminded me of the opening of Die Another Day, where 007 surfs his way onto the N. Korean beach.)

This is a great series; it renewed my faith in television. Don’t miss it.

The Discussion: 6 Comments

Do the electric fences go out every couple of hours because of the blackouts, like everything else?

July 20, 2003 @ 5:18 pm | Comment

One rather obvious answer to your title question is: because ordinary Americans aren’t supposed to travel to any of those countries. (Although I think the ban on travel to Libya may have been lifted by now, and of course journalists are generally exempt… still, I doubt whether any U.S. broadcaster would be inclined, or even allowed, to make such a series.)

BTW it’s not exactly a “new” series; it first aired here in Yurp several months ago. Talk about surreal… wait till they get to Libya!

July 20, 2003 @ 7:17 pm | Comment

About the electrified fence – The reporter had the same question you did and wanted to touch it to see if it really was electrified. The tour guide strongly suggested not to (and he didn’t).

Vaara, I didn’t mean that US TV should do the exact same story; it’s just the creativity behind it — US news never gets creative like that.

July 21, 2003 @ 1:11 am | Comment

I watched the same program. It was bloody tragic. As for the merits of British TV, for every show like the one you praise, you have to sit through hours of snooker, sheep dog competitions and really, really bad variety shows. Having lived in both the US and UK, I’ll take US TV on the whole. Although, either beats the hell out of what’s on offer in Hong Kong.

July 21, 2003 @ 6:36 am | Comment

Well, I guess that’s what makes horse races. I really like the BBC’s features, like this one. I do find their reporting can be a bit too “to the left,” but I find them a very welcome break from CNN.

July 21, 2003 @ 11:02 am | Comment

Well, here in Belgium we at least have the luxury of choice… just about every lame American sitcom is aired here, plus I have access to a whole galaxy of equally lame European ones. Not to mention Portuguese variety shows, Greek political chat shows, Spanish variety shows, Dutch reality shows, Flemish variety shows, and French soft-core pr0n. Plus, of course, CNN and CNBC and two BBC channels and EuroNews.

By contrast, few Americans have access to foreign broadcasts, and the stuff they show on BBC America is some of the very worst of the BBC.

July 22, 2003 @ 2:50 pm | Comment

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.