TV en el Pueblo


Guatemala left me with countless memories that more than corroborate our working definition of Globalization - “The interchange of world views, products, ideas, and other aspects of culture”. Antigua, Guatemala is a perfect example. This UNESCO site should be the topic of countless anthropological studies. In Antigua, you can come across someone from any country on this planet. Guatemala, as a country, draws backpackers, world travelers, week-long vacationers, habitat for humanity folk, mission trips of the religious and medical nature, and people who just enjoy the moderate annual climate and the favorable exchange rate. I remember being out in the middle of nowhere Guatemala and crossing paths with a woman from Denmark who had been living for three months in one of the villages where I taught. She had been teaching English and conducting University research about sanitary standards in rural Central America. Our interaction was brief but I remember she was surprised by how much of an influence American culture has had on Guatemala. Ironically, in the same village where she lived, there is a student whose second name is Clinton after the United States' 42nd President. Coincidentally, it also the same village where I heard 50 cent’s most famous single “In da club” go off while riding on a Camioneta, only to realize that it was the ringtone of a traje tipico wearing indigenous woman. I may never understand how a 2003 chart topping hip/hop single from a Queens born drug dealer turned rapper became that woman’s ringtone of choice, especially as she most likely speaks K'iche - a Mayan dialect. America’s pop-culture can be seen in every part of the world. For better or worse, our music, movies, literature, clothes, etc have infiltrated even the most remote areas of the western hemisphere. In the entry Technology, I propose the idea that first world or developed country citizens are at a far greater advantage in life due to their access to information than citizens of the third or developing world. Whether this is true or not, it’s been fascinating to see how new technology affects parts of the developing world.


In Guatemala, I was fortunate enough to see Xepon, a remote/rural pueblo where I worked for two years, receive electricity or  luz(spanish for light) for the first time. Having had lived and worked in the village for about sixteen months before electricity and living there for a brief five month period after was truly eye-opening. The direct and indirect consequences of electricity were too numerous to ever really grasp, so I found myself focusing in on how the arrival of television impacted the lives and ebb/flow of the daily village life. Before electricity, the village shut down at dusk. Candles were the illumination method of choice and provided an inexpensive and easy way to light the kitchen for cooking, the eating area for eating, or the living room area for living. Stop and think about what we do in the US when the lights go out. For the most part, we light candles or turn on flashlights. Flashlights are a great way to shed some light on a dark situation with a short shelf life, but using battery powered flashlights for long periods of time becomes expensive, so candles are best for illuminating any place where there is never any electricity. Unless of course you have a brookstone flashlight that recharges itself but that’s another story for another day. Continuing on, the pueblo, back in the day of no luz, would slow down, as almost to come to a screeching halt, when the sun would go down. The pick-up soccer games would stop, the kite flying would loose its appeal, the men would come in from the fields, and the normal night routine would begin. (The photo above was taken in Bogotá. The American flag can only hint at the U.S.'s media stronghold on Latin America.)

The night routine was simple. It was based on three things; candles, food, and chisme (Spanish word for gossip). As the women would prepare the food, the men and children would congregate around the kitchen area so they could get in on the chisme and the light that came from the brick stove. Candles would be strategically placed around the kitchen area, so as to offer the maximum amount of light with the fewest amount of candles. Once the food was ready, the men, as in most parts of rural Latin America, were served first.  As the men ate, the women would serve the children and themselves. Due to this cultural tendency of serving the men first, I hardly ever ate dinner with any women of the family. Once everyone had eaten, the plates, utensils, pots, and pans would be left in the pila to be washed the next day due to the lack of light, as candles were used sparingly. However, this whole pre-dusk and night time routine would change with the arrival of electricity.
The arrival of luz to Xepon had too many, as I’ve already mentioned, indirect and direct consequences both good and bad, so I focused on how the arrival of television changed the daily routine of the village. Instead of going to fly kites and play marbles, I noticed how many of the children, especially the younger kids ages 6-10, preferred to stay inside and watch cartoons. Children began to choose cartoons over time-less village activities like flying kites and playing marbles. The pick-up soccer games continued, although instead of coming to a halt at dusk the players simply relocated and continued playing in a different part of the village where street lamps were coincidentally placed in such a strategic manner that soccer, more specifically the art of the 5v5 pick-up, could be played much longer into the evening. Men in the fields came home to the evening news and heard about the issues of the world, which was an international alternative to their old routine of listening to the chisme of the day from their more immediate pueblo. The micro had been introduced to the marco and the local became global and vice versa. Women indulged in the newest regional dramas of the day which more than likely came from the two telenovela capitals of the world; Mexico and Colombia. Before luz, the mothers in the village took their time washing clothes and doing daily chores, however, telenovelas provided an unanticipated incentive for the women of Xepon to work quickly so as to not miss the day's episode. In my twenty-six month service as a rural health promoter, the people’s behavioral change due to the arrival of the TV/cable was the only overnight change I ever saw. This, without getting into it too much, was very frustrating. The arrival of TV and how it changed Xepon resonates with the most recent additions to my host-family home in Colombia; TV and cable.  


Since the arrival of TV and cable, my younger host brothers, who use to spend all day playing soccer out in the alley or at the 5v5 court, now watch 10 hours a day of TV on average. While that may sound like an exaggeration, I assure you that it is not. School vacation coupled with the arrival of the box that talks has my host brothers watching upwards of 70+ hours of TV a week. Their favorite shows include  Dragon Ball Z, Spongebob Square Pants, The Simpsons, or whatever else they find on Nick or the Disney channel. I would venture to say that my two host brothers, Nicolas and Daniel, watch more U.S. sitcoms and cartoons than any kid from their age group in the U.S. I probably wouldn’t be so bothered by their newest pastime if I didn’t feel so suffocated by it. For all intents and purposes, my host family’s house is made up of 4 different spaces: the bathroom, two bedrooms, and a dinning/living room that bleeds into the kitchen like a studio apartment. If we leave out the bathroom, two-thirds of the rest of the living spaces in the house are connected, and while my room doesn't currently have a TV,  I'm sure it's just a matter of time.Thus, I don't have to even leave my room to feel like I’m living in a television set. The two TV’s are turned on around 7AM for cartoons and the news. They usually don’t get turned off until 10pm when the nightly news ends. Although, maybe I’m just not, no pun intended, with the program. Am I missing something? Is this just how every household in Colombia is during school vacation?

Feeling like a bit of a pessimist on the subject, I figured I'd turn to one of Colombia's newest books on all things history, culture, etc, where I read that , since it’s introduction into Colombian society, TV has served to make this country of countries a little more unified. The book Colombia: A Concise Contemporary History touches on this cultural phenomenon;

Television- like the introduction of radio some twenty-five years earlier- changed the social dynamic of the Colombian household. According to Colombian journalist and social critic Oscar Collazos, “Colombian families placed the television first in the living room, then the bedroom- it offered the possibility of family unity without conversation, families could eat together without sitting at the table and become ‘informed’ without reading newspapers.” The new technology also forced social change within the household but also introduced images of other places to those Colombians who had never traveled outside of their city or region. . . . By 2008, it was estimated that about 85 percent of Colombian households had televisions. Thus, prominent Colombian historian and journalist Eduardo Lemaitre, who died in 1994, was not exaggerating when he wrote that “three things have given this country of countries a national with common principles and have given it a compact to exist as a singular unit: the Constitution of 1886, the Magdalena River, and the television.” 

Television's seductive ways have changed society and molded daily life from Xepon, a rural village in the highlands of Guatemala, to the coastal urban metropolis of Barranquilla. So, am I just complaining over spilled milk when I get frustrated with my host mother for letting her two sons watch endless hours of garbage on TV? I truly don't know but I’d like to take this moment to thank my parents for only letting me watch an hour or two at most during the summer months as a kid. Playing street hockey, basketball, soccer, kickball, man-hunt, and every other childhood activity is what I remember most about growing up on Prospect hill, the name of my childhood barrio. I’d also like to thank Ian Murphy, Mike Sydorko, and Jake Crandell for being some of the best childhood amigos anyone could have ever hoped for. Getting back to Colombia, it just kills me to watch my host brothers be so inactive and partake in such a passive activity during the most temperate months of the year. I want them to go outside, play soccer, run around, bruise their knees, and live up their childhood. Looking ahead, I’m not advocating that we throw away our television, like say the Red Hot Chili Peppers might. Although, I hope that my host mother and I can steer my little hermanos towards more educational programming like shows on the travel or history channel. TV has played an interesting role in my life as a Volunteer, in both Central and South America, and I'm interested to see what the new year will bring! At times, the farther I geographically get away from the states, the closer I seem to get to its culture. TV, as it did for the US, brought images home that didn't have access to before. It brought wars, like Vietnam, and social uprisings, like the civil rights movement,  into US living rooms. Only time will tell what the long term effects will be of TV in Xepon and in my host-family's household. Until then, STAY TUNED.