Monday, December 11, 2006

Cultural Imperialism

We’ve recently had America’s Fox News Channel inflicted on us. It had been offered overnight on one normal channel, but now the whole sordid channel has been added to our pay TV line-up. Yippee.

I’ve been lucky in that so far I haven’t seen the worst of it. Most of it has been shallow and superficial, but not the foaming-at-the-mouth fascist propaganda I’d been led to believe was their standard fare.

Nevertheless, I can’t stand the channel. Absolutely everything that happens is accompanied by some sort of sound or music effect. It may range from a loud synthetic drum and music to whooshing and whirring sounds as words sweep across the screen. All very distracting to me, but for others I imagine it works like a kind of hypnotic drug, luring them into staring at it for hours.

The channel’s shallowness means that for me it’s pretty much at the bottom of the spectrum of the news channels we receive. The next tier up is occupied by CNN International and Sky News
Australia. I often call Sky News “news for parrots,” after the Monty Python sketch, because nearly all their reports deal in some way with Australians or Australia. At the top tier is BBC World Report, which consistently does a better and more thorough job of reporting that any of the other channels.

But, maybe I’m just prejudiced against Fox, especially after the other day.

There are no commercials on the channel here, so where commercials run in
America we get “Fox News Extra”, some brief report about not much of anything. The one I saw was about people choosing exotic locations for weddings. The one they were showing was New Zealand.

Now, most Americans can’t pronounce the name of the indigenous people of New Zealand, the Maori. Most Americans—like the Fox reporter—say “may-OR-ee”, which isn’t even close to being correct. Without giving a whole lesson in the Maori language, the word is pronounced more like “MAWH-ree”. That’s not quite correct, but it’s close.

However, she went on to say that during the ceremony the couple would have a love song sung to them, and then it would end with “a war dance, the huh-KAH.” She was referring to the haka (pronounced “HAH-kah”). It isn’t a war dance, but it does represent a challenge (again, I’m vastly over simplifying it).

The point here is that she and Fox made no effort whatsoever to find out the correct pronunciations, much less use them, and they didn’t try to accurately reflect Maori culture. The overall tone of the report was condescending and insulting, with an arrogant “look at the primitive natives” attitude throughout it. Actually, I think that she didn’t just insult
New Zealand or Maori people in particular: She insulted Americans by making them look crass, crude, ignorant—and damn proud of it.

Is that really the image
America wants projected throughout the world?


Seeker Onos said...

I'm a tad surprised, given the "well known liberal bias" of most American media outlets that tends to bend over backwards to be politically correct. I wonder if NPR had covered that segment if they would have researched the correct pronunciation with a quick phone call to the NZ consulate?

I mean, I remember years ago when they reported some discovery of a moon or set of rings around the planet Uranus, where the newscaster affected this stilted pronunciation of "yer-ruh-NUS" instead of the "yu-RAY-nus" I remembered hearing as a schoolboy.

Of course, that may have been predictable, given the natural tendency to launch into the schoolyard jokes about rings found around you-know-where.

As for Fox... I tend to get distracted by all the "whooshy" noises and spasm-inducing animations as well. Most of the news I get these days is from the net anyway... I've come to taking the established American newsmedia with a very large grain of salt.

And my best guess at "Maori" would have been "MOW-ree" (the first bit sounding like Chariman Mao's name).

Arthur Schenck said...

It wouldn't have been all that hard to check--a call to a consulate, as you suggest. I think Fox was so taken with the tone of their coverage that they didn't care about things like accuracy. Hey, I've made that mistake, too.

I, too, get most of my news off the Net. Apart from the convenience, I like how easy it is to double-check a story, like reading a scientific study or finding a video of somebody's speech. We don't have to rely on journalists being "fair and balanced".

I congratulate you on your pronunciation of "Maori". Your instinct would have been okay; many people say it that way. Maybe it's your connection to Japanese, because the vowels are the same.

The main reason, I think, Americans tend to get it wrong is that Maori uses macrons--a line--over some vowels. This is used to indicate the vowel is held longer, but to American eyes, it means the vowel is "long". So, in the case of the word "Maori", which has a macron over the "A," they see "AY" instead of "AH".