Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Culture: Where's That on American Television?

TORONTO, ONTARIO - It's always nice to fly Air Canada back to Canada. For all its flaws, the airline is unmistakably Canadian--scrupulously bilingual, invariably polite. Leaving an airport in the United States, the level of ambient stress observed actually goes down, instead of up, upon boarding the plane.

Because of a personal computer failure, I turned to the on-board entertainment system on the Embraer 190 aircraft on my flight for diversion from my reading. I had no technical issues with the system itself, as it worked fine with adequate volume and screen controls. Content, however, left quite a bit to be desired. I've never seen the "Map" feature actually working on an Air Canada Embraer--I don't understand why they don't just take it off the menu. While the CBC was available as an option, what was labeled as "News" was actually a compilation of outdated feature pieces, most annoyingly a Adrienne Arsenault story on K'naan that has aired on The National at least twice. I like K'naan as much as the next Canadian, but seeing the same exact feature three times was too much even to me.

Thus, I decided to turn to entertainment programming. While not a regular viewer, I have seen the critically acclaimed Being Erica and thought it was a decent show. The concept of the show is that main character Erica Strange, played by Erin Karpluk, gets to re-live portions of her earlier life to gain insight on her adult life. I decided to watch the only episode available on the plane, Cultural Revolution (which is available online).

There was too much emphasis on sex in the episode for my taste, but the theme of the episode was... well, downright Canadian. Erica thinks she isn't taking enough risks, so she is allowed to go back in time to take a big risk she passed on, joining her risk-taking friend Jenny on a spontaneous trip to Taipei. The clear theme of the show was that one has to choose which risks to take, and that excessive risk-taking, as personified in the character of Jenny, might actually require less courage than never taking risks. The theme is driven home most directly when Erica, who has just decided not to take a risk and become a "sex book" author, tells Jenny that in her friend's case, it would be more courageous for her not to go to Los Angeles to move in with a guy she had just met.

There are plenty of shows on United States networks that would not glorify Jenny's decision. Going to the point of actually showing the hero making a risk-averse decision and glorifying that as having courage, though, is not something that I could even see "The Cosby Show" doing, never mind anything on the air now. Certainly, it would not have appeared on any of the shows that I watched on my nearly three-week stay in the United States.

Between the ambiance of Air Canada and the themes of Being Erica, I knew I would soon be back in Canada.

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