The Cultural Gap on Primetime TV
In National Geographic Channel’s new documentary series American Gypsies, viewers are let into the Johns family, one of New York’s most prominent Romani families. Trying to bridge traditional values and way of life with making a success of the American dream, Bobby Johns finds himself in conflict with his more traditional brothers and father.
The story seems familiar, and it should. It’s a film, theatrical and television tale as old as time. Spurred by the younger generation rejecting all or part of their parents “old-fashioned” traditions, this cultural gap has been a fertile ground for film and television drama and comedy for years.
The younger generation, while holding ethnic tradition close and family closer, believes it is time to be full participants in American life. If that means breaking with some traditions, so be it. It’s the tried and true plot of numerous movies, plays and television series, often written by immigrant children or grandchildren themselves. The musical Fiddler on the Roof is a perennial hit in film and onstage, not because it’s about turn of the century Jew emigrating to the U.S. under the duress of persecution, but because it speaks to all Americans (who are all—except Native Americans—immigrants) about the pull between “Tradition!” and joining modern, assimilated society.
Jews, Greeks, Cubans, Mexicans, Indians, Italians, and many other ethnic cultures have been portrayed (for better or worse), often coming off as stereotypes that remain in the American pop cultural imagination long after the series or movie itself has long been forgotten. What Bobby Johns is attempting to do is blow away the stereotype Americans have of the Romani through this reality series, giving viewers a rare opportunity to peek behind the veil of secrecy that surrounds the American Romani community in this country. Far from airbrushing out the flaws to paint a picture of a “perfect” Romani family, executive producer Ralph Macchio, and National Geographic present a gritty portrait of a real family, its conflicts and troubles, as well as its love and devotion to family and culture.
It’s a unique take on the culture-gap. But do you remember these other classic shows where generational culture-clashes created both comedy and drama in primetime?
Outsourced (NBC, 2010-2011)
Taking place in Mumbai, the comedy series explored the cultural clash between Indian culture and U.S. culture framed around an American novelties company call center. The American manager is tasked to explain American pop culture to his employees, while trying to understand the Indian culture and work around the conflicts it presents him and the company.Continued on the next page