Tonight is the Academy Awards and I have a horrible confession to make: I like to watch movies. I know, I know… I’m supposed to be a rugged offshore guy who has escaped from the brain-numbing media madness of America… but the sad, sick truth is… (sob!)… I like James Bond.
Weirdly, circumnavigating on a small sailboat is a PERFECT lifestyle for the movie-maddened and/or flick-afflicted. Virtually every cruising boat has a DVD player these days and now, swapping these are as common as wives used to be in the 1960s! (Why can’t I resist writing stuff like that?)
In Fiji, a first-run movie which is so new most New Yorkers haven’t seen it yet costs 85 cents. This seems strange, as the disk it is written on costs a buck each at the local office supply.
Of course I worry about copyright issues. In fact, whenever I purchase software in a Third World country I have the salesperson assure me they’re going to give some of the money to Bill Gates. With movies, ditto Spielberg. Yes, I think everyone should do their part. (As the royalty-receiving author of four books, I also advocate fire-bombing libraries—because, well, I like to be both intellectually consistent and legally fair!)
We happened to be in Bangkok once when a US trade envoy visited. The result of this was Thai cops had to rush down to the six story mall which sells pirated movies and software— and sternly order them not to do so for the next couple of hours. The venders, taking the long view, complied. However, being good Buddhists, they also had the entire mall ‘disinfected’ from evil spirits the next day because of the unfortunate, atypical law enforcement pulse.
Now I’m not saying ALL boaters watch pirated movies. Josh Slocum didn’t. There may be others, too.
In Fiji, they really go all out. They not only ‘strip’ the region code off the DVDS, they often offer ‘shrunk’ versions as well. Thus it is possible to get 12 TV shows (of lesser quality) on the same DVD for the same PRICE. (Yes, capitalism is weird in the Third World).
This figures out to less than a dime a Soprano episode—or mere pennies per whack job!
Many primitive communities watch DVDs communally— to share the energy costs of the tribal generator. Needless to say, they are proud how ‘modern’ they are, and always invite foreign visitors to join them. Thus we often watch episodes of Desperate Housewives or Sex in the City with large groups of popcorn-less, HBO-less savages… and have to explain the jokes.
This isn’t easy— just try explaining what a ‘metro sexual’ is to an outback Aborigine! Former cannibals consider Six Feet Under wasteful. Law and Order fans are puzzled why there is so little of either. The King and I (either version) can still get your boat confiscated in Thailand. It’s gotten to the point I only watch Kung Fu movies in such communal situations… movies in which a kick-in-the-crotch doesn’t have to be culturally parsed.
No, it isn’t easy explaining some movies. I’ve stopped sharing one of my very favorite movies (Memento) because Asian people keep insisting it is broke. (“It is NOT broke!” I shout at them, and sigh when they politely rely, “Yes, broke-broke, Cap’n Fatty Boy! Play same-same over and over again… broke-broke, yes?”
The Wire is another one they find puzzling. “Who is good guys?” they ask. “It’s Baltimore,” I rely, “there ARE no good guys!”
“…but who are law-breaking, drug-sucking murderers?”
“…everyone!” I moan, “…that’s the point!”
Entourage is another HBO production they have trouble with. “…nothing every happens… just yak-yak-yak,” they complain. “…and what is famous movie star famous for?”
“It’s California,” I regionalize, “where wise-cracking and/or following the career of Paris Hilton are BOTH considered legit professions. Besides, lots of people in America today are just famous for being famous… not for anything else.”
Yes, Hollywood is a powerful myth-generator. I’ve been asked a few times why America just doesn’t send Sylvester Stallone or the governor of California to Iraq and be done with it.
There is no question it’s a topsy-turvy world. My sailing buddies Lin and Larry Pardey are making more on their DVD sales than on their book royalties. I mean, who knew the path to ‘modern sailing stardom’ required knowing how to diagram a sentence AND apply saltwater resistant make-up!
And there’s a lot of confusion about the entertainment industry in the Third World. Example: when I tried to tell them about Vice President Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth… well, they asked if the movie actually show him having sex with Monica Lewinsky. “No,” I sputtered, “you got the wrong guy… our VICE president!”
“Oh, yes-yes, so-so sorry,” they say. “The VP who shoots the guy in the face and makes the pellet-face guy apologize… they show the actual shotgun blast in this Inconvenient movie?”
It is enough to make you cry.
“No, the plot of Grey’s Anatomy isn’t taken from the book, for gosh sakes!”
“They don’t call it LOST because that’s what happened to the plot!”
“…the mafia has NOTHING to do with opera,” I whimper, “and stool pigeons aren’t found either in parks NOR bathrooms!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Of course, occasionally Third World viewers surprise you with the accuracy of their savvy insights. Example: at the end of Blood Diamond when the dark fella gets to keep the stone, wear a tailored suit AND gets a round of applause from the Brits. “Now THAT’s Hollywood,” laughed an African friend of ours.