Lima Al-Azzeh

You Old Soul.

In Foreign Affairs on June 12, 2013 at 9:32 pm

carol burneet show
The other day, I looked behind me at work to find a group of people gathered in a semi-circle around one of my colleague’s screens watching a video. Turns out, our boss was introducing my coworker to Carol Burnett. It was Tim Conway’s epic elephant story. Here’s the clip:


I died laughing at the sight of it, and was mentally quickly and vividly transported back in time to the first time I watched the show.

I think I was about 8 or 9 and my family, my mother, my sister and I, were visiting my aunt who lived here in Vancouver. We stayed with her at her adorable, cozy apartment on Comox Ave. I don’t know why I loved that place so much, but I did. I remember getting sick one weekend, something like the stomach flu, and I couldn’t go anywhere. It was summer time, and my aunt offered to watch me while my mom and sister went out. My aunt, a driven architect, would usually be working and I, fascinated and transfixed by North American television programming, would lie listlessly on the couch, watching TV all day. That’s when I first discovered Carol Burnett.

There was an all-weekend marathon on some cheesy TV station. I’m not sure how I automatically got the impression that this was an important piece of American television history, iconic. Maybe the marathon was indication enough. In any case, I spent about 48 hours doing nothing but curling up on the couch between bouts of eating scrambled eggs, grilled cheese sandwiches, drinking tea, and laughing at these incredible improvisors. I always loved it when they broke out laughing – it always got me.

So as I snorted at Tim Conway’s tale and his brilliant mastery of painting pictures with words (I love the opening to the story, his set up is paramount), I was surprised to see that my coworker hadn’t heard of it. I feel like any appreciator of SNL would find this an awesomely kitschy version.But what was even funnier to me was when my other coworker turned around after I yelled out, “Oh my God! I grew up on Carol Burnett” and she looked at me wide-eyed and said, “How old are you?”. I realized Carol Burnett isn’t necessarily such an inherent part of pop culture here that it’s passed down by generation. I suppose I just happened upon it at a young age and assumed it was as iconic now as it was then.

Nevertheless, this whole scenario got me thinking: this isn’t the first time I’ve discussed my limited exposure to North American TV as a young girl in the Middle East, or even an adolescent teenager here in Vancouver.

In the Middle East, it was sort of, “take what you can get” in terms of North American broadcasters. We had some British TV for the expats, a lot of Arabic TV (read: melodramas, world news, talk shows), and a couple of channels with outdated seasons of shows usually aired asynchronously to the point where it just got futile and confusing to watch. I think I watched maybe 3 episodes a year of 90210, and the timeline was all over the place.

Stuff White People Like

Stuff white people like

 

So I missed out on a lot and, ever since I’ve lived here, people have tried to help me fill that gap. I used to watch soap operas with friends after school, but I’d go home and watch Barney because I felt like I needed to understand these new people from infancy to adulthood. It was my own anthropological deep dive into the white man’s culture. (Stuff White People Like hadn’t been published yet, although I tell you, I would have been first in line to buy it at that point. Who do I talk to about making reading that book a necessary part of the Canadian immigration process? Kind of like a handbook for understanding your new neighbours. Vaguely “Coming to America”.)

So far, the Goonies was a prime experience, everyone talked about it for so long and I finally saw it at the open air cinema in Stanley Park (win! How Vancouver am I?). I’ve watched My So Called Life, I’ve watched a ton of Nickelodeon, and all the vintage shows: I Love Lucy, Happy Days, hell, I’ve even watched Laverne & Shirley! Also interesting to note, when I first moved here, I listend to a lot of Sinatra and old jazz. I guess I felt like I needed to get a bit more background colour on my knew community.

I digress. The point is, this conversation always seems to come about and I feel it’s only fitting these days that I work in some form of media, I’ve been so conscious of it my whole life. How much it informs you about an entire culture, but also how much it skews …

My only request now: leave a comment and tell me what shows I’ve missed out on. What are some seminal examples of North American TV in the early 80s and 90s? (You can go further back than that if you’d like.) Looking forward to hearing your input.

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