I don’t watch TV here. I used to. 10 years ago I lived on a daily diet of BET and a German cop show I still remember storylines from relatively vividly. It was called Le Clown in French, and it was awesome. A standard detective/action hero main character but because it was German the things that people called the police for were different from what I was used to. The things that a jury would think were important were different. I found it fascinating to see how another people lived. That it, like lots of violent cop shows came on at like 8am was also a revelation; we have a ‘watershed’ in the UK, which means that if it’s not suitable viewing for kids it shouldn’t be on TV before 9pm.
It’s probably why I like languages in theory. I say in theory cos in practice I become more reluctantly bilingual by the day I swear. When I’m feeling stressed out, suddenly I’m all ‘argh, as if my day wasn’t shitty enough, I have to explain my vex face in french! ARGH!!’ But that happens when you’re a bit homesick.
I used to love French. When I was in secondary school, I used to translate my favourite RnB tunes into French – for fun! In my spare time! And then I’d do my regular French homework! When I did A levels, I would listen to French radio every morning. And not the music stations, like news programmes. I was a proper francophile.
When I was 15 my auntie took me to Paris for the first time with my cousin and we stayed at her Martinican friend’s house in the middle of Paris. I still remember going to the supermarket and being amazed at ‘lettuce’ in English being ‘laitue’ in French – sooo cooool!! I was very easily impressed with new things.
But all that’s changed now. Whereas for years after I had no frequent nor formal connection to the language, I would be sure to spend time annually in a francophone country – usually Morocco or France – I think it’s now been about 4 years since I was last in Paris. Four years? I’m a traveller-type, I used to be a francophile, and Paris is about 3 hours from my front door in London. That’s a really long time to not have been to Paris.
So whas gwanin?
I could blame Martinique. My being forced to communicate in French daily having taken all the pleasure out of exploring a whole other linguistic world. Possibly.
I could also blame daily exposure to the crazy, effective psychological impact of French colonialism. When ‘everyone’ around you has agreed that Paris is the centre of the actual universe, when it blatantly isn’t, you kinda see it from a different angle. And not a pretty one.
I want to say it’s because I’m getting really into the kreyol and language policy and politics questions, and in my determination to make some kinda headway, I’ve left my francophilia in the dust of my pursuit of Understanding The Transplanted African in the Caribbean.
Or it could be that I’ve chosen a side in the Franco-Caribe Conflict I just named but did not create. I think. The Franco-Caribe Conflict, has been described over and over again in different contexts, perhaps most memorably, or at least briefly by WEB DuBois in his articulation of Double Consciousness, but possibly also by this island’s own theorist of international repute, Franz Fanon, in his epic Black Skin, White Masks.
It’s hard to be a francophile when Frenchness is both desired by and repulsive to otherwise nice well-balanced people you know personally. When it is both the source of the most astonishing and deep-seated insecurity and self-loathing, and yet the tightly clasped shield protecting against the scepter of the ever-present never-seen encroaching ‘anglo-saxon’ almost as frequently.
And this is why I don’t watch TV.
Because it’s not a peaceful enterprise for me.
Because every time I have watched it, I’ve seen some kinda nonsense that just had no bearing on my life in Martinique. Nor have I seen the lives of anyone I know. Shoot, on most channels I get here, Martinique doesn’t seem to exist at all from the little I have seen.
TV here you see, is French TV for the most part. There is one locally-owned station which I believe is a music station on cable, but the other stations are French stations showing what they believe to be of relevance to people living in mainland Europe. And then there’s Martinique Première (or 1ere), a channel with locally-produced
propaganda content, which makes no bones about being a French government channel. Thus there is also Guadeloupe Première, and Guyane Première.
The first time I watched TV here two years ago, there was an E! style documentary on the Beckhams’ arrival in Paris. I was stupefied while my friends got on with playing dominoes.
Another time I tried watching the non-local news on Martinique 1ere. There was a story about how Bolivia had refused to let foreigners come in and ‘teach’ them how to extract a recently discovered natural resource in exchange for free or uninterrupted use of the resource in question, followed by a story about child labourers in Cote d’Ivoire, followed by something about Russia and/or the US, a piece on a festival in some small town in France, the decision of Mayotte to strengthen its political ties to France, and then a piece on French Guyana if I remember correctly. I was once again stupefied.
To recap, the themes of thirty minutes of non-local news were, it’s possible to fight foreign exploitation – look at what these South Americans have done, independence is bad – look at the suffering and poverty it engenders in former French West Africa, this is important ‘international’ news regardless of how little impact something happening in the US or Russia tomorrow is likely to have on your breakfast tomorrow, vive la France! let’s have a look at the beautiful rustic old country, so benevolent that these people are excited about becoming a part of it, and then news from our friends in the rest of the Outre-Mer today.
Obvs this is completely my take on it, but it was such a random hotch potch of news stories, with no common thread, that I couldn’t help but make up a backstory as to what the producers were trying to communicate. And did you notice there was no mention of the broader, non-francophone Caribbean? It was beyond random and gave me a clear insight into why Martinicans
are so mis-informed about the wider world have so little knowledge about their neighbours who are so close half the island gets St Lucian radio (the other half probably gets Dominican stations).
Now, I don’t watch the news daily so it’d be a risk, but judging by the knowledge of the average Martinican I encounter, I would not hesitate to bet that the English-speaking or just wider Caribbean does not get a whole lot of press time generally in Martinique. Just yesterday an adult woman asked me if they spoke English in Barbados. Barbados being one of the three places in the world with a direct daily flight to Martinique. (Paris and Guadeloupe being the others of course). Despite having neighbours north and south so close you can see the lights of the cars in St Lucia on a clear night, Martinicans are far more likely to refer to St Lucia as ‘abroad’ and France as ‘over there’ than the other way round. I hear it all the time. While the St Lucian in me bristles at such notions, the cynic rolls her eyes, and the thinker looks on in amazement.
I later asked a friend who clarified that in fact, there’s a current affairs programme that features the Caribbean for an hour once a week. On Sundays. I repeat. One hour. Once a week.
Final reason why I don’t watch TV: Truth be told, I don’t understand it. Although I’ve heard Martinicans express offence at the notion that they have an accent, I personally love the sound of their French with its Caribbean lilt, and nothing makes me smile like hearing old people crack jokes in Kreyol together. Except actually understanding the jokes of course.
With the two languages living side by side here, and my annual trips to France or Morocco not having anything like the same impact on my French as a couple years in Martinique, I tried watching TV this evening. To keep my housemate company.
I really tried to follow a film with that iconic French actor, no not Depardieu, the other one, Daniel something. I’m watching it, all the action takes place in soberly decorated domestic interior settings and yet accordions are going loudly and having not heard accordions ever in Martinique, I’m like, what is that about? And my logic says it’s like the Buckingham Palace or River Thames shot in every English film, it’s a marker so the viewer knows it’s France, calm down.
But my inner cynic is rolling her eyes again and now her eyebrow is raised too. I keep watching and they’re whispering, and talking and I’m like my French is good but why are they talking so fast?? Who talks at that speed and in that monotone?
I’m watching the woman and her lips are going quickly and the sound is coming out but f*ck me, I have no idea what she is saying. The dude on screen with her does, he looks very serious and mumbles something and I’m like, what is with the production values in this French film? He whispers, she talks fast, he mumbles scene to scene and I have not got a blasted clue as to what’s going on. Not a clue. Admittedly it’s only been 10 minutes but I am lost like I was going to St Joseph from Fort-de-France but ended up in St Anne. There’s an older couple too and they’re talking to the dude and I still have no idea about anything onscreen.
I was pretending not to notice that all the characters were white, but then a black woman comes on screen. I can’t really see her face, just her pink maid’s uniform, and I hear the noise of her hoover. I notice it cos I’m like ‘Nah!!! They didn’t just have the only black character as a maid! They didn’t!!’ This film looks contemporary I might add. The inner cynic has now started an internal monologue. Cussing hard. I also noticed the black maid because when dude was walking around anguished, the hoover was going and you could tell it kind of annoyed him, but when the fast-talking white girl came around and he wanted to talk, the hoover mysteriously went off.
I was torn between whether that was realistic or not. The hoover annoying you until your lady friend turned up, suddenly silent so you could have a quiet word. But maybe the maid was being thoughtful or knew the drill.
I gave up shortly after.
I have no idea what the film was about, whether the story was actually centred on the maid and I got it all wrong, and if the dude had a thing about accordions and that was why they were playing so…beyond sterotypically. It’s totally possible. But I genuinely could not understand what the characters were saying, like I could ascertain parts of it, but the rest was just too fast, in an accent I could not decipher.
Apparently I am so accustomed to Martinique, and Martinicans and their way of life that either the absence of them in their context from TV or the intense erasing Frenchness on TV now grates and appears completely alien to me.
So…that’s why I don’t watch TV.
NB I’m not a huge TV fan in London either. Ever since I did a project on mass projection of beauty imagery as part of a project on discourse, TV watching has always made me a bit queasy. Thank God for box sets 🙂