Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Jumong -- or why I have given up on American TV

Recently, our cable company sent us warning letters that our service could be disrupted if our TV wasn't fitted with a special digital converter box. As football season is over, I took little notice of this, figuring that our TV was new enough that it probably didn't need the box anyway.

Well, I was wrong. Our TV did need the box and we lost our service. That was two weeks ago. Yes, we've taken steps to address the problem, but with absolutely no urgency. Why? Because American TV stinks and aside from EWTN, I don't miss it even a little bit.

Just how bad American TV stinks was brought home to me within the past couple years. During that time, my wife and I have gotten semi-addicted to the grand historical dramas produced for Korean television. We recently finished watching our most recent one, Jumong--the story of a ne'er-do-well prince who matures into the founder of the Koguryeo kingdom. It was tremendous. The writing was excellent and constantly kept us guessing. The music was lovely and evocative. The costumes were outstanding (though maybe a little over-the-top in places). The acting was generally brilliant. Jumong was loaded with tragedy, suspense, and romance, with just a touch of comic relief. One also gets a sense of the grand sweep of history and there are moments when the writers seem to use the story to address the contemporary political situation on the Korean peninsula--calls for national unity, resistance to the Chinese hegemon and the like.

Oh, and there was action--did I mention the action? From beautifully choreographed sword-fights between a pair of combatants to great battles involving hundreds or thousands, the battle scenes were convincing and very well done.

As the setting of Jumong is the far east around the time of Jesus, there is no trace of Christianity. The morality is strictly of the virtuous pagan variety. There are semi-political/semi-magical sorceresses, frequent mention of the gods, references to ancestor worship, concubinage among the rulers, and one strange relationship between two men. But the over-arching ethical tone is comfortable for most Catholics, celebrating filial piety, condemning revenge, and exalting courage, humility, and forgiveness.

If you can tolerate the subtitles and the typos that occasionally appear therein, you will be well rewarded by this series. The 80 episodes will fly by, and you will find that you actually know a little Korean afterwards--although I'm not sure the phrase: "Your favors are immeasurable, your highness" will be of much use to you if you travel to Korea these days.

And the best part is, Jumong is available for free (with commercials) on the internet at: http://www.crunchyroll.com/jumong

I compare this to anything that appears on American TV and I am left shaking my head. I am forced to admit that places like South Korea are making infinitely better entertainment products than we are in America.

Let's just face it--our entertainment industry is creatively drained, sapped, atrophied. While Jumong and similar Korean historical dramas are grand and glorious, nearly all of American network television is tawdry and crude.

What accounts for this disparity?


BONIFACE said...

Two points-

1) Asian stuff is infinitely superior to what is being produced in America, hands down.

2) We haven't had a TV since 2001 and we have never missed it.

Elmtree said...

What accounts for part of it is US Market Research and focus groups. Instead of attempting to put out quality television, they consult the focus groups and research to determine what viewers want, and then they can sell that to the advertisers (who also want this research).

And yet viewers continue to abandon American TV, so something must be wrong with their system.

I watch almost everything I want to watch (which is little, actually) on the internet these days. The TV is used to view DVDs when there are too many of us to crowd around the computer monitor (because we can watch DVDs on the computer, too)