Thursday, November 21, 2013


I've written before about coming to America as a child (including the traumatic tale of when it looked like my teddy bear might not be making the journey with me - click here for the horror!).

I wrote about how weird it felt for me to write about wholesome, Christian, Midwestern soap opera characters in my As the World Turns and Guiding Light tie-in novels when I'd never been Christian.  Or Midwestern.  Or wholesome. (Click here for an unconventional tale of faking it.)

But now, in honor of Thanksgiving, I've written about how television presents the immigrant experience. The good, the bad, and the are you kidding me?

There’s no pretty way to say this: TV made me an American.

When I first moved to the United States at the age of seven, I believed that everything I saw on screen was a documentary demonstrating how “real” Americans actually lived. (The fact that we didn’t have a gargantuan staircase like on The Brady Bunch proved that my family weren’t yet real Americans.)

However, while I was perfectly willing to accept at face value everything that the miraculous, marvelous machine (and it was in color, too!) that sat in my living room told me about my new neighbors, I was a bit puzzled by the manner in which they represented my fellow immigrants.

Take, for instance, the TGIF hit, Perfect Strangers, and the less well-known, syndicated series, What a Country.  Bronson Pinchot’s character, Balki, was from some vaguely Eastern European/Mediterranean country that couldn’t have been too far from where I was born in Odessa, (then-)USSR. And stand-up comedian Yakov Smirnoff, who played Nikolai, was actually from the same city as my family.  So, in theory, I should have known dozens of people just like them.

Why then, did both these shows appear to be under the impression that because you spoke English like a child – simple syntax, limited vocabulary, taking idioms literally – that meant your thought processes and reactions were that of a child, too?  On both shows, the new immigrant was basically a toddler in an adult’s body. Nothing like the engineers, doctors, and professors all around me who, yes, may have been watching Sesame Street to pick up the language, but managed to remain adults, nonetheless.

Read more, here.