chapter  10
The Young and the Restless in Trinidad
Pages 19

This chapter has a substantive problem and a theoretical proposition. The substantive problem is the popularity of soap opera in non-metropolitan regions. In the early 1970s there was already a perennial anecdote among undergraduates in anthropology departments about a much-studied Middle Eastern society famed for its arduous annual migrations which had altered their date of departure that year in order to watch the end of the current series of Dallas. Even then, there seemed something in this that was shockingly subversive to the core of anthropology as discipline and as ideology which kept this anecdote fresh. Leaving aside the implications over concepts of authenticity, it is clear that soap opera is symptomatic of a shift by which myriad local cultures are increasingly reconstructing themselves in articulation with what has been termed ‘global forms’. This is hardly a new discovery and there is a large body of anthropological writings which examine this issue in terms of imperialism (e.g. Wolf 1982), absorption (Sahlins 1985), resistance (Kahn 1985) and syncretism (e.g. Bastide 1978). While most such work on global trends has emphasized shifts in production relations, soap opera helps focus attention on the parallel process in mass consumption (see also King 1984). My own entry into this problem came during fieldwork in Trinidad when, for an hour a day, fieldwork proved impossible since no one would speak with me, and I was reduced to watching people watching a soap opera. It is likely that this anecdote could be cloned by many other contemporary anthropologists faced with Hum Log in India or a Brazilian telenovela. Consideration needs to be given not only to the sheer proportion of time spent watching, for example, the five hours of daily telenovela in Venezuela, but also individual programmes watched in over 100 countries (Lull 1988).