Read through archived FRONTLINE/World
conversations around this story, including responses from
Jon Boatright - Austin, Texas
Here is the double-edged sword of capitalism. I think it
is unfortunate that these children are inspired by WWF.
It is a poor representation of our culture. The saddest
part is that as they are bombarded by products they haven't
the means to get them but are stirred to want them. The
effectiveness of marketing is bad on us, on them it is cruel.
David Cox - Hoboken, New Jersey
I echo your sentiment exactly! Just the representation that
violence is a way of solving disputes, and that it's "fun"
to deliberately and mercilessly inflict pain on someone,
even if it's purportedly fake, is the worst thing that children
can learn. It creates a callousness to another's pain. As
people start excusing this kind of exploitative violence
as "just entertainment," a society will emerge that condones
violence as a way to solve disagreements. And you can bet
Bhutan will soon be joining the rest of the world in global
The following conversation took
place in response to the first broadcast and launch of "The
Last Place" in May 2002.
Reporter Tshewang Dendup writes
It is heartening to see a lively debate on the impact
of introduction of television in Bhutan on this site.
After leaving Berkeley and the United States a year ago,
I have been working as a producer in Bhutan's only TV
and Radio station. For a country that is trying its utmost
to provide, amongst other things, education, health facilities
and safe drinking water to its people, TV has indeed come
as a stranger. But in some ways the stranger with its
queer baggage has been welcomed into the homes of the
Bhutanese. The Bhutanese TV broadcast of two hours a day
is watched diligently by a respectable number of the Bhutanese
populace who have access to TV. But it has to compete
with CNNís sleek packaging of live pictures of smart bombs
dropping in Afghanistan and the grand old daddy of news,
the BBC World Service.
The Last Place was, financially,
a small-scale documentary production by world standardS
but the money that we spent on it could easily fund fifteen
of its kind in Bhutan. The cost of ten MINI DV tapes,
the number that we use to produce a fifteen-minute program
in our station, is the monthly salary of a Bhutanese teacher.
The Bhutanese television station
is only three years old. But today, it has a daily news
bulletin in two languages. With a limited number of trained
personnel, it has been able to broadcast locally produced
programs. Yes, MTV and the countless soaps on the Indian
channels are an attraction. But at seven PM, every day,
Jennifer Lopez and Larry King have to give way because,
however rudimentary the Bhutanese telecast maybe, fathers
and mothers in the capital gather their children and switch
channels to watch their own.
But the holiday maybe short-lived.
Their loyalty may fade if the Bhutan Broadcasting Service
cannot pick up pace and catch up with the big ones. It
is a gargantuan task for us here in Bhutan. Your thoughts
are comforting as we battle the onslaught of cable television.
The other week I went to shoot the arrival of electricity
in a village. For lunch we went to a restaurant in a nearby
town. Three villagers were gorging on red rice and the
ubiquitous red chilies. There was a poster of Arnold Schwarzenneger
in Terminator. The youngest of the trio said Arnie was
a man made from metal and no bullets could pierce his
heart. He had seen the movie on HBO. The old man staring
at the shotgun in Arnie's hand said, At the rate they
show people getting killed on television, pretty soon,
there will be none of us left on this earth. But it isn't
just Britney Spears' hip-gyrations or the blood and gore
that captivate the Bhutanese youth. A survey conducted
by a Bhutanese research organization revealed that the
National Geographic channel was a popular choice of the
youngsters. Rinzy Dorji himself puts the channel on the
top ten. The young Bhutanese savor the savannahs of Africa
and marvel the Arctic Northern Lights. Enclosed by the
impregnable Himalayas, the TV renders them free from the
land lock. A friend of mine was walking home after dinner
at his parents. En route to his apartment, he passed by
a house. In one of the room, he could see the flicker
of a butter lamp burning in front of the altar. In the
other, he saw the flicker of the TV screen, as a youngster
zapped channels. This dichotomy or for that matter, peaceful
coexistence or if you want to call it the tussle of two
diametrically opposed forces is visible everyday in Bhutan.
This afternoon, here in Thimphu, on the ground floor of
a building, a shopkeeper was watching Friends. From the
top floor, the sonorous chanting of monks embellished
by the clash of the cymbals and drums held sway and reverberated
in the moist July air. Five years from now, will the lamp
vanish from the radar screen or burn with more luminosity?
Will the flicker dominate or fade? Or will both exist
side by side?
C. Martin - West Chester, Ohio
One way the Bhutanese could limit the damage that might
be wrought on their culture would be to limit the TV viewing
to 2-3 nights per week. In this way, they could be more
slowly brought into the twisted world consciousness that
is broadcast TV. They would still have most of their days
devoted to those things they've known and loved for so long,
and be less eager to embrace those strange things they've
seen of other cultures; yet still having the ability to
follow world events.
Here, in other parts of the world,
we were brought up on "I Love Lucy". Or "The Brady Bunch".
We all grew up much more slowly.
Reporter Alexis Bloom responds:
Yes, television was introduced to Bhutan a very sudden
way. And many have criticized the Bhutanese government
for their lack of involvement in the supervision of this
new media. There are many state-sponsored organizations
in Bhutan, but cable television has been left entirely
to private enterprise. This was a big surprise to the
Bhutanese ≠ they expected more government involvement.
But once television is part of culture, it becomes very
difficult to censor and circumscribe. It seems inevitable
that the Bhutanese will grow up with old 1970s reruns
as well as the latest and greatest game shows and high-budget
Andrew Cowan - Montreal Quebec
It's ironic that you criticize TV even while watching an
excellent TV documentary! The fact is that while some people
in the west wish they could have the simple life of a Bhutanese,
Bhutanese parents surely hope that their kids can grow up
to be doctors and engineers. Exposure to mass media is a
necessary step for people who want to go from a feudal life
style to a modernised economy.
How do you know what Bhutanese parents want for their kids?
As Buddhists, perhaps they aren't interested in capitalist
consumption as the way to nirvana, as you may be. Who decided,
if indeed they live in a feudal society, that they would
be better off in a "modernized" one that has the potently
mind-numbing time-waster known as TV. Non, au contraire
mon ami, television will sow the seeds of social deterioration
in Bhutan, just as it has in my country.
Robet Colasacco - New York, New
I almost cried when I saw the young boys imitating the wrestlers.
This is truly the beginning of the
destruction of a culture. Although I thought the question
very astute of one young boy who asked--and I'm paraphrasing
here--for what reason do those big men fight like that?
Robert Corwin - Los Angeles, California
Someone said that for every action there is a possible evil
or good consequence... I had a negative reaction to the
arrival of T.V. and could see only a beginning of the end
to the last peaceful place on earth. Yet the reaction of
the gentleman from Bhutan was positive, that this will only
make the local people cherish more the peace they already
have. If you could sign that man up for a weekly T.V. show
I'd tune in for a weekly dose of his positive attitude.....while
Reporter Alexis Bloom responds:
If the Bhutanese Foreign Minister had a weekly show, Iíd
tune into him too! Heíd beat Larry King hands down, thatís
for sure. Lyonpo Jigmi Thinley is astute and thoughtful,
and yes, heís got a positive outlook on things. Thankfully
he's not the only one in government with such a balanced
The story on television in Bhutan describes the introduction
of TV, with broad hints of its cultural impact, but is fairly
neutral in its approach. Rather than a story on the introduction
of television, to me this is a very sad story of how television
wreaks havoc on values and culture, leading to the materialistic,
consumer-culture we see in the U.S. and the West. Perhaps
if we continue to document the impacts within Bhutan, which
I fear are inevitable, it will wake us up to what's already
happened in our own society. While it's too late to turn
back the clock, we could at least help our young people
be more conscious of commercial media's impact and predatory
nature by providing media literacy training in school. It's
a part of the curriculum in Canada, but in the U.S. the
real impact of the media is either ignored or denied.
One point regarding the Bhutan story: The Nationalist party
in South Africa refused to allow television into the country
until 1977. The reason? They wanted to carefully control
the ideas introduced into the country and feared that television
would undermine support for Apartheid. Somehow the Cosby
Show got by the censors and was introduced in the 1980's.
For a population that had been told for years that blacks
were inherently inferior and races were better off living
separately, the positive portrayal of a well-educated upper
middle class black family, living in a wealthy neighborhood
and having white neighbors and friends was stunning. While
I'm not saying that the Cosby Show brought about the end
of Apartheid, I think that it may have played a small role
in changing attitudes towards racial integration. Watching
this show gave both blacks and white some hope that peaceful
coexistence was possible and there was a light at the end
of the tunnel. Television can be used to enlighten, educate,
No Name Given
Your comment is well taken, and in South Africa it may well
have had a strongly positive influence. You say TV CAN be
used to enlighten... but you know 98% of the US airwaves
are not used to enlighten minds, but to enlighten viewer's
Reporter Alexis Bloom responds:
Television is certainly an agent of change ≠ sometimes
for the better, and sometimes for the worse. Itís true
that foreign-made television opened peopleís eyes in South
Africa: it showed them that South Africa was unique in
its social and political architecture. In that way both
white and black South Africans came to see how untenable
apartheid was, both morally and practically. But I still
remember people in South Africa saying: "You know, our
blacks here are different to the blacks in America. The
ones in Africa are not as sophisticated as the ones overseas."
Even though some right-wing white South Africans had seen
the potential for equality (as represented by shows like
the Cosby Show) they simply didnít want change the way
I found it to be truly
depressing to see these young Bhutanese children dressing
up like characters from the World Wrestling Federation.
While every culture has its unique modes of escape and fantasy,
this just seems ludicrous. And why should Bhutan receive
"the same television package as India." This monolithic
approach to very distinct cultures is contributing to an
unhealthy view of a world soon to be void of values.
Though the Bhutan story brings out the negatives of having
television in such a serene, untouched part of the world,
it does not show that some positives are surely coming from
the new technology. Some children are experiencing curiosity
about different parts of the world, learning about the arts,
politics, and traditions of other countries that they had
no exposure to before television. The children wrestling
is meaty footage of the negative results, but there are
certainly two sides to the story.
Paula Bain - Stevensville, Ontario
In reply to Ms. Kittredge's letter, the fact that the country
currently has a 54% illiteracy rate should suggest that
what is needed here is not soul-numbing, culture-destroying
television which has children sitting with glazed eyes staring
at the tube from the time they come home from school. These
programs which are available to the Bhutanese may feed a
certain curiosity for what the world around them is doing
but is it a realistic view? The Cartoon Network and Worldwide
Wrestling rank higher than the National Geographic Channel
and the Discovery Channel. So what you see are children
imitating what they see, which is violence, not what will
help them in their lives. This new generation will undoubtedly
change the face of Bhutan totally when they grow up enough
to take control of it. By that time the current generation
of adults will have died off and will be unable to halt
the country's decay. How sad that such a beautiful and spiritual
land should be ruined by a box.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
This looks like the best letter to agree with. But I also
agree with Robert, Rich, George, Keith, and San Diego. The
only hope lies in those letters mentioned from Bhutanese
folk complaining about the wrestling as offensive. They're
sane. The "wrestling" isn't. There is no question that this
feature is of utmost importance to Americans who wish to
know the full truth regarding what elements of our culture
monopolized media is representing to the world.
Keith Wynings - Gainesville, Georgia
I would like to say that what has happened in Bhutan, is
a complete tragedy. To see the small children imitating
there favorite wrestling heroes, when three years ago they
were playing with their pets and each other, just goes to
show how we as a whole earth are on a downward spiral. God
Los Angeles, California
I was fascinated with this story. I am very curious with
how the images from t.v. will change this community. Unfortunately,
I fear for the worst in terms of physical, mental and spiritual
development. Keep up the wonderful reporting!
San Diego, California
Poor Bhutan, they don't know what they let themselves in
for with MTV and Wrestling. Their children will forget their
peaceful culture and become like the spoiled american couch
potatoes and backyard wrestlers. I hope their parents take
control of the TV before it's too late!