Jean Barker

What I'll miss about America

2013-03-15 07:24

Jean Barker

It's time to remind myself what I love about life here in California, USA, to remember what I desperately miss when I go home.

Real radio

In the USA there are so many radio stations that those iPod tuner things don't work at all. There is, simply, no dead air. For a while, I hated that, because my iPod wouldn't play in my car, and all the stations drove me mad with constant advertising.

It took me a while to discover the USA's many public radio stations, which don't broadcast any adverts.

KCRW is my favourite station, for its blend of indie music and current affairs. But I also listen to KJAZZ and KPCC. But before you feel jealous - it's all online. My favourites: American Life, Snap Judgement and Henry Rollins live every Saturday night. Take a listen online for free.

News? Well, there's not a lot of news from South Africa, and when it is, it's bad and full of fear, so I ignore it. But I care about any place I live in, and that includes the USA. And on public radio, the USA is covered in depth, from the perspective of individual stories rather than statistics.

TV Addictions

Television is not cheap, or all that good a service here. But never mind, this is America. There are plenty of great alternatives for the discerning addict.

Let's focus on the legal. If you want a TV episode the same week and don't mind seeing the same adverts 24/7, you can pay for Hulu, which isn't too expensive compared to Cable.

And then there's Netflix... oh, Netflix.com. Streaming of thousands and thousands of movies and TV shows, from all over the world, legally, for $7.99 a month? This couldn't exist in South Africa, not with the slowness of our internet, or the fragmentation of our market. I guess this is what's great about first world media. Even though the USA is a hugely varied market, like South Africa, people can afford to pay for services en mass, and enough people speak English at home to buy into it.

I have no doubt that some of this could exist in Zulu or Xhosa in South Africa one day, so I find America inspiring in this way. The only problem is that finding an obscure Korean film subtitled in Zulu is pretty much impossible.

The festivals

I'm jealously watching tweets and Facebook boasts and reviews from SXSW - seems like half the people I used to work with in SA are there, meeting Grumpy Cat and watching bands they've always wanted to see live. It's great to know that these 1000s of festivals are so close, and that one day, if film school schedule ever allows me to leave campus for more than a few days, I can go to one or two of them. I have already exchanged my much loved Ford Mustang for a bigger, less sexy car - a car spacious enough to sleep in - so that next year I can be there, not just dream of it.

The famous people

When I go back to SA, I'm often asked if I've spotted any famous people. It's kinda awkward for me. I feel the same way about it as I feel when an American asks me if there are lions in the streets. Except yes, I have. No, not lions. I have met some famous people. I chatted to RJ Mitte from Breaking Bad outside a club in West Hollywood. Many of my professors are famous directors. The problem is, once you meet these famous people, they're just people, FFS.

This feels disappointing at first, like you're missing a Jesus moment of some sort. But if you think about it, it's inspiring. What it means, is that I, little me (right now, also “just a person”) could be a famous just-a-person person one day, and get to make all the films I just dream of now.


- Jean is a screenwriting/directing dual MFA student in California, USA. She tweets as @jeanbarker and blogs pictures of signs and more, here. She will be back.

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