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Window Shopping: reception of foreign television dramas among Taiwanese youth: a case study on HBO's Sex in the City

With Ms Ya-Chien Huang (University of Loughborough)

Series:  London Taiwan Seminar|

Date: Thursday 26 October 2006, 6pm-8pm

Venue: Room 116, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)

Chair: Mr Stuart Thompson (Taiwan Culture Research Programme)

Abstract

Television deregulation in Taiwan since 1993 has allowed foreign cultural discourses and practices to be disseminated more easily and widely through imported dramas offering representations of contemporary western lifestyle and aspirations. At a relatively early point in this development, an HBO production, Sex and the City (SATC), has attracted frantic attention in Taiwan and effectively become a publicity weapon for HBO's expansion. Not only was the format soon copied by television producers, it was frequently used in publicity events promoting a wide range of commodities from property projects to hair dye. However, two of SATC's crucial textual elements-the intermittent sex and conspicuous consumption-have raised a few eyebrows in the Taiwanese society, prompting remarkably different reception across generations. Unsurprisingly, the loyalist fans of the series have mostly been young women aged between 18 to 35.

Although having received scant research attention in Taiwan, these young women's fandom, I argue, has offered an interesting case to revisit debates on media consumption as well as examine the dynamic relationship between local audiences and the global media. Moreover, the culturally specific experience of Taiwanese young female fans, compared to how the series is watched and discussed in the West, has become a starting point that leads us 'outwards' to think about a set of gender issues and consequences in the contemporary Taiwanese society. Taking from these stances, this paper sets out to investigate the exquisite feelings of pleasure and resistance in the relationship between young Taiwanese women and SATC. I am particularly concerned about how young Taiwanese women translate and negotiate an imported text into a working language of action more consonant with the culture and forms of everyday life they are embedded in. It argues that SATC provides them with symbolic resources to negotiate real life tensions between traditional Confucianist socio-cultural values and more individualistic, consumerist, lifestyles in a rapidly globalising society, and occasionally prompt them to question traditional conceptions of women's role in the society. However, not totally free from structural constraints, their pleasure and desire to redraw boundaries have also involved other complicated feelings characterized by ambivalence and fantasy.

About the speaker

Ms Ya-Chien Huang received an MA in Media Studies from Sussex University and is currently a PhD candidate at the Communication Research Centre of Loughborough University. She is investigating processes of cultural globalisation and regionalisation in Asian popular culture through detailed studies of young (female) audiences and consumers. She has published a book chapter in TV Drama in China: unfolding narratives of tradition, political transformation and cosmopolitan identity (forthcoming in 2007). The chapter discusses an emerging sub-genre, 'Pink Drama', which represents the empowerment as well as social dilemma of young female professionals in rapidly modernising Confucian societies. Her thesis focuses particularly on the impact of imported television dramas on the television industry and local audiences in Taiwan.

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