Mediamatic Magazine vol 3#3 Vincent Verweij 1 Jan 1989

Video World-Wide

MANUEL ALVARADO (ED.) London, 1988 JOHN LIBBEY & CO ISBN 086196143 9 GB £21


Video World-Wide -

• It goes something like this: at night someone arrives at Heathrow in London carrying a small package. This contains a videotape of that evening’s programs on BBC. It is flown by private jet and arrives a couple of hours later in Kuwait where it is duplicated in a gigantic copying centre. Early next morning the copies are distributed to videotheques throughout the land. It can be hired anywhere once the shops have opened. These Kuwaitis worship the BBC. In fact everything forbidden by ALLAH. Kuwait is a nation of video junkies.

Nowhere in the world are there as many video recorders as in the Gulf States where religious restrictions reduce the chances of public entertainment to virtually zero. There aren’t even any cinemas in Saudi Arabia. Arab culture has always strongly focused on entertaining friends and family at home. The high average income and short working day create an ideal situation for video’s successful propagation. In order to be able to see everything released on video (beyond the government-approved family films frcm Egypt) extensive networks of video pirates have been set up who import illegal tapes. There is so little control that American and European film companies have abandoned the Gulf States as a legal market. Pirates can do as they please. Only erotica is handled with a certain circumspection. These tapes always begin with five minutes of heartwarming family film to throw the inspectors off the scent but then it’s down to business: porno.

This story about the Gulf States is just one of 25 collected by MANUEL ALVARADO for his book Video World-Wide. He describes a number of countries from all corners of the world so that particular themes recur, such as the proportion of video recorders vis-a-vis the total population, the home industrial production of recorders and tapes and the situation on the program market. This results in a book full of figures and some rather dull discussions (as illustrated by the story about the Soviet Union which seems to date from the pre-glasnost period) but after all, it is ultimately intended an academic publication. Nor is the book by any means complete: the 25 countries appear to be relatively random samples. What makes the book worthwhile are some remarkable details, the anecdotes about the frequently ingenious methods employed against all obstacles and restrictions to get hold of a video recorder or view an (illegal) tape. Because if anything in the world goes hand in hand with video, its the illegal, the furtive. In many countries the video recorder is the secret treasure of a semi-official clan operating on the shady end of legality.

The only way to find out where the special screenings are in Poland is through friends. To divert the authorities these screenings are dubbed technical demonstrations. The prospect of seeing a blue movie from the West along with 30 comrades in a bleak hall in some dismal suburb of Warsaw must be tremendous. And then again: in Chile it’s not the technical demonstration you must seek out, but a password. Only then will you get the much-desired tape. In Brazil for every legal tape there are 100 illegal copies in circulation. And there are kicks like smuggling a video recorder into India via Singapore.

Despite video’s clandestine character, it’s mega-business particularly for the American software producers in Hollywood and the hardware manufacturers in Japan. Last year Japanese electronics factories sold more than 30 million appliances: 15 billion dollars. The most important markets are in the Western industrialized countries. In non-Western countries the possession of a video recorder is restricted to the affluent. And it is still a status symbol.

The discovery of video by the alternative circuit is slowly but surely taking of. In South America it’s being more and more deployed by trade unions, educational organizations and political groups for information and education. But these sorts of activities are not as yet extensive. Video for the People is a reality that only exists in Belize, a small Caribean state with 27.000 homes. Television still hadn’t reached it by 1981. The advent of the video recorder in the late 1970s provided the upper class in Belize with the latest American films and television programs. It looked like a lucrative business for a couple of smart young men... until one day someone decided that everyone should be able to see the programs and films. He bought a satellite dish, a transmitter, a video recorder and began broadcasting. The video hire business collapsed. At last Belize had TV! (VINCENT VERWEY)