My Trip to Minning Town

after all so it’s best to work within the system, so they express tremendous gratitude to their savior.

The benevolent authority figure is often a representative of the government, so this repetitive, thematic messaging to always work within the system comes to feel heavy-handed and propagandistic. I’m not sure whether it’s the result of China’s notoriously strict censorship laws (CNN, 7/8/22) which require that TV shows not in any way harm the government or social stability (Time, 3/4/16), or a lack of inventiveness from the writers, but it’s a palpable part of the series.

For instance, later in the series, Maimiao, now 16, becomes eligible to work in an electronics factory in Fujian. For a village girl this is an opportunity to send money home to her family, and it’s a glamorous change that offers her newfound freedom. When she and her coworkers are being harshly treated by their immediate supervisor Ms. Yang (Zhou Fang), I could already guess how Maimiao would solve the crisis. I turned out to be right.

Despite this mild thematic shortcoming, the show is always dramatically engaging, professionally produced with a big-budget feel, beautifully shot, and its cast is as good as any you’ll find on US broadcast or streaming television. As a lover of international cinema and streaming series, I’m especially excited by it, as the US is in the midst of a surprising international content boom.

Streaming content from around the world is increasingly available at our fingertips. 10 years ago—heck, even five years ago—I simply could not have imagined Americans, actual Americans, flocking to their TVs and mobile screens to watch anything with subtitles, whereas it’s been the norm in other countries for decades. I’m thrilled to see this window on global entertainment finally opening here.

Netflix is the leader of this phenomenon (RRR and Squid Game come to mind as recent examples) but Amazon Prime is not far behind (Mirzapur, The Deep House, et al) in normalizing international content for US audiences.  “[A]ll COVID did was accelerate an already emerging trend,” explains writer Jeff Kotuby for The Streamable (“U.S. Appetite for Foreign Streaming Content Surges to New Highs,” 3/19/21). He pinpoints 2019 as the year of Americans’ paradigm shift toward embracing global entertainment.

Prof. Paolo Sismondi of USC coined the term “glocalization” to describe this uniquely 21st century sensation a decade ago in his book The Digital Glocalization of Entertainment:New Paradigms in the 21st Century Global Mediascape (Springer, 2012).  He elaborated on his term last year in an article he wrote for The Conversation (“Netflix’s big bet on foreign content and international viewers could upend the global mediascape – and change how people see the world,” 4/7/21), enhancing the term to include “a company operating globally, adapting its content to meet the expectations of locally situated audiences across the world.”

Does Minning Town romanticize poverty?  Of course it does, it’s a TV show. So did Little House on the Prairie, The Waltons, The Hoosier Schoolmaster, and every Hollywood screwball comedy made during the Great Depression. And they’re all awesome. As Sisismondi writes:

TV and movies are one way that people, as we go through life, make sense of the world…often it is media that exposes people to other cultures, above and beyond our own . . .But media portrayals may well be inaccurate. Certainly, they are incomplete. That’s because movies and TV series aren’t necessarily meant to depict reality; they are designed for entertainment. As a result, they can be misleading, if not biased, based on and perpetuating stereotypes. But the way people are exposed to media entertainment is changing. Today streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV+ and Disney+ collectively have 1 billion subscribers globally.

You’re probably in that number, but you don’t need to subscribe to any of those platforms to see Minning Town. You can catch all 23 episodes on Youtube for free, and yes, you can turn on the English subtitles. Why not start with trailer?