All of this has led me to ask the question – why do production companies do it? Why do they assume that the differences in culture are so great that we won’t understand each other’s ‘versions’? It seems to me that the internet, if nothing else, has made the world a much smaller and cohesive place. We can communicate just as easily with someone on the opposite side of the world as we can our next door neighbours. Why then is there the assumption that we can’t surmount any cultural barriers where humour or other such emotions are concerned.
Literature and music are perhaps the only cultural areas which are allowed to be truly cross cultural. Good music is good music and talented performers have fans the work over. Likewise with literature, I read just as much American fiction as I do British and the works that are considered classics take in all nationalities. We have Tolstoy, Cervantes, Camus and Yang Mo to name just a few. Even in commercial fiction, which has mostly been dominated by the US and UK market, we are seeing more diversity with the emergence of the wonderful Scandinavian crime writers. This doesn’t cross over into other cultural areas, however. For example, we all loved the Stieg Larsson novels and I for one rushed to see the original films when they were released. In my opinion, they did the books proud and lived up to all my expectations. Why then, within a year, were we presented with the
Hollywood version and the assumption that we are all too stupid to read subtitles? Likewise with the serialisation of The Killing, I caught a couple of episodes of the US version, which seemed very good but what was the point of it? From the couple I saw it was a faithful remake of the Danish original which had been on our screens only months earlier.
Are we really too stupid to appreciate cultural diversity? I don’t think so. I love Hollywood films but I equally love the smaller foreign films, when I am lucky enough to see them. And there lies the problem. Distributers work on the premise that people won’t want to see low budget or foreign films and so, because they fear a dip in their profits, choose not to screen them except in the smaller, art house cinemas. Our only other chance of seeing these films is via television and again BBC4 or Film 4 are the only channels where we are likely to catch them; a couple of measly channels amongst hundreds of others which are awash with nonsense or an endless loop of repeats.
Am I a voice in the wilderness or do we really only want to see what we know and recognise? Are our cultural differences such that we don’t ‘get’ each others’ lives and consequently can’t appreciate each others’ humour, sadness and joy? I have travelled quite a bit and would say that people are basically the same the world over. There might be the odd difficultly in understanding each other but, once you scratch the surface, we are all the same.
There are obviously differences between nationalities; the cultural stereotypes that exist may be crass but they only exist because there is a small kernel of truth at the core of them. I don’t know if it’s even possible to totally assimilate another culture and why would anyone want to? Surely your culture is who you are and we can all co-exist without demanding that other people strip away their very identity. If we can co-exist on social networking very nicely then why can’t we enjoy each others’ differences in the real world? Why does everything have to be diluted into a version that we will recognise?
Having said that, there are perhaps areas in which we each excel because of something in our cultural make-up. Maybe that’s why when we are presented with remakes they are never good. No matter how hard Hollywood tries it can’t capture the Scandinavian bleakness of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo or The Killing. Likewise with the archetypal British comedies such as The Inbetweeners or Shameless. Maybe it’s because of the way society is intrinsically organised in each country. In the UK, for example, the class system is alive and well. Consequently the middle class twits of The Inbetweeners and the underbelly of Shameless don’t translate easily to any other culture. Society in the US is very different and so to try and make TV or films fit a prototype is never going to ring true.
However, just because we are different doesn’t mean we can’t ‘get’ each other. There are lots of US comedies that I think are just as funny as The Inbetweeners, even though they represent a different culture. Modern Family, for example, is much more smooth and glossy than anything produced in the UK but it’s just as funny. South Park, whilst rooted in Americana, is as edgy, subversive and ultimately as funny as any anarchic UK comedy. They are different but equal and as such we should surely embrace them rather than trying to modify them.