I had to write an essay for my sister for her Film Studies class (I'm too nice, too smart, and too patient in waiting for my fifty dollars). It was about the Australian film The Castle
, exploring why, despite the film's success in Australia and the creators' attempts to make it more US-friendly by replacing Australian cultural references with American ones, it still flopped over there. Here's one thing that occured to me pretty quickly:
"To Australians it might seem bizarre that American audiences would even require "cultural transfers". After all, Australians have been consuming unadulterated American material for decades. However, precisely because of our unlimited exposure to American culture, Australian audiences are better equipped to deal with unknown cultural references and themes in American films, to absorb them and to adapt to them. In much the same way that Australians accept new technology much faster than most other members of the West, we are more open to sudden influxes of new ideas about art, fashion, language and culture from foreign sources.
The conventions which govern American cinema, whether it is the burnished hero in an action film or the drawn-out relationship of two photogenic New Yorkers in a romance, have become the unrealistic and yet utterly prevalent stereotypes for human behavior in Australian culture. While we do not necessarily apply these idealized American codes of behavior to our own lives, we unconsciously place them on pedestals and refer to them as if they were in fact real. This tolerance has however developed through necessity (a lack of, or perhaps at some stage inferiority of, Australian cultural content to substitute) and for Americans, so used to being the cultural trendsetters, a wall of insularity still exists between themselves and outsiders. Since they have never needed to repeatedly interpret the codes of another culture on their screens, they can’t do so as naturally or unconsciously as Australians can."
This is not to bemoan the absolute dominance of American culture within Australian society. As I've said before, I don't have a problem with it. My thoughts tend to run the other way: it makes me proud that Australian society (or at least metropolitan Australian society) is so flexible, so willing to learn from outsiders, and yet can still come up with a film like "The Castle", which is ineffably, definitely Australian. This sort of cultural dualism is a good thing in my opinion; it allows us as a culture to be more open-minded and diverse, and it challenges us to question our concept of Australia. Watching "The Castle" and, um, "Terminator 2" or "You've Got Mail" back to back invites a dialogue, an acknowledgement of the differences and similarities. What could one culture learn from another?
Once you realise that cultural dualism isn't defeat, the dialectic conflicts of assimilation vs. anti-assimilation or high culture vs. low culture being discussed on Mike and Tom's sites respectively seem both a lot less pressing and a lot more fascinating. Why should everything be reduced to an either/or position when you can have so much more fun flirting on the borders?