Thursday, 8 July 2010

MED104 - 2.3 Entertaining the world: using media across culturalboundaries

A little behind this week due to school holidays and child illness so here goes!

Read:
Jenkins, H (2006). Pop cosmospolitanism: Mapping cultural flows in an age of media convergence. In H. Jenkins, Fans, bloggers and gamers: exploring participatory culture (pp 152-172). New York: New York University Press. (e-reserve)
and
Srinivasan, R (2006). Indigenous, ethnic and cultural articulations of new media. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 9(4), 497-518. (electronic databases)

Oh dear... it seems I'm not much of a "pop cosmopolitan" at all! After reading both articles today, I'm feeling like I've been living a very narrow-minded life until now! The Jenkins reading discussed media convergence, which he says "involves the introduction of a much broader array of new media technologies that enable consumers to archive, annotate, transform, and recirculate media content". He argues that media flows move rapidly across national borders due to both corporate strategies and grassroots tactics, and that the media flows are multidirectional between geographically dispersed cultures. One of the examples he uses is how teenagers in the developing world embrace American popular culture, which I suppose is obvious when you consider the worldwide coverage of brand names like McDonald's, Coca Cola and Nike. Now many younger Americans are consuming different cultural media such as Japanese anime and manga, Bollywood films and Hong Kong action movies - which I was aware of, but none of which I've ever seen!

Jenkins also discusses how the meaning of shows can change during the translation to different cultures. An example he uses is the TV series "Iron Chef", a Japanese cooking competition which was shown to a niche audience in the US and was very popular. However, when it was later remade into an American version (where changes made included replacing the Japanese martial arts experts with American pro-wrestling stars) it failed dismally - I think because the Japanese elements of the show were what made it popular and replacing those and "Americanising" it too much took away what people liked about the original. While I didn't watch "Iron Chef", the reference did make me think of a couple of other TV shows that were also remade in America, both with differing results. The first one was Australia's own "Kath & Kim", which embraced the Aussie sense of humour and satirised Australian suburban life in a way that made it very popular both in Australia and abroad. Similarly to the "Iron Chef" experiment though, the American remake was cancelled after one season due to low ratings and scathing reviews, with the general view being that it wasn't well written and didn't measure up to the original - again, my view is that it was "Americanised" too much.

A different example is the TV series "The Office", which was originally a very successful British show starring Ricky Gervais that was then remade in America (and as it turns out, also in France, Germany, Quebec, Chile and Brazil, which I didn't realise until today!). I've only seen the British and American versions and although their concepts are similar, the actors, the writing and just the culture they represent make them different. There are many divided opinions on which is better and I even found an article which compared the two and showed small video clips of each version to support the author's argument! Personally I don't think one is any better than the other - I think they're both great. The British version is much more... British, very biting humour, sarcasm and often a bit uncomfortable to watch, while the American version feels a bit lighter and more... American. :-) But I think the main reason the American version has been successful is that the writers only subtly changed the British winning formula, introducing some American humour into it but essentially keeping the essence of the original show intact.

The Srinivasan reading looked at media convergence from the perspective of indigenous and ethnic communities, and how networked and database-driven technologies can actually empower these communities by enabling cultural preservation and allowing them to create and distribute their own perspectives on present-day realities and future visions. While this is a noble idea and produces great results when it actually happens, in my mind there is still the minor problem of the "haves versus the have-nots" - the ability for these communities (which are often "have-nots" in a technological sense) to achieve these goals is purely dependent on the "haves" enabling them to do so.

Overall, I think this new era of global media entertainment is really exciting. On the one hand, it's great that anybody can produce and distribute media that anybody else in the world can consume - it opens up the world in ways we've never seen before and hopefully this could one day lead to a greater understanding and acceptance of different cultures. But added to that is the ability of minority groups to preserve and classify their unique cultures using modern server and database technology, so that they aren't lost as so many native languages, rituals and cultures have already been.
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