What do you mean Africa isn’t a country?

Somalia? Is that some sort of cereal or something? Unfortunately the majority of  less informed Australians would have this response. You would have to say ‘Africa’ to help them understand, and if you were to ask them anything that they know about Africa, the typical responses would be hunger, poverty and cute orphans. This in my opinion is the media’s fault. More specifically, the western media on global issues. Now I’m not saying that there is a lack of global news networks because there are many. CNN International and BBC world news to name a few. They have the ‘prerequisites’ of being a global news source which is their news reaching people in multiple countries. The issue I’m going to raise is the amount of emphasis these “global” news stories have on the western world and the lack of emphasis on “the rest” of the world.

The recent shooting in a US naval base where 13 people were killed is a prime example of my issue. This story made headlines all over Australian television and presumably all over the world. But my question is, why does this make global headlines whilst there is a countless number of people dying in Africa everyday and never being reported? It could be because America is the most powerful and influential country in the planet or we are just content with how the western media currently portrays the “others”. I personally believe that it’s because we have become used to only hearing about the western world in multiple common interest forms. Whether it is gossip, sport or politics. The only time we are remotely interested about the “others” is when the media emphasises the spectacle of the place. Whether it is another car bombing in the middle east or an AIDS breakthrough in Africa. Do we hear about the latest beauty paegent controversy in Africa or an Iraqi actor that died? No. Peter lee Wright explains that “Globalisation has produced a countervailing ‘domestication’ of stories, where the international has to be filtered through domestic sensibilities and interests.” (pp.2)

We need to question and re-evaluate the actual news values of “global” media organisations. Why is it that we put so much emphasis on petty global news like Miley Cyrus’s controversial new video clip and why we categorise Africa as a country when reporting on it? Even I have become a victim to generalising Africa. Lee Wright puts it into perspective saying ” what does the continuing coverage tell us about the values of news organisations, when comparing the prominence and priority accorded by different western news outlets?

Hahahaha, no.

“I totally understand the irony and sarcasm in this video!”, said no American person, ever. Have you ever been sitting there watching a video that your friend from another country is showing you and you have to cringe out an obligatory laugh? I mean, ok I understand that people are dancing to the ‘Harlem shake’ but this does definitely not deserve one single exhale of my laughter. It must be an American thing to laugh at people dancing to one song in different locations. This does make me wonder however, why is this so? Well, in Sue Turnbull’s reading ‘Television comedy in translation’ she writes Andy Medhurst’s suggestion that ‘comedy plays an absolutely pivotal role in the construction of national identity because it invites us to belong by sharing the joke’. I could not agree more with this statement because ‘sharing the joke’ is quite a hard concept when talking about international comedic similarities. There are many comedic situations that are indeed international such as slipping on a banana peel, a baby laughing at the silly face his parents are pulling and of course, cats being flung from a fan into a wall. I mean, how can you NOT find that funny? But as Medhurst suggests, the notion of comedy is far more complex and specific: “Sizeable and often crucial amounts of comedic meaning resides in infliction, timing, nuance, gesture, the balance of sound and silence, the unexpected or wilful pronounciation of key words…”.

Take for instance this Australian up-and-coming comedian Neel Kolhatkar. His videos are racist, sexist and fairly political, but to me and most of Australia, are insanely hilarious. I would compare him to the already established Australian comedian Chris Liley aka Ja’mie King. Being on YouTube, Kolhatker’s videos are exposed internationally and have already copped a lot of criticism about being racist and not even remotely funny from foreigners. But from my own definition and being an Australian, his comedic approach is to what us Australians call as “taking the piss out of things”. This ironic, sarcastic and mocking approach is not always welcomed and appreciated by other cultures as their customs and values differ. This strongly reinforces Sue Turnbull’s suggestion in the lecture that “comedy is incredibly risky to transport overseas” and has a very high chance to dis-connect with the audience.

So, what is comedy’s deal? Do we all just have to be ‘in the loop’ to find things funny? Or should we start learning the comedic customs of different cultures. I agree with Medhurst and believe that comedy is a big part of a nations identity and is far too individual to transport, but, understanding certain cultures comedic views is not much to ask to avoid unnecessary misunderstandings.

Hybridity or Plain Disrespectful?

If someone was to ask me my thoughts on the movie ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ I would respond “A foreign drama that follows the complicated life of a poor Japanese girl”. I’m sure the majority of people would agree, so take a look for yourself:

Now, most of us would be correct about the main story line, but there is one common misconception about these kinds of movies, they are not as foreign as we all think. In fact, they have become so hybrid ever so slightly that the curtain between cultures is beginning to rip. Hybridity is  “mixing both global and local elements to appeal to audience tastes and trends” (Schaefer, Karan, 2006). Us as a western audience may not completely connect with a film if it only represents aspects of its own culture, so us as selfish westerners are comforted by familiarity in the form of a “Hollywood touch” to the film, whether its familiar actors and actresses or just familiar plot lines.

In the case of ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’, there is a thin line between a hybrid and being culturally disrespectful in my opinion. It’s essentially ‘an Eastern movie for Western audiences’ (Lagerkvist, 2009). The portrayal of Japanese culture within the film is somewhat of a positive attempt to showcase it to the Western world. But this is only the case if the natives of that culture agree, and in this movies case, they did not. Criticisms of inaccurately depicting the life of a Geisha, all the main actresses being non-Japanese, the shooting mostly taking place on a Californian sound-stage and the Japanese actors portraying secondary characters, have all questioned the hybridity and cultural validity of the film. Even as I was scrolling down the YouTube comments under the trailer, there is obvious confusion concerning whether the movie is a hybrid or culturally disrespectful. The pro hybrid comment read “Who the f*** cares if the actress is Chinese? They’re both have Asian features! At least they didn’t use a white girl” whilst the comment critisizing the film read “Its just this movie is based on Japanese culture and civilians. So casting Chinese actresses for main parts a bit weird considering they play Japanese characters in Japan, in a movie revolving around Japanese culture”.

The obvious conclusion that can be brought from this topic is that yes, there is a fine line between hybridity and being disrespectful. However it does really depend on the audience that consumes it. It is essentially ‘an Eastern movie for Western audiences’ (Lagerkvist, 2009).