Sharing a laugh?

Klovn (Clown) is a Danish sitcom, whose protagonist Frank is a semi-retired comedian. Danish people are wild about it, as most Danish people are about most Danish things. And you know the old moniker, “When in Copenhagen…”.

The humour in Klovn is derived from everyday situations, social awkwardness and uncomfortable silences. These moments draw upon human truths and so manage to transcend language barriers and cultural differences to elicit laughter. I can’t help but wonder, though, just how much does get lost in translation. Surely nuances, euphemisms and Copenhagen slang lose something in the translation process, especially in a show whose character performances and dialogue rely upon subtleties.

Whilst the Danish culture is not as foreign to Australians as Korean or Indian might be, we are still a uniquely isolated and expansive country – the consequences of which play out in two ways: we find it hard to fathom the immediate accessibility of international travel throughout Europe on one hand, and on the other hand we have established a nation of Australians whose unique ‘Australianess’ is a result of striving to be something different to our European forefathers, a something that is often hard to summarise but easy to pick.

I really felt Australia’s isolation upon moving back here after living in Denmark, where a 20 minute train ride had you in Sweden’s second largest city. Forbrydelsen (The Killing) is a Danish murder-mystery series whose first episode deals with a Danish police officer about to move to a remote part of Sweden and continue her career within the Swedish police force. Again, the murder-mystery is the kind of genre that transcends national boundaries – criminal behaviour and law enforcement are recognisable in some form by people everywhere.

What was a little harder to understand, as an Australian, were the references and inside jokes between the Swedes and the Danes about each other’s countries. Working conditions and responsibility restraints due to nationalities were also an issue for the protagonist – which the succinct dialogue sufficiently explained, but I imagine the gravitas of the situation would’ve been more recognisable to someone who understands the visa agreements between Scandinavian countries. There were also parts of the Danish dialogue that I could understand and recognise that the subtitles did not convey what was being said accurately, in particular references to areas and suburbs within Copenhagen that relied upon demographic knowledge to understand their significance. The English subtitles had no mention of these suburbs at all.

All of this got me to thinking about Kath & Kim, a show so uniquely Australian that it struggles to resonate with transnational audiences. With over 70% of the population living in outer suburbia, Kath & Kim is a celebration of the suburbanite as the true Australian. Its wild success on home turf sparked the USA to create an American re-make, but in doing so was all the good stuff lost? The little things that Kel or Kath or Sharon do that we recognise of ourselves? The suburban environment that resonates with those of us who have grown up in similar environments?

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In response to an article on Flow, ‘Life on Mars as Seen From the United States: The Cultural Politics of Imports and Adaptations’, Jon Stratton (2009) commented:

…[in Australia] we not only get to watch the Australian, original, version of Kath and Kim but also the US version…Watching the American version of Kath and Kim in Australia is a little unsettling–perhaps I should say uncanny. The familiar is made unfamiliar but remains strangely familiar while we are so used to watching American series here that, in a disturbing way, the unfamiliar is actually almost more familiar.

The States have also made their own version of Forbrydelsen / The Killing (which I have not yet seen). It would be interesting to see if the same familiar / unfamiliar sentiment is expressed by the Danes as I’m not sure that the level of American tv infiltration is as high there as it is in our homes amongst the gum trees.

Just a morsel

As an advertising student with a penchant for all things digital, the idea of the webisode is one that excites me greatly – and an idea I often visit and revisit when devising campaigns.

The webisode, as I have experienced it in practice, is a chance for a brand to demonstrate personality and the ability to keep up with hipster quirk. I pitched a campaign to TAC (Transport Accident Commission) featuring webisodes with offbeat characters in an attempt to convey road safety messages to a younger crowd than the traditional TVC may reach. They jumped all over it.

An example of an award-winning campaign that utilises the webisode as the main vehicle to engage with the target audience is ‘The Boosted Inspiration Series’ for Boost chocolate bars. The campaign was created by Droga5 agency in Sydney. The webisodes drove consumers back to the brand’s facebook page where they could further interact with the campaign. The first webisode to be released, and the most popular with viewers, is ‘Moreing’.

 

 

In terms of television, the webisode serves not as the primary driver, but rather as a bite/byte that whets the appetite. Says Max Dawson, webisodes have ‘facilitated the dilation of television’s intricate narratives’ (p.2). The webisode below, ‘A Drop of True Blood’, is a 3 minute and 24 second ‘minisode’ (a moniker Dawson attributes to Sony Pictures Television) that encapsulates personality traits and complex interpersonal relationships between two of True Blood’s secondary characters – Eric and Pam . Whilst certainly drawing upon ‘recognisable elements’ of the source text, ‘A Drop of True Blood’ does more than just ‘distil [the] vast and complex’ diorama that is Bon Temps.

 

 

As suggested by the name of the webisode, – ‘a conspicuous temporal cue’ (p.4) – ‘A Drop of True Blood’ was but a taste of the show. But it was enough of an appetizer to make me want to dive straight back in.

Sookehhhhhh.

 

 

 

Dawson, M (2011) “Television’s Aesthetic of Efficiency: Convergence Television and the Digital Short”, in Television as Digital Media, eds. James Bennett and Niki Strange. Durham, NC: Duke University Press Books.

Advance Australia Fair of skin

As a mousey-brown-haired blue-eyed Australian woman, born of Australian parents who were born of Australian parents, I am a part of the main demographic my country’s media represents. My appearance is genetic. My citizenship a result of my place of birth. And yet here I am, an Aussie sheila.

Shudder.

My childhood and adolescence were certainly shaped by the rote of national television. I would rise to Agro’s Cartoon Connection, eat dinner between Neighbours and Home & Away, and reach the pinnacle of my weekend as Red Symons dished out another Red Faces gong. Perhaps one day Koshie and Mel will dictate my morning routine as I dream of my children’s post-All Saints equivalent Australian medical drama bedtime.

As David Morley summarises Berlant (2000) ‘through the accident of birth within a particular set of geographical and political boundaries, the individual is transformed into the subject of a collectively held history and learns to value a particular set of symbols as intrinsic to the nation and its terrain.’

Like most Australians, I was proud to be Australian. I loved the beach. I supported the Wallabies. I cried when Princess Diana died. But I’ve never been surfing. I don’t care for sports. And  I like the idea of becoming a Republic. What ‘Australian’ even means to me these days I would struggle to define. Or I would shudder. Again.

For such a young country, the ‘idea of the nation as represented in its mediated culture’ (Morley, p.105) was intrinsic in ‘the construction of a sense of national identity’ (Lofgren in Morley, p.106), ‘the “cultural thickening” of the nation state’ (Morley, p.106). Yet this young country has grown and developed. Immigrants added richness and diversity Australia, and their children, second-generation immigrants, increasingly made up a significant component of the country’s populace (May, 2003).

Papastergiadis (in Morley, p.107) argues that “the symbols and narratives of the nation can only resonate if they are admitted to the chamber of the home”, yet if the symbols and narratives dictate a verandah out the front, a clothesline out the back and an old rocking chair, and the chamber of the housing-commission home they are admitted to is represented by none of these things, national broadcasting as a form of unification instead becomes a repellant.

Television was anglocentric. Indeed, until the early 1990s, multiculturalism within Australia’s national broadcasting remained minimal. When it did occur the actor’s part was ‘performed’ ethnicity, rather than the portrayal of an ‘everyday’ Australian (May, p.1). May suggests that diversification of the country’s media occurred from the late 1980s onwards, paralleling the development of a broad multicultural policy by government. Perhaps Home & Away didn’t get that agenda.

Regardless, with the Olympics now creating the spectacle-induced swell of national pride that Bondi Rescue could only dream of, Australians in all their varieties have come together. Well, they had. That was until a dismal medal count saw our ‘great sporting nation’ bow it’s head in shame, and second generation immigrants revert to barracking for the country of their heritage. My freckles and name would suggest I champion the Republic of Ireland. I don’t suppose they’re doing much better though, are they?

May, H (2003) ‘Australian multicultural policy and television drama in comparative contexts’, Doctor of Philosophy thesis, Queensland University of Technology.

Morley, D (2000) ‘Broadcasting and the Construction of the National Family’, Home Territories, course readings from COMM1073, RMIT University, Melbourne, viewed 6 Aug 2012.

Not-so-remote control

TELEVISION TODAY

The study of what ‘television is’ today confounds many, even scholars, as the notion of broadcasting to a mass audience is lost amongst the convergence of media platforms and the fragmentation of a national audience into smaller groups or communities.

Jinna Tay and Graeme Turner’s essay What is Television? Comparing Media Systems in the Post-Broadcast Era (2008) explores the contemporary conditions that have resulted in the emergence of a new operating system for television. Where once television could be talked about as though it were a singular entity and a stand-alone medium, the technologies of today demand more cross-media interactivity. And increased interaction means a higher level of control by the viewer in terms of consumption of television content and structure.

POST-BROADCAST NEWS

So what does this mean for shows that purport to tell the truth, such as the evening news and current affairs programs? Tay and Turner suggest that television programming can no longer ‘circulate information and educate the populace; provide the pre-eminent venue for the public performance of party politics; and routinely broadcast ritual events designed to imbue the state with a ‘national’ character’ (pp.72-73). The rise of new media has seen the decline of the ‘national’ character. ‘Citizens’ are now recognised as ‘consumers’.

As seen in the Week 2 lecture, news is still a pre-eminent genre within television, holding the largest free-to-air viewer share (22% in 2010). Yet exposure to news stories via many new digital platforms, and indeed the availability of viewer-generated content, sheds light upon the many conventions employed within the network news programs in their promise to deliver the truth to the nation.

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Rather than broadcasting to a mass audience, television these days must be part of a two-way communication model. The audience member should be presented with the option to be part of the conversation, dialogue or debate. And what is being said must be credible, as the option to interrupt television viewing to check facts online now posits the medium in less of a dictator role, no longer telling the nation what stories are newsworthy or how these stories must be digested.

Indeed, the structure of broadcast news programs is often the subject of comedic mockery in post-broadcast news story ‘wind-ups’, such as ABC’s Mad As Hell – a show that presents the week’s news stories with commentary and intelligent human insights.

Shaun Micallef’s MAD AS HELL is a half-hour weekly round-up, branding, inoculation and crutching of all the important news stories of the week. Along with a like-minded Think Tank of reporters and pundits, Shaun Micallef’s MAD AS HELL offers not only reportage and analysis of the week’s events, but discussion, argument and dissection of what’s making the world turn every which way.

(www.abc.net.au)

VARIETY SHOWS – THEN & NOW

Another genre of television program that has had to adapt to the post-broadcast era is the variety show. Throughout history the variety show provided entertainment to be enjoyed by the whole family, or, as suggested by Henry Jenkins in Variety (2010), entire communities.

Not only did variety shows contribute significantly to the history of television, but they had a say in what constituted as ‘mainstream culture’. Says Jenkins, ‘well selected clips brought back a wealth of memories, including helping me to discover the roots of long-standing family expressions in the catch phrases of half remembered variety show sketches.’

The introduction of the remote control lessened the popularity of the variety show, as the audience member was immediately able to change channels if what was screening did not satisfy their immediate tastes. Yet Jenkins argues that vestiges of the variety show still exist in the form of contemporary amateur talent contests such as The X-Factor and Australian Idol. Reality programming the twenty-first century, though, is a different kettle of fish. It is multi-platform and multi-media – ‘with websites, chat-rooms, live video-streaming and key narrative moments…turned into public events by being performed before a live paying audience’ (Tay & Turner, 2008).

For me personally, the advent of multi-platform and multi-media viewing has meant that I struggle to sit through an entire movie these days. Thank goodness I don’t like Lord of the Rings – what chance would I stand?

Jenkins, H (2008) Variety’, 10 Jan, Pioneers of Television, viewed 1 August 2012, <http://www.pbs.org/remotelyconnected/2008/01/pioneers_of_television_variety.html#more>.

Morris, B (2012) Lecture notes Wk 2: Television in a Post-Broadcast Era, course readings from COMM1073, RMIT University, Melbourne, viewed 29 Jul 2012, <http://comm1073.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/wk-2_tv-post-broadcast.pdf>.

Tay, J & Turner, G (2008) ‘What Is Television? Comparing Media Systems in the Post-Broadcast Era’, Media International Australia, No.126, February, pp.71-81.

Television snobbery

I live in a share-house of smart and savvy 20-somethings and despite paying a large amount of rent, our television antenna doesn’t work. Whilst this wasn’t our choice, I have often found myself taking smug pride in the fact that we don’t have a TV, feeling a part of an intellectual elite that refuse to watch the mind-numbing shows created for the numb-of-mind masses.

Yet of a night I sit in my bed and log on to TV-links.net, bypassing the movie section as I head straight to the impressive array of television shows. Skins, Misfits, True Blood and Mad Men were constant companions during a lonely few months in Copenhagen. Californication marathons cemented friendships and Whisker Wars cemented a penchant for bearded men. And when the question was raised in our Week 1 Television Cultures tute “What TV show are you embarrassed to love?” memories of The Simple Life and Passions brought a coy smile to my lips.

Unlike Alan McKee I do not favour television over cinema, radio, books or Art – but it certainly has its place in my heart. Perhaps my regard for television is more akin to the metaphor used in Hollywood: The Rise of TV (2005), likening television to a wife and cinema to a mistress.

I agree with McKee’s sentiment (2007) that television makes me ‘joyful in the encounters it offers with difference‘ and that, drawing upon Thomas Hartley, television is ‘the ultimate cross-demographic medium‘, yet I disagree with the idea that television makes me ‘a better person’ and that it ‘doesn’t want to put anybody offside’. Shows such as The Biggest Loser flourish partly through audience empathy, but partly through mockery by the audience. What could be better than watching fat people cry as they struggle to run up a flight of stairs as I tuck into my fish and chip dinner from the comfort of my couch? – not such a ‘generous, warm, inviting, kind medium’ after all.

Indeed, McKee’s notion of television wanting ‘to bring everybody into the audience, smiling’ is indirectly contested by Graeme Blundell’s exploration of the rise of digital film-making, the consequential levels of realism onscreen and, as a result, the ability to explore ‘subtleties of character against the larger dynamics of the social world’ (2011) that Blundell states captured ‘the high end of the market’. This is glaringly obvious as friends from a certain domestic demographic derive their pleasure and truth from shows such as Today Tonight and Home & Away, while others who dwell in a state of pseudo-intellectual hipsterdom get their rocks off to Battlestar Gallactica, Game of Thrones and Community.

Whilst it would be naiive to say that my viewing habits aren’t influenced by friends and ‘the cool kids’, for now I’m too busy trying to decide if I’m more like Jess from New Girl or Hannah from Girls to even contemplate getting up to speed with what Breaking Bad, The Wire or Parks & Recreation are all about.

REFERENCES

  • Hollywood: The Rise of TV (2005) course screening from COMM1073, RMIT University, viewed 20 July 2012.