The Iss-ewes In Translation

Within Australia, we have learned to grow accustomed to the cinematic reign of Hollywood and it’s productions, so it is not until we are exposed to our ‘home grown’ creations that we take particular notice and pride of our own handiwork, specifically within the realms of comedy. However, would the rest of the world react the same way to our exaggerated, self-criticizing hilarity? Can the humor resonated by one culture be translated to be equally appreciated by another?

Andy Medhurst recognizes comedy as a cultural and social practice that is shaped by historical conjunctures and, in turn, is  a crucial element in the construction of a national identity (Turnbull 2008). When we are able to recognise and understand what a joke is implying and how it makes us laugh, we begin fall into this ‘cultural identity’ and notion of belonging. Sue Turnbull emphasizes that comedy depends on the breaking of rules of language and behavior. When we laugh at a particular punchline or humorous remark within a television show or movie, it indicates that we have recognised the rule that has been broken. In relation to global recognition, if the joke is culturally specific, then other cultures won’t be able to identify the broken rule. Although most cultures can find some mutual understanding with certain broken rules, in most cases, the rules differ from culture to culture.

A major factor contributing to comedy within Australia is the portrayal of our “bogan” trademarks, care-free outlooks, self-deprecating humor and risqué behavior. For instance, Kath and Kim has graced Australian television since 2002, attracting more than 1 million views a week for depicting your ‘typical’ dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship in Australian suburbia. While we found pleasure in mocking Kim’s exposed G-string, Kath’s terrifying perm and Kel’s excessively greased combover, the US market decided to remake the TV series in an attempt to try and create the same success. But as Medhurst suggests, “..comedic meaning resides in inflection, timing, nuance, gesture, the unexpected or willful pronunciation of key words..” and in addition, irony. Through accurate prediction, the American remake of Kath and Kim ‘flopped’ –  but why?
Turnbull hints at the idea that the irony has been lost. The critical gap between how the character imagines themselves and how the audience actually sees them, has vanished. For example, Gina Riley is a mid-40’s actress playing a mid-20’s women. The hilarity is that her character, Kim, considers herself a “size 10 yummy mummy” and a “horn-bag” in her short-shorts and mid-drifts whereas the audience views her as a moderately overweight, self-absorbed, immature wannabe. In comparison, the American Kim equally considers herself “hot-stuff” and “drop-dead gorgeous”, but considering the character is played by a young Selma Blair who is actually skinny enough and attractive enough for this portrayal, yet still tries to ‘jutt her small belly out in order to look overweight’, eliminates the irony of Kim Craig. (Turnbull, 2008) By sheer choice of the actors, the show failed to translate the joke.

Overall America over-glamorized the series, veering away from the culturally specific Australian elements which made the show so successful in the first place. This results in a translation issue between two contexts. It is only when humor is translated correctly that nations can come together and participate in the joke.

– Turnbull, S 2008, ‘It’s like they threw a panther in the air and caught it in embroidery’: TELEVISION COMEDY IN TRANSLATION, The Australian Teachers of Media Inc, Metro Magazine

– Turnbull, S 2014, ‘Local TV in A Global Context,’ BCM111 Lecture Week 7, University Of Wollongong, 17th September 2014.

– Image: Sydney Morning Herald 2014, ‘Kath & Kim on Hulu in the US after remake failed’–kim-on-hulu-in-the-us-after-remake-failed-20140912-10fuhm.html


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