‘We are entering an era where media will be everywhere and we will use all kinds of media in relation to each other.’ That’s what Jenkins said in 2006 in his text Pop Cosmopolitanism, Mapping cultural flows in an age of media convergence. He talks about the process where series or films cross borders, and are being adapted to the needs and habits of another culture. According to him, temporary portals or contact zones are being created between geographically dispersed cultures in this age of media convergence. In this first blog we will talk about the consequences this has for these series or movies. When a narrative crosses borders, it gets decontextualized, which can lead to an unpredictable and contradictory meaning that gets ascribed to the images in this narrative. We will discuss multiple examples of those series: series which have crossed borders and are adapted to another culture. Since the way a culture is being presented in the media influences the way we see that culture (most of the time we haven’t even been in a country, and the images in media are our only way to gain knowledge of this country), we thought it would be interesting to think about how the changes being made influence the image we have of a certain culture. How does this process of crossing borders changes these TV-series and how does it influence the image we have of a certain country or group of people?
But before we start analysing these TV-shows, we want to say a little bit about the last part of the question. How can media influence the way we look at other people, other cultures? Stories can contribute to shaping an identity, because it influences the way we look at people. Like we said, we all have a representation of people from all over the world in our head, before we even met them or been in their country. In his book Orientalism Edward Saïd tries to find out how it can be possible that we already can judge a country, before we have even been there. He says that the media present a certain image of a country or a culture, which results in the idea that we – as the viewers – base all our knowledge about a country on these images and we only have a construction of a country in our heads. This construction of another subject is what Said calls ‘The Other’. The Other contributes to the creation of the identity of the Self, because you can place yourself against the features of this Other. We won’t emphasise these two concepts of the Self and the Other, but the idea that we can create a certain image of a country in our head, and as a result of this create a myth around a certain group is in our opinion very interesting.
The first thing we want to discuss is the teen soap Skins. In 2011 MTV in America debuted with an own version of the UK version of this soap, that follows the lives of a group of teenagers in Bristol. Already in the first episode, there are some noticeable changes made. For example, Tony (one of the characters) has a naked man and woman illustrated on his bed in the British version, while the American version made this an illustration of spiders and other creepy insects. In the British version, Jal plays clarinet and has braces, while the equivalent in the American version (named Daisy) plays trumpet and doesn’t have braces. A ‘Big Gay Night Out’ in the British version has turned into a ‘Lesbian Night Out’ in the American version. The gay character Maxxie is changed into Tea, a lesbian girl. We wonder why they changed this. Is lesbianism more accepted than gay guys in America? In the British version, Cassie has anorexia, doesn’t want to take drugs because ‘it makes you fat’ and asks a guy if he’s going to ‘fuck her later’. Non-anorexic Cadie from the American version, does take pills, but the sex isn’t mentioned.
It’s interesting that the American series changed a few of the names of the lead actors. It’s confusing because the countries are both native English speakers, so there wouldn’t be a need for name-changing. A lot of the script from the UK is the same as the American version. Sometimes, they even say the same lines, which is weird and we wonder why they didn’t choose to broadcast the UK version in America. Maybe it’s because the UK version is a bit more provocative and maybe there are some taboos in America. One of those taboos are gay people, but then again they choose to switch a gay character with a lesbian character which doesn’t really make sense to us. Another taboo can be seen in the role of Cassie. Cassie is anorexic, whereas Cadie in the American version isn’t. One of the reasons why this could be, is that America has different (stricter) beauty standards . Maybe that’s why in the UK version Jal has braces, but in the American version Daisy hasn’t.
Series are a very popular thing and a lot of people see it every day. To cross borders and make a story go global, changes are being made. We saw that the differences can be very subtle, but on the other hand they can be very important in the way that we see a character and, on a bigger scale, a whole culture. Because the characters are being shaped differently the audience (unconsciously) interprets these differences between characters as differences between cultures. Changes in the media and the internet made it easier for us to see a lot of the world and gain knowledge of the world, but they present the information in a certain way. In a world where media is such an important part of our lives, it is important to think about the influence of them every once in a while.
Anouk, Laurie, Sjoerd, Sascha