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Updated: 2019.8.18 01:57
 
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Being Mainstream, Being American
[ Issue 169 Page 15 ] Friday, April 26, 2019, 00:59:15 Min Kim Head of Culture Division minkim103@kaist.ac.kr

“Americanization” originally referred to the influence of American culture on immigrants in the 1900s, who accepted and conformed to it. In the present day, the word may apply to the rest of the global population, most of whom have never even set a foot in the USA. From food, film, fashion, music, and even language being largely accepted as the means of global communication, it does not take a genius to notice how “mainstream” it is to be “Americanized”.

   
A Scene from Sex Education

Now, I am definitely not triggered by how the virtue of the psychology behind sarcastic British humor in Black Mirror may have, perhaps, in a way, ever so slightly, been, well … neutralized. Nor am I, by any means, disturbed by how the British sixth form students skateboarding down the corridors lined up with bright yellow obviously-not-so-British lockers are having a mufti day everyday in Sex Education. But a question does arise from my unfortunately un-globalized, narrow minded perspective: did they have to do that?

Speaking of Black Mirror, without any previous knowledge of this British show, I was a little taken aback by the first episode of the third season. “Nosedive” has a slightly different atmosphere in comparison to earlier episodes, the most obvious difference being the American cast. But, even with that aside, the impression I got was a little unauthentic, surreal, and a bit too “Hollywood”. The show aims to delve into a “high-tech near-future where humanity’s greatest and darkest instincts collide”, which the episode does stick to. But in the first two seasons, the settings of most episodes remained within fairly realistic boundaries — the way people dressed, carried themselves, and interacted were ordinary and down-to-earth from the present day perspective.

This apparent shift has a clear correlation with the purchase of the show by Netflix from its original producers, the Channel 4, a British television network. But did the show really have to give up some of its original color to create a different tone to suit the new audience? The creators may have simply taken on new artistic challenges with the extra Netflix budget, which I do appreciate. I admit that the show is still brilliant and remains one of my favorites. Nevertheless, its true charms originally lay within the dark humour and satire characteristic to British culture. The episodes were used to explore the different facets of British society and politics like no other show on Netflix. This was lost in a lot of the episodes from season three and onwards: Black Mirror has simply become an impressive “Netflix original” sci-fi.

The American media has certainly become a global guideline. The growth of American motion pictures with Hollywood at the center of its industry led to the export of their productions at a global scale. With the export heavily and indisputably influencing the film industry of other nations, it is understandable that they have set certain standards and conventions in related media platforms.Today, American media providers like Netflix or iTunes are definitely predominant. It is therefore comprehensible that even the word “series”, referring to the batch of episodes aired within a timeframe as a portion of a television show in Britain, is often times replaced with the American term, “season”. Bollywood, the booming Indian film industry, is literally an amalgamation of Bombay and Hollywood.

Korea, for example, is no exception, where setting foot in the American industry is thought to be “globalization”. I couldn’t help but cringe when Rain was hailed as a “world star” by the Korean media for having made an appearance in a Hollywood film, Speed Racer (though not even as the main character!) back in 2008. Although I have mainly commented on television shows and films, the same applies to most other media platforms. An unnecessary and excessive amount of English is used in song lyrics from other nations. More choreographers and producers that have participated in the works of famous American artists are contributing to K-pop, and the entertainment companies make sure their names are prominently displayed in album promotions.

Being mainstream is being safe — it sells. Netflix, for example, doesn’t take risks with Black Mirror in the way the show’s very first episode may have put off some of the potential audience. Artists are not at fault for aspiring to become a part of, and hence diving into, the “mainstream”. It just so happens that it is currently under the heavy influence of American culture.

 

Min Kim Head of Culture Division Archives  
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