Television in Translation: Kath and Kim

Different cultures have different history, social contexts and norms. These help to shape our perspective on life and humour. In order to understand another culture you must be able to translate the traditional ideas and notions in reference to their everyday life and behaviour specific to that culture.

In order for comedy to be successful it largely depends on the breaking of rules in a language and behavioural context. Generally laughter signals that the audience have recognised the break. This notion however relies on first knowing what the rules are so while all cultures may laugh at the same kind of rules being broken the rules may be different in different contexts

The translation of comedy described by Turnbull outlines that “a comedy depends not only on the translation of the cultural context from one locale to another, but also on the kinds of production deals which are made and the expectations about audiences which are then inferred. Even more significant may be the choices that are made about casting and the character of the ensuing embodied performances” (Turnbull, 2008).

An example of crossing the cultural barrier but failing to do so was the American rendition of Kath and Kim. The original Kath and Kim was a popular Australian sitcom which aired in Australia from 2002 to 2007. It portrayed a suburban mother and daughter with a dysfunctional relationship. The typical Australian cultural references portrayed in the television series were largely not understood by American audiences therefore it was remade into an American version. The American version was largely criticized and failed to appeal to American or Australian audiences. Karen Brooks writing in the Brisbane Courier Mail commented that the American Kath and Kim are “not monstrous enough to be clichés, stereotypes, and parodies or brave enough to be abhorrent or funny. The American actresses were too glamorous and clean they lacked the vulgar dirty behaviour of the original Kath and Kim”.

Using Andy Medhurst’s description of comedy; “comedy plays an absolutely pivotal role in the construction of national identity’ because it invites us to belong by sharing the joke, then comedy may be particularly revealing in terms of how that national identity is imagined, especially if we turn our attention to what the joke implies in terms of sharing and belonging”. We can identify what went wrong with the remake. The American Kath and Kim was too similar to the Australian version therefore it didn’t connect with the American national identity. The remaking and redistributing of cultural media into other countries must be relevant to their cultural norms and individualism for the transition to be successful.

Reference List:

Turnbull, S (2004) ‘Look at Moiye, Kimmie, look at moiye’: Kath and Kim and the Australian comedy of taste’. Media International Australia incorporating Culture and Policy, no. 113, pp. 98 – 109

Turnbull, S (2010) ‘The long tail of mother and son: the transnational career of an Australian situation comedy’. Media International Australia incorporating Culture and Policy, no. 134, pp. 96.

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