Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Translating Audiences

I’ve been away for the last two weeks, traveling in Europe, and as such have been unable to comment on the storyline aspects of Sex and the City, incorporating some of that into musings on Rilo Kiley’s views of relationships and marriage in their songs (I saw them recently at Terminal 5 in New York City), as well as just general maintenance of this blog.

While abroad, I took lots of photos of movie posters in different languages. Indiana Jones and Sex and the City were by far the most popular, and in a city like Prague which has a substantial amount of foreigners and English-speakers (enough to warrant a weekly English-language newspaper) the billboards were displayed prominently. Once, the Oscar-winning film, and Horton Hears a Who! (abbreviated Horton), were also current movies featured in theaters.

A friend of mine commented on my post about the return of Sex and the City, musing how well it can possibly do overseas, considering the show is racy and may not be syndicated in those countries. I am going to bet that in countries that promoted the movie the show ran, although how and how long I have no idea. I’m not quite sure what to make of the prism Europeans will make of the show’s values—for Europe is generally considered more sexually liberal and permissive than Americans, so maybe all of Samantha’s shenanigans won’t be so shocking, and they’ll laugh off the true love and marriage messages.

But it turns out that even though Sex and the City takes place in a very specific time and place, it seems to translate well, whether referred to as "Sex ve Meste" or "Szex es New York". A recent article in the Times discusses how comedies translate abroad, and mentions how durable What Happens in Vegas is. That movie was also regularly found abroad, usually found by just “Vegas". (I was hoping that it would somehow be 21 instead, since "Vegas" looks really stupid.) The article focuses on Judd Apatow’s movies, since they do very well here but flounder overseas. I was amused that Forgetting Sarah Marshall in German is “Nie wider Sex mit der Ex”, which translates to "Never again sex with the ex". That just sounds crude, although it does give away the premise slightly more.

Although I tended to focus on American movies since they were familiar to me, some cinemas did have movies from other countries: Germany, Japan, Hungary. “Pop culture used to be American pop culture,” an analyst in the article is quoted as saying; American pop culture dominated the market in a perverse way, but now that countries, even developing ones like Russia and those in Central Europe, are beginning to have the capital, they are producing their own narratives. Good for them. The likelihood of them translating into American theaters will be small, partly because of the language barrier.

Apatow’s movies, it is noted, tend to have its characters reference other American movies and pop culture staples, and his recurrent themes of arrested adolescence may not make the transition to other cultures. I had a conversation with an Indian boy this past week who spoke about his father’s generation as being one that believed in good, hard work, whether you like it or not, while Western attitudes (which were beginning to filter down to his generation) were more about having a fulfilling, challenging job, one that fit your interests and strengths; these were never concerns of the elders he knew. We discussed dropping out of school and finding work congruent with our passions, both ideas incongruent with many other cultures. My friends and I have lauded Apatow’s portrayals in Superbad as being realistic, but maybe for many outside the US those lives come across as ridiculous fantasy, a silly way to live, and so do not connect with audiences.

1 comment:

petpluto said...

Interesting post, Steph. After learning that NYC is still kind of a Mecca in its own right to many people of the world, I kind of thought that S&tC may do well. But it is interesting to learn what kinds of movies don't do well and possibilities as to why.

On a wholly different note, I think you should show off some of your pictures!!! And I hope you had an absolutely brilliant time abroad!