Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Cultural Variation

I am still ill but I have whined on enough this past week, so time for something else.

I have been thinking about this one recently. The links between the US and the UK culturally. And the thingd that don't quite link...

This has been caused by my TV watching habits. Not surprisingly I watch a fair few US series. We have some gems on the BBC but the US TV machine is so much more vast and some real gems travel over to us. They are already proven, often big budget.

Some of our little BBC gems get taken over to the US. I am currently watching Dancing with the Stars (the latest series - yes I know you all have already seen it and knows who wins, but I don't.). This was started in the UK as Strictly Come Dancing. The format is pretty much the same but there are some differences.

  • You have two of our judges, Len and Bruno but Len is nice on the UK version but a little mean on the US version. We have a judge called Craig who plays the mean role over here.
  • I don't know who on earth the US stars are. Apart from Kelly and Donny. They are not part of my news background, they just don't feature.... You would never have heard of most of the stars on our version either...
  • Most of the pro dancers are like old friends now after so many series but the US pro dancers are strangers. I have no idea of their personalities or strengths.
  • We have doddery old Bruce Forsythe who tells very unsophisticated and dreadful jokes that make no one laugh. Your chap, no idea of his name, can be very sharp and quick witted and is probably famous in his own right?
  • There was a decision on the US version to include loads of news dances, Lambada, Charleston, Texan Two Step.... The UK version likes to balance the old fashioned dances with the more modern and latin dances. It is a two way balance. The US balance feels a bit more three way between modern, latin and ballroom. Ballroom is less what people expect to see I guess?
  • There are other differences in the production that I just can't put my finger on. Are there more cutesy montages? Is that canned laughter? No idea. It just feels different...

Then we have Life on Mars. The UK version revels in the back in time aspect in order to allow very politically incorrect humour. Gene Hunt is so rude and obnoxious but in a way that nobody would have thought twice about back then. And it is hilarious. He has some fantastic lines. We get to remenisce (eek! sp!) about old bits of culture. We admire old cars and clothes and music. But the humour is just so sharp, there is so much repartee and wit between the characters. The two supporting police men are so funny as well, they add so much. The wierdness of what is going on is sort of there in a subtle way.

Not so in the US version. The cultural references are vastly different and I just don't have the same contact with them. They arn't what I grew up with. They are labouring the wierdness. Sam Tyler is struggling so hard to get to grips with it that ahrdly any attention seems to be paid to the team around him and their characters. It maybe humorous to Americans but it isn't to me. It has no relevance to me. I shall keep watching but, for me, it is falling flat...

This takes me onto the next series which was on a while back, Little Britain USA. Little Britain was an irreverant romp. The US version was irreverant but it lacked something. And the awful canned laughter - they eventually took it off the episodes they aired here. It was as if they had to tell us which bits were funny, and they were not the bits that I thought were funny, which were few and far between. It crossed a line best left uncrossed....

They often say that Americans do not get the British sense of humour all of the time. I suspect this may be true. I have heard that sarcasm is not something they do in the US. Is this true? I luve a bit of sarcasm....

I guess what I am trying to say is this. As much as the world thinks we are slowly becoming part of the US more than we are Europe. It isn't true. Culturally we are different. We gloss over this a lot of the time but those differences are there.

America had the worlds unwanted masses, slavery, the American Dream and the right to bear arms. The UK had lords and ladies, history and the downtrodden poor and servitude of a different sort. We started from different places but our differences add spice and flavour. I suspect that there is more flavour within the US than we are aware of over here.

Cowboys, bible belt, deep southern soul, Californian beach thing, New York style. I suspect there is far more variation than even this. This is just the tip of the iceberg.... When I watch Dancing with the Stars I catch references to things that have no meaning for me, like Donny not being welcome in Utah after kissing Bruno.... I see it but it passes me by.


  1. I totally agree- as a Canadian I know we do get 'lumped' in with the Americans, but trust me there is a definite difference.
    We have a few Canadian shows here as well that have a different sense of humour- perhaps more slapstick+dry humour? I have heard that the aboriginal and british have influenced our culture much more than the States when it comes to art and humour.
    I also see a huge difference in TV shows that get stolen from the UK- Andrew and I prefer the UK versions! :)

    Also- I thought that wearing shoes in the house was a TV-land thing... until I visited the states and began reading blog posts about Americans problem solving on how to get visitors and relatives to take their shoes off.... really??? it is considered SO rude to leave your shoes on in Canada while entering a house- ew dirt! And I've live in four provinces... so I think it's pretty representative of the entire country.

    After visiting the States for one month when I was 19 I was shocked at how different culturally we were. (Florida). I think maybe I'd also be surprised to see how much history and cultural tidbits we have kept from our British heritage. :)

  2. Hi Hun

    I find all this really interesting. I am never sure how much influence the French have had on Canada as well. It doesn't surprise me that there are definite differences, there is a subtly different flavour to the Canadian and American blogs I read.

    I do think the UK versions are better myself but I think part of that is that the ideas often work best in the way they were first designed to....

    I shall remember the shoe thing! Here there are some who like you to take your shoes off and others where it doesn't matter. Do as your hosts do is generally the thing I guess. I myself don't have a thing about shoes but I do tend to slob around in slippers of socks.

    I bet the different US states vary as well. I have no idea how many cultural bits Canada has kept from Britain.... Fun finding out though...

  3. The US versions of UK comedies generally bite..IMHO...*grin*. There's something about the delivery, sense of timing..dunno.

    I remember watching old British comedies with B and him sort of staring blankly, not quite 'getting' some of the humour that I had found uproariously funny. I had to explain it to him.

    We have had a few Canadian gems which I don't know would translate well into other cultures - I'm thinking of Corner Gas - probably one of those 'you have to be Canadian' things....

    I think British television, as a whole, is of a much higher standard. Yes, there is some good US programming but for the most part, it's utter shite.

    Then again, I'm an elitist when it comes to telly...*grin*


    PS. Hope you feel better...

  4. I can imagine B sitting there all blank. Some of the older comedies are so very, very British in their sense of humour. I think the American stuff we get is the best of the best generally. I do think our TV in Britain though, is fantastic. We are very lucky. We may not have originally had the same number of channels as the US but there is some real gold on there.

    I am feeling better thank you, might even go back to work tomorrow....

  5. Do you find that you still have a British sense of humour? Or do you have both?

  6. So sorry to hear you're poorly, hun. Me too. Think we might both have swine flu? I've spent best part of last 4 days in bed. yuck-a-rooney.

    Get well soon!

    Now, it's so funny that you've written about the cultural diffs between US and UK, because I just made a note in my inspiration journal last night to do exactly the same thing! Hee hee. It must be on the airwaves. I have a few different things in mind to point out, but I've enjoyed your points very much. I think the difference in our humour is most apparent. And I just don't find American Sitcoms amusing any more. Were Friends and Frazier just chance occurrences in our shared experience of what really tickles the old funny bone?

    I've posted a link to my new website today too. Finally feeling ready to reveal a little of where I'm going. Hope you'll hop over and have a look.

    Love and Healing Wishes xx

  7. That is just freaky - looking forward to your take on the whole thing though! Frazier and Friends were fantastic....