Geopoliticulrural Transformaration…ism

Cleaver Greene, the protagonal barrister of the Australian TV show Rake, will forever be one of my personal heroes. I don’t idolise him for his flaws, don’t get me wrong. I hardly aspire to be a drug addicted, self-destructive compulsive gambler or, worse yet, a lawyer. No, I admire ol’ Cleave for his nonchalance, his dogged persistence and his effortless, infinite charisma.

Richard Roxburgh as Cleaver Greene in Rake. Living the dream.

Richard Roxburgh as Cleaver Greene of Rake. Living the dream.

You could imagine my shock, then, when I heard that the character I love was being adapted to a US audience. Then, the compounded insult I felt when I heard that the US had rejected him and the show was cancelled in its first season. Why, though, did this solid gold Australian character drama fail to adapt to the US? Was it the womanizing? The drinking and the drugs? Was it his (lacking) moral fibre? Well, dear reader, I have an alternative suggestion. Perhaps the failure to translate has more to do with our antiheroes own failure. The American TV audience, though receiving of a morally questionable main character (Donnelly, 2012, p. 15), has a harder time empathising with a bad guy who just happens to be terrible at being horrible.

Recent years have seen the rise of the American antihero (Larabee, 2013, p. 1131), to commercial and critical success. Walter White, Frank Underwood (himself a British adaption) and Tony Soprano  have all demonstrated the enthusiasm for good old fashioned bad guys. They all operate in managerial positions, they all demand and receive respect, they have minions and they succeed (Larabee, 2013, p. 1131). This is where the format for a popular antihero diverges from what Rake offers. Cleaver and his American counterpart, Keegan Deane, generally suck. They’re dominated by their vices, they get their asses kicked and frequently they don’t even win the court cases (willingly or unwillingly) an episode is based around.

Rake wasn’t helped but a lacklustre script and a cheesy, colourful presentation, but I suggest that even with an excellent execution of the translation the show would have failed. The charming, hopeless loser that is Cleaver quite possibly appeals en masse only to Australians and is completely incompatible with the majority of American viewers. I don’t have the resources, intellect or word limit to really explore the Australian psyche to explain why we love a loser, but it is an interesting trait.  Even in our oldest folklore, the enthusiasm for a weak antihero is well displayed, be it through the reverence of a drunken bush ranger who forgot to armour plate his legs or a vagabond sheep thief that chose suicide when confronted by the law for his crimes against livestock (West, 2001, p. 127). This uniquely Australian cultural quirk is what makes Rake such a success here, but the exact reason why it would never find the same acclaim overseas.

I must admit, though, that I am a little bit relieved. It’s reassuring to know that not everything can be copy/pasted to commercial success on foreign shores, especially when that something is a TV show that you quite enjoy.

References

Donnelly, A 2012. “The New American Hero: Dexter, Serial Killer for the Masses”, The Journal of Popular Culture, vol 45, no. 1, pp. 15-26.

Larabee, A 2013, “Editorial: The New Television Anti‐Hero”, The Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 46, no. 6, pp. 1131-1132.

West, B 2001. “Crime, Suicide, and the Anti-Hero: “Waltzing Matilda” in Australia”, The Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 35, no. 1, pp. 127–141.

Macklemore, Marky Mark and Showing Our Appropriation

 

Macklemore back in 2006.

Macklemore back in 2006. Click his seedy moustache for the source.

“Hip hop started off in a block that I’ve never been to
To counter act a struggle that I’ve never even been through
If I think I understand just because I flow too
That means I’m not keeping it true, nope”

– Macklemore, 2005

White Privilege

 The idea of cultural co-optation is a pretty simple one. Someone takes something from a culture foreign to them and incorporates it into a cultural product of their own. Where, though, does the limit stand for co-optation?  More importantly, at which point does something that has been co-opted become an entrenched part of the adopting culture? For me, these questions are epitomized in my ponderings about the evolution, growth and appropriation of Hip-Hop.

Hip Hop culture, in its first stages, emerged in the 1970s and 80s out of typically working class, African-American communities in the United States. Most important to our studies is the role of Hip Hop music and Rap which, undeniably, became the most popular aspect of hip hop culture. Its popularity meant that it was no longer being consumed by the specific demographics that were producing it, but by audiences across the social spectrum.  With that, a more diverse population of producers emerged. By the mid-nineties, Rap and Hip Hop was completely popularized, commercialized and diversified (Acker, 2012, p. 29), as demonstrated by the success of artists like the Beastie Boys, Vanilla Ice and Marky Mark and The Funky Bunch alongside more traditional Hip Hop artists like NWA, De La Soul and Wu-Tang Clan.

Marky Mark just happened to be Model/Rapper/Actor Mark Wahlberg. Terrifying, right? I digress.

Once popularized in the U.S, Hip Hop was quickly exported around the world, with local groups quickly establishing themselves their own regional brand of Hip-Hop wherever it landed. Where, though, did hip hop stop belonging to one specific culture and at which point does the cultural trait that has been appropriated become a legitimate aspect of the appropriating culture?

Rock & Roll followed a very similar path to Hip Hop (Rodriguez, 2006, p. 655) and, undeniably, not just the music but the entire culture of Rock & Roll was repeatedly re-appropriated and co-opted around the world. That said, even though I am geographically, chronologically and socially far from its origins, I consider Rock & Roll to be an inherent part of my culture. Is it just time and an inheritance from the original adopters that has legitimized Rock & Roll as a part of our culture?

In the globalized media landscape, cultures are going to mix. As a result, consciously or unconsciously, practices are going to be appropriated. Until we can figure out a solution to this very sensitive issue, the best course of action is to acknowledge the source and pay the right respects, while using the adopted culture in the manner it was originally intended.

The perfect example of this for me is the song White Privilege, from the 2005 Macklmore album “The Language of My World”. If you’re keen, it’s an excellent way to spend four and a half minutes, as well as a great source for the exploration of Hip Hop and cultural appropriation. Macklemore even actually says “culturally appropriated” so, yeah, check it out.

http://macklemore.bandcamp.com/track/white-privledge

References

Acker, R. 2012, “The crystallization of hip hop culture in corporate and mainstream America, 1995–1998”, Masters, University of Colorado, Boulder.

Rodriquez, J. 2006, “Color-Blind Ideology and the Cultural Appropriation of Hip-Hop”, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, vol. 35, no. 6, pp. 645-668.