Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Exporting/ Importing: The Office

Modern globalization of media has united texts through their differences. A prime example of this is originally Brittish sitcom, The Office, and its American remake. The two variations of the show depict this idea of success through adaptation. Through adaptations of national identity, the two shows embrace the cultural differences in a successful comedic manner. Though the American version has lost some of its "Britishness," the humor presented in the sitcom is one that applies to its primarily American demographic. Reducing some of its raunchy and less appropriate comedy, the show has become a more acceptable variation, I feel.

In Alexandra Beeden and Joost de Bruin's article, they analyse both variations of the show and discuss how the success of television format adaptation correlates with the ability to reflect and interpret new context. Despite global success of the genre, clear differences present themselves through contextmsuch as characters, situations, and mainly humor. the humor of both shows is what best represents the national culture of each sitcom. This is a prime example of this format adaption. Though it seems that the growth of format adaptations reflects the increasingly globalized modern era, they simply encourage articulations of national identity and cultural expression. Thus, I believe that The Office provides evidence for globalization as cosmopolitanism rather than cultural imperialism. This sense of cultural belonging is so boldly expressed through both variations, more so uniting us as a single community than dividing us between the variations themselves. 

The Orifice

      In order to have a comedic text translate from one culture to another, certain changes must occur. Some audiences may accept the text in its original form, but for it to be popular among the masses, the comedy needs to be recognizable by the new culture.
The British The Office is a show that found massive popularity in Britain; its recognition caused it to get picked up in America, and eventually the US made its own version of The Office.
            This crossover is an important example of exportation and importation of a culturally specific text, in that the makers of the US' The Office were successfully able to take the same basic setting of The Office and add in culturally specific elements from the US and produce an extremely popular product.
            Although some audiences liked the British The Office before the switch over, much of the humor was inaccessible to US audiences. The British The Office had specific references to popular culture that would fly over US audiences' heads. More importantly, the humor itself was in a structure not normally found in the US. For one, much of the humor in The Office revolves around class structure, which is not as hot of a topic for Americans. In translating to the US, appropriate adaptations were made to make the show more accessible. All of the British popular culture references were replaced with American ones, and the episodes that based the struggle on class were replaced with issues of sex and race. The ways in which the characters interact became different as well. In the US version, all the characters aside from Michael have a sense of unity that is not found in the British The Office.
            Although many changes occurred in order to translate the text, the show did not completely lose its "britishness." Before The Office, most of the characters in US sitcoms are made to be laughed with by the audiences, compared to the british sitcoms, which often produce characters that are made to be laughed at. This element from the British The Office was maintained to a large degree in its translation to the US. Both David and Michael are a source of much hilarity in their flaws as bosses and as people. As the US' The Office both kept elements of the British show as well as created new ones, evidence of globalization and cosmopolitanism exist together in this text.

The Office: Making the Jump Across the Pond

     Globalization has made it possible for our world of media to bridge the gaps.  The Office is a television program that has proven itself successful despite the many transformations and adaptations it has gone under. The process in which the Office crossed the pond meant that content, humor, and style are all attributes that differed from that of the original British series. The early hype from the American version truly proved that a show can be transferred successfully across different audiences into a new system only if the production has the ability to function and adapt to new environment.

     Alexandra Beeden and Joost de bruin study the articulations of national identity within television formats with The Office being a primary model. The study brings into question just how important the ability to overcome national thresholds really proves to be. For many people, it was soon obvious that the show had shed itself of certain characteristics and specifically its "britishness". Although this could infer that the show would be severely altered in form, the move away from british structure was vital in establishing a new and growing American audience. The british production was often focused on intelligence, arrogance, and british reserve, mostly structured together by the performance of Ricky Gervais. Steve Carell introduces to us a difference by simply holding up a mirror to the processes of American business or "office" life and how we as the US have created our own distinct form of identifiable comedy.

     Alexandra Beeden and Joost de Bruin highlight the influences of national identity by suggesting "that the success of an adaptation may be linked to its ability to reflect and interpret its new context". It becomes ever clear to see media and television become vassals for the representation and construction of a shared sense of national belonging among culturally altered audiences.

     I believe that The Office leans toward the idea of cosmopolitanism simply because of the idea of multicultural co-existence that it brings to light. Although the show changed some things in order to prosper in a new system, it is important to note that much of the structure is very much the same if not very similar. The export or import of a televised production shows us that recycling an already proven series can prove to be beneficial, especially when one wields the ability and skill to adapt and prosper within various cultural settings.

The Office

In the article written by Beeden and de Bruin titled “The Office”, the two writers make a very compelling argument and explanation for how television show The Office lost its “Britishness” after it was produced as an American remake by NBC.  In the article they explain that when the show was remade, it had to be nationalized because of the theory that humor is a locally based phenomenon.  Beeden and de Bruin explain that audiences prefer television shows that are adapted to their culture as closely as possible, for example language, dress, humor, and ethnic appearance.  This makes sense because we, as the audience, watch the shows that we can relate to and shows that make sense to us.  A show that contains lots of foreign objects and foreign ideas and events would not be successful because we would feel like we were on the outside looking in while watching it, meaning that we would feel like we didn’t fit in with the show.  This needs to be avoided in order to remake a pre-existing television series that has already been produced overseas. 

            Beeden and de Bruin give many examples as to how the producers of The Office changed the original British version in an attempt to Americanize it for the American audience.  For starting, the intro to the British version is gloomy and reflects the monotony of life in the office while the intro to the American version is lively and cheerful.  This could be because the American television industry functions under commercial mandates, so they try to get as big of an audience as possible and having a catchy intro helps to draw people’s attention.  Another example of alterations between the two versions of The Office becomes obvious in two parallel episodes, the British “pub quiz” and the American “basketball game” episodes.  Both of these episodes are made to place the characters in a competitive environment.  The British episode has the characters competing in an annual trivia quiz at a local pub while the American episode has the characters competing in an annual basketball game in the office warehouse.  This shows that the British audience is more inclined to verbal humor while the American audience is more susceptible to physical humor.  This is because sports are such a large part of American culture while mental abilities and verbal competition are a part of the culture in Britain.  Another example that Beeden and de Bruin make evident as a difference between the different versions of The Office is that the character that are supposed to mirror one another display different qualities and act in different ways in order to appeal to their respective audiences.  A final example given is that class is the central issue and base of much of the humor in the British version while racism is a central issue and the base of much of the humor in the American version, because these issues are issues of the two cultures, respectively.  

            I feel that The Office being remade and changed in order to appeal to different national audiences is an example for globalization as cultural imperialism.  Cultural imperialism is defined as the domination of local cultural values by more powerful American values.  The examples given are direct example of this; the producers at NBC used the British version of The Office as a template and remade it into a show that projected America’s cultural views and values, ultimately dominating Britain’s cultural values with our “more powerful values”.  A problem with cultural imperialism is that how is a nation like America or any other nation supposed to find common ground and respect the differences of other nations if media and other products are changed to fit their specific culture? 

Exporting/Importing The Office

The Office originally a British series, was successfully adapted for the American context. I think the show lost its “Britishness” once it came to the US. However it had to in order to become successful. Americans would not want to watch a show that does not pertain to them. In making the show more “American” it attracted a bigger audience and the results were worthy of the risk the American writers and directors took. 

In Alexandra Beeden and Joost de Bruin The Office: Articulations of National Identity in Television Format Adaptation they suggest that the adaptation of The Office was successful in the US because as they state “television format adaptations work through articulations of national identity, and suggest that the success of an adaptation may be linked to its ability to reflect and interpret its new context” (pg.3).

The role that national identity plays in the success of a cross-cultural adaptation is important. I think that because both the UK and US versions of The Office were written and directed by British and Americans respectively, the show was incorporated into their cultural sphere with no boundaries. As a result they were both able tot succeed.  As Alexandra Beeden and Joost de Bruin argue that “both versions of The Office use culturally specific humor, created from an ‘inside knowledge’ of specific British or American sensibilities; this includes references to people or characters from popular culture and institutions that carry connotations for those in the country” (pg. 14).

The way, in which The Office has entered into American society, humor and culture, after its success as a British sitcom, demonstrates that national identity is a fundamental piece of globalization in television.

The Office and Globalization

The success of the well-known sitcom "The Office" has been dependent on its ability to relate to its viewers through its situations, characters, and humor. In the article by Beeden and Bruin, they explain that the sitcom's successful transition to American television has been based on the fact that the show was able to adapt its format in order to achieve cultural proximity, and therefore relate to its audience. This inherently means a difference in context in terms of the situations, characters, and humour from the original British series and as a result, the sitcom has lost much of its "Britishness" in order to succeed in American television.

First, Beeden and Bruin examine how situations in each version of the show differ in order to "reflect culturally specific British and American signifiers." This includes aspects of the setting. Where we see objects in the background like a Homer Simpson toy, bobbleheads, and a basketball hoop in the American series, we see much less obvious visual signifiers in the British version. Situational differences are also seen in what actually happens in the episode. For example, when the British version of the pub quiz episode was transferred over to the American version, it was changed to a basketball scenario, reflecting the American interest in sports. These changes in situational aspects of the show contribute to the loss of Britishness which Beeden and Bruin describe. Besides the difference in situations, the contrast in characters also reflect the change in the show in terms of context. The characters, while they have similar roles in terms of what they do in the office, are very different from each other and can be associated with specific characteristics of national identity. Finally, Beeden and Bruin point out humor as another important key to the lost of "Britishness" in the crossover to American television. They point out that both versions use humor created from a specific inside knowledge and therefore, when the version crossed over to America and implemented American humor, the British humor was lost.

After reading this breakdown of "The Office," I would argue that the sitcom provides evidence for globalization as somewhat of a mix between cultural imperialism and cosmopolitanism. I say this because I view the two shows as different, but equal. It's not completely cultural imperialism because it is not as if American television is changing the show to improve it, but more so in order to appeal to a different audience. And because it is contextually different in many ways from the British version, it is hard to say that it is completely cosmopolitanism as well. Therefore, in my opinion, the crossover of the show lies somewhere in the middle of this scale of globalization.

exporting importing The office

In the article the talks of the differences between the British and American “The Office”, shows that there is obviously a change within the shows. So yes The Office may have lost its britishness when it was switched to America but it had to be to identify with the national identity of its audience. Like in the article it echoes the findings of local preference by Joseph D. Straubhaar’s theory of “cultural proximity,” in which he states that “audiences seem to prefer television programs that are as close to them as possible in language, ethnic appearance, dress, style, humor, historical reference, and shared topical knowledge.”

 In Britain the class system is the source of comedy, usually when a character tries to move up from their status, but in America race plays a role in most comedies. Another big difference and how it may have lost its britishness is that American sitcom often invites people to laugh with its characters, while British sitcoms offer pleasure in laughing at the characters. So while trying to keep many similarities within the show, they have to change the show to fit to national identity so the shows would be successful within each nation. So while “The Office may have lost its British qualities it adapted American qualities to help it become successful in the way our society operates compared to Britain. You can see most of the differences in the Pub episode in Britain and the Basketball game in America. They value more of an intellectual focus while in America sports are a part of almost an everyday experience.  It’s these different qualities that make the show successful in both countries because of the concept of Cultural Proximity.

The office definitely promotes cosmopolitanism because it shows that ideas can be spread to more than just one culture. The ability for the show to succeed in both markets shows that the world does have things in common so they can produce the same show. It shows that we are all connected somewhat even though everyone lives in different locations and has different cultures just like the article showed you, that you can change some ideas but everyone is somewhat connected.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Digging Deeper 10

                  Most people will agree that British humor is different from American humor but that is not necessarily true. A few television sitcoms have successfully made the transition from Britain to the United States. Shows such as Stanford and Sons, Three’s Company, Who wants to be a Millionaire and of course, The Office, have been very popular in both Great Britain and the United States.  Certain aspects have to be changed in order for a show to make the transition. Humor is based on a national identity which means that there is a shared culture among a group of people. The culture is how people talk, dress, have information about national politics, and other knowledge relating to their lives. People in Britain find things funny if they can identify with the characters and their background. They traditionally use irony more than the US. According to Beeden and Joost de Bruin, the British are much more inhibited and less emotional then Americans. The British are concerned about the social class hierarchy and believe that humor is a means to moving up in the class structure.  In the American society, humor is often based on differences in races and ethnic groups although this is a sensitive topic to address because of our history of discrimination and slavery.
                  In the sitcom, The Office, there are some similarities and many differences that are made to adapt to the American culture. The workplace environments are both the same, located in somewhat large cities and are both paper distributors. There are four main characters with similar positions, who deal with office politics and relationships in each episode. The scenery in the office place and the cultural references has been changed to represent each culture and be easily recognized. The characters David in the British comedy and Michael in the American sitcom are both regional managers and they have similar personalities. They are ambitious and think of themselves as comedians but are unsuccessful at both. David differs from Michael in what he wants to achieve. He wants to move up in society using his humor while Michael uses humor to makes friends and a sense of community. Both of them usually end up embarrassing themselves in front of their co-workers. Garth and Dwight are weird characters who love rules and discipline. Garth is a member of the Territory Army and Dwight, a sheriff’s deputy on the weekends but neither have real military or police experience. Tim and Jim both are cynical and frustrated at the office. They are ambitious and use practical jokes as a source of humor and both hope of a better position. The British Tim is cultured and likes the ballet and Proust whereas Jim sees himself as an athlete and is more community orientated. Tim is interested in moving up in the world socially, using the concepts of class structure as humor and Tim approaches racism in a   humorous way with “Diversity Day”. There are similar love interests in both casts. The story lines are alike but major adaptations have been made for the cultural differences.
                  I believe that shows like The Office are a great example of cosmopolitanism. According to Haven and Lotz, cosmopolitanism is the idea that the recognition of similarities and respect for differences among the world’s people is an idea that some suggests can come about through media globalization. Now that the Office is adapted and shown in many different countries the humor is not just directed only British people but to people all over the world and is not a show that embraces the British culture. 

Globalizing by Localizing The Office

Havens and Lotz (2012) discuss how media texts will be "localized" by overcoming cultural barriers that would otherwise not allow the text to flourish. This is how media texts are able to thrive due to the process of globalization. I think that this is exactly what The Office has done by its transition from British to American format, production, and styling. Beeden and de Bruin (2010) give sufficient examples of how the American version of The Office has lost its "Britishness," but they also discuss how the show kept to its British roots in some ways. For instance, they discuss how both versions of the shows are different from other typical sitcoms that are on television and that is how they are the same. The situations, the characters, and the humor are similar in execution, but the specifics of each are what make them either "British" or "American."

This is where I think that Havens and Lotz's (2012) term of "localization" comes into play. The British version's situations are similar in that it is a paper distribution company in an office workplace setting, but the mood of the settings differ. Beeden and de Bruin (2010) discuss how the British version has a sense of hopelessness in its bleakness, but the American version has an air of hope through its upbeat tempo and happy setting. They also point out how the characters in both versions almost mirror each other, but their attitudes and behaviors are tailored to appeal to either a British or American audience. For instance, if Gareth was supposed to be a volunteer sheriff's deputy, their wouldn't be much to identify with in Britain, and the same goes for Dwight if he was a member of the Territorial Army. Finally, Beeden and de Bruin (2010) point out that the humor of both versions are directed at class and race issues. The British version focuses on class where the American version focuses on race, but both touch on both. By the American version adapting all of these qualities to fit American television, the show is localizing to make the show more relevant to an American audience. This is arguably why the show did so well in America, and why other shows that tried to adapt from their British roots did not fare so well (Beeden & de Bruin, 2010).

      As for Havens and Lotz's (2012) concepts of globalization as cultural imperialism or cosmopolitanism, I think that it is overwhelmingly cosmopolitanism. Because the show is an American adaption of British television, I don't think that American culture values are being dominated by British ones. Rather, I think that it brings issues of class and racial misrepresentations to light. It allows for viewers to feel sympathy for those who are still being oppressed within those groups. It also allows those who identify with these oppressed groups to feel like their issues are being addressed by popular culture and gives them something to identify with. Again, I think that this has to do with localization and how the show is made to appeal to particular audiences.

Here is Ricky Gervais on the differences between the two, giving a good example of how localization played into the production process: