Killing Our Identity: ‘Mad Max’ and Cultural Homogenization

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At this year’s E3 gaming conference, a huge number of upcoming videogames were introduced. One of these titles was Mad Max: The Game. Not much was shown, but there was the briefest glimpse of a hugely problematic change that is being made with the license. See, the Mad Max film franchise is an Australian cultural icon, a behemoth of Aussie iconography and stylization. It almost singlehandedly released a tidal wave of cinematic output from Australian filmmakers in the 80s.

And in the new videogame, Max, the titular character, has an American accent.

“So what?” you might think. After all, something as insignificant as an accent isn’t going to affect your enjoyment of the game. However, this change is indicative of an unsettling and destructive trend in mainstream entertainment of homogenizing cultural identities, creating an apathetic stew of uninspired, globalized properties. The point is, there was a definite decision to make Max American for the game. At some point the designers decided that, for whatever reason, an Australian accent was less desirable than an American one. The default accent would have been Australian, since that was his nationality at the time.

In an interview with IGN reporter Lucy O’Brien, Avalanche Studios Founder and Chief Creative Officer Christofer Sundberg revealed that they considered their game to be a completely different property to the original film series. This begs the question – why choose to make a licensed game in the first place? It isn’t as though vehicular combat in a post-apocalyptic setting is a protected concept – there are many examples of games and films with similar settings and set-ups, such as id Software’s Rage, or even the Death Race franchise. However, because it’s a saturated market, projects need something to help them stand out, such as belonging to a franchise. I suspect it doesn’t hurt that the fourth film in the series, Mad Max: Fury Road, is currently in post-production.

If you are going to take advantage of a pre-existing franchise in order to maximize potential profits and exposure, it is your responsibility to ensure that your new work is respectful of the source material. Franchise reboots such as the recent Star Trek films sacrifice the soul of the property they are hijacking in a cynical move to develop mainstream appeal. This betrays the original creators and ostracizes the fans, an audience segment that is increasingly being taken for granted. But when you include the snubbing of national and cultural specificity in a work, the insult is compounded to an entire population.

The removal of cultural specificity from the Mad Max franchise is telling Australians that their culture has no value or use on-screen. That the film is better if it exists in a cultural vacuum; a globalized, universal hodge-podge of ungrounded characters and settings. It takes away from the audience the joy of recognizing their culture or identity on-screen, or alternatively to see an alternative culture. It is erroneous to suggest that moving the setting of a film such as Let the Right One In from suburban Stockholm to New Mexico for the remake Let Me In will have no impact other than a change of language. Removing the geographical specificity also removes the subtleties such as the specifics of housing arrangements and public space. Put simply, a twelve-year-old boy in Sweden is not identical to one in America, and treating the two as interchangeable is limiting the possibilities for expression of national identity.

This might not seem to be a problem at first glance. After all, as long as the media we consume maintains some level of quality why should it be necessary for it to also be an expression of cultural identity? Especially since cultural specificity risks alienating audience members who do not belong to that particular social or cultural niche.

This point of view does not take into account the incredibly important role media plays in feeding into cultural identity. Films and other texts do not simply reflect the values and attitudes of their sociocultural context – they also feed into these values in a symbiotic relationship. People can be changed by cinema, can be opened up to new ideas, and so these texts play an essential role in both the promotion and the evolution of niche cultural groups.

Thus, if a country’s cinema does not concern itself with the national, the strength of that identity could begin to erode. Further, by neglecting to give screen time to a range of cultural identities, we risk silencing the voices of these local communities, something that can play a major role in the growth of prejudice. As an obvious example, many Australians are unfamiliar with the various cultural and political issues faced by young indigenous people in remote communities.

An example of a culturally specific film
Confronting and artful, this film introduced audiences to a minority culture.

The 2009 film Samson and Delilah was difficult to watch, but those who did came out of it with a more developed understanding of one of the facets of indigenous life. This kind of understanding goes deeper than entertainment – it helps make viewers more empathetic to other cultural groups.

All this may seem like a bit of a tangent. After all, how is a shoot-em-up set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland going to make the world a better place? But if studio executives and production companies are opting to globalize even a property as mainstream as Mad Max, willing to strip it of its roots, how could these other, smaller films hope to exist? Certainly great literature explores themes that are universal, but the interpretation of these themes is always colored by specific experience, and that experience comes from a context, usually cultural.

Celebrating variety breeds a wider range of storytelling. If you think Hollywood is beginning to get tired, or to run out of ideas, then I offer this as a solution. Let’s color old stories with new perspectives. Let’s celebrate the local. Let’s ensure that a franchise can hold onto its heritage.

Let’s give Max an Aussie bloody accent.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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14 Comments

  1. Dine Dave
    0

    They probably want to have their dominating American audience to be familiar with the character and be sympathetic with him.

    Is that something that I support and believe in? F’k no. Thank you for writing this.

  2. Sam Gerrett

    Excellent article Andrew that seeks to denormativise some of the most problematic of cultural issues in the media today. It is precisely the same problem I have with foreign language films being remade into American products. Typical of capitalism, it takes what was successful, culturally flattens it, borrows from what it can in order to maximise profit. With the accent issue in Mad Max, it is a typical case of having their cake and eating it. I’m glad I am not the only one fed up of this ‘trend’.

  3. TL;DR

  4. Vic Millar

    I enjoyed your article, and I don’t know why they didn’t give Max his Aussie accent. You bring up how American film remakes like Let Me In change the setting of the original, losing a sense of national identity. Were you on board with Fincher’s decision to keep the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo remake in Sweden? Because I know some people weren’t on board because they thought it was strange to see people speaking English, with Swedish writing in the background.

    • Andrew Couzens

      I don’t think Fincher really had any other choice. After all, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is tightly linked to both the Swedish welfare system and, in the later books/films, the law system. They’d need to make a lot of changes to adapt that to the US system – the two are EXTREMELY different, with Sweden following a slightly more socialist model. Let’s be clear, though – The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo remake was both Hollywood and unnecessary.

  5. Austin Bender

    Well that saddens me. America has tons of pop culture icons, but Mad Max is not one. He’s Australian and always will be, though technically Mel Gibson is American. But that’s beyond the point.

    I wonder what Tom Hardy will do, be English Max or be Australian like Gibson.

    • Andrew Couzens

      I have to admit, I’m a little worried about the direction Fury Road will take especially since it wasn’t shot in Australia and is using an English actor. However, I refuse to make my judgement until it actually comes out.

  6. Kahlia Sankey

    I absolutely agree with this. Mad Max is a part of our cultural heritage and no way should he have an American accent. This is just promoting the use of Australia as a boutique location rather than being economically or culturally viable for any find of medium to come from. This is precisely what gives our workers in the arts the cause to go over seas instead of promoting Australian work.

  7. Kelsey Clark

    Australian Cinema has this war with itself, between becoming a National Cinema, beautifully shot and ‘true’ Australian stories, or from becoming a generic cinema that is easily digestible and adaptable to the international audience. Personally, I did enjoy Mad Max, but it had nothing to do with the Australian part in the film. This is not how it should be. Australia IS a National Cinema and should take advantage of this.

    • Andrew Couzens

      The digestibility of cinema is a broader issue that is being faced around the world. It certainly ties into national cinemas, but you can have challenging, intelligent films without cultural specificity. Similarly, you can have tepid, weak productions that are tied to a particular locality.

  8. That’s Hollywood for you, I really don’t think they need to make this film again, remakes are only worth it if they were remaking a bad film that had potential to be good.

    • Austin Bender

      I’m not sure if it is a remake, it might just be some really odd sequel. It has the same director and they refer to it as the fourth film in the series. Can’t be too sure yet.

      • A sequel would be more acceptable, I thought this film was made already a long time ago, I certainly remember reading that they were making this film for a while now at least.

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