Killing Our Identity: ‘Mad Max’ and Cultural Homogenization
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.
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.