One of the biggest reasons people automatically avoid Australian films is because they consider it to be an incorrect and maybe even offensive portrayal of Australian people, culture and the nation as a whole. And this general disdain for stereotypical representation of Australian culture doesn’t just apply to film, but to television as well – just think of the (admittedly hilarious) episode of The Simpsons, Bart vs Australia, where basically every aspect of our culture is mocked and exaggerated.
Paul Hogan’s Mick Dundee and this episode of Australia shown by The Simpsons might seem over the top and clearly satirical and exaggerations of Australia, but they without a doubt framed how the country is seen overseas; a country of “leathery larrikins who absolutely cannot pronounce an “ing” at the end of a word.” And therefore, it’s no surprise that Australian’s are sick to death of other countries viewing us the same as a movie from 1986 portrayed one of us to be.
This has lead to cultural cringe, a term often used in Australia, is almost considered a fact of Australian culture. According to Australian academic Leonard John Hume, Australia has a weak cultural self-identity because we’re culturally alienated, and this leads to an appetite for all things American and a rejection of what could be our own nation’s culture. He also claims a lot of our cringe at depictions of Australian culture come from a serious oversimplification of our history and culture in order to make it palatable and easy to understand for overseas nations; hence the knife-toting, croc-wrestling, and daft bushman personified in the Dundee character.
And we can’t seem to shake this depiction.
While the saying ‘any attention is good attention’ could be argued here, I’d offer a counter-point. Overseas, Australia is still seen as a country full of Steve Irwins, with dangerous creatures intent on killing everyone and where every child rides a Kangeroo to school. While many other films about Australia have been released which focus on actual Australian culture like mateship, the fair go, an ‘Aussie battler’ overcoming all odds, or any other of Australia’s cultural identities, the Dundee stereotype still prevails, even though this projection “shows an inadequate conceptualisation of film audiences. This manner of social imaging can be socially damaging, culturally narrow and oppressive,” (Brabazon 2001, p. 152).
Australia is multicultural, and trying to fit us all into one box to be easily consumed by a global market isn’t the attention we should be getting. Instead of framing the Australian culture as how outsiders see us, if we focus on how we see ourselves, an accurate and positive depiction will emerge. For example, in a 2010 survey, 37 percent of Aussies voted Darryl Kerrigan, the dad from The Castle, as the film character that most represents Australia as a nation.
Yep, a middle class, everyman family patriarch with a love for his home is considered to represent our nation more than the “that’s-not-a-knife” bushman. Clearly not all attention is created equal, and the way forward should be for filmmakers, if they must create significant Australian content, to focus more on how we see ourselves instead of what other nations consider to be ‘Australian’, or we’ll never capture our real national identity.
Brabazon, T 2011,’A pig in space?: Babe and the problem of landscape’, Australian cinema in the 1990s, F.Cass, London, pp. 149-158.