Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Quick Notes: Universal Stories Don't Exist

It popped into my head, in the middle of cooking today, why it is I can't watch the USian version of 'Shall We Dance'; I found words to express it. I'm not sure if I've ever properly expressed it before, on this particular movie, or many movies remade for a USian audience. Though, perhaps I've touched on it in some context if I've ever mentioned how I'm a sub vs dub girl on here.

The USian version of 'Shall We Dance', cannot and does not and will not ever work; Because there's cultural context missing. A Japanese salary man, is a distinct and specific thing, but more-over, a story about that specific and distinct type of character, within a culture that does NOT stress individualism, finding a way to express himself as an individual, and that turning out to be healthy for him and beneficial to his family life, his work life, his quality of living, is a COMPLETELY different story, than a middle class white USian, who's going through some kind of midlife crisis / wanting some un-describable 'more'.

Individualism is stressed in US society. The individual over not just society, but small community, even family; individual happiness is a huge expectation of USian society. The better parallel if one was going to do such a remake, would have been for a blue collar, not white collar worker; for a working class USian man, who'd always put responsibilities and duties first, finding out that some part of him needed more, finding it in the most unexpected way and discovering that doing so healed him from the fracturing stress of having aways put others and circumstances first for the greater good. There's even a greater parallel in the concept of working hard all day, getting drunk every once in a while as the expected and perhaps only form of any relief and reaching a point where it stops working.

But my thought isn't really about the best way to transfer one culture's story to another; that's just the outer ring of it. My thought is the fact that it's never considered to be a culture transfer. The whole 'dressing' aspect of it, where somehow everything and everyone is just USian culture (and often a specific type of USian culture), with a little extra decor/food choices/family quirks and traditions thrown in.

Perhaps horror fans have mentioned this in context of USian remakes of Japanese Horror Films. Not being a fan of horror, and not watching said films, I couldn't say. But what scares a specific group of individuals, what myths and legends are circulated in a culture are not 'universal'. People have differences; they think differently, eat differently, raise their families differently, fear differently, and more.

Stories are instructions, inspirations a culture tells itself; stories are a mirror held up by a culture about itself. Thus a theme might be applicable to be universal; growing up, falling in love, being dutiful, feeling frustrated, having a child - but a STORY, can't be.

Yes, I'm saying it, a story cannot be universal. It belongs to the culture and traditions, background and surroundings of the teller; of its author. And if there are similar things in it, to something else, that someone else can relate to without needing too many pauses to translate, or without needing to only focus on the broader theme - then that's great for that individual.

Unfortunately, USian Imperial Cultural Hemogeny likes to present the false argument, that because it has infiltrated so many places, and affected so many peoples, that all places and all peoples are merely waiting to adopt USian cultural practices (or similar) and thus, as much as these USian tales are exported and labeled 'universal'; not having universal themes, but labeled as being UNIVERSAL STORIES, it becomes acceptable within this Imperialism to take stories that belong to other places, other peoples, other legends, other voices and spin and push, fold and shove, mutilate them to fit.

And I don't think too many people talk about what is destroyed; the beauty and the message that is destroyed when that is done.

The salaryman, as I understand snippets of Japanese culture; finding a way to take time for himself, finding a balance, is a much more beautiful story to me, than a USian middle class white guy, overcoming ennui. And that's only one layer of the story in the first place; I think I'd need a separate post to marshal my thoughts on the nuances that are lost when individuals within the Imperialist Cultural Hegemony believe ALL STORIES ARE AND SHOULD BE UNIVERSAL.

They're not. They're really, really, really, really, not.

But a quick side note about nuance? An anime note? When the anime story requires the viewer to pay attention to the actions of a character to determine whether or not that character is a good guy or a bad guy; having a USian voice actor come along and play it with a dark raspy voice of foreshadowing, loses a lot. Worse, however, is when the Japanese version of a character has a deep voice and a certain slang accent that would represent a certain type of rough but honourable hero, and the USian dub actor is utter midwest, middle of the road Northern Americana or USian American. It says something right there about who gets to be a hero and what type of heroes and heroic cues and attributes are acceptable. The story isn't universal, even if the theme is; this story, in this instance has these types of heroes - explore that, don't USian white wash them.


As an extra note as well? Don't ciswash them, heteronormative wash them, male wash them, etc... either.