Let’s talk one of my favourite daytime talk shows (because why not?): Ellen!
She’s often passed off as just an everyday talk show host that dances a lot, but Ellen can always make me smile. She has a real knack for bringing out the best in people, and frankly I adore her!
But as an American show, often I can feel left out. Ellen will often visit her home town of New Orleans (Or “Nuu Awwlenz”) and take the camera crew along, but many of the ‘Southern’ jokes, accents and aspects of life will go straight over my head.
An episode of Ellen starring Matt Leblanc ended in a game where each had to guess what accent the other was imitating. One accent by Leblanc was ‘Valleygirl’, a word I’d never before come across as a descriptor for that typical teenage girlness: “Oh, my gawd!”
While not all jokes can be translated to different cultures, whether from America to Australia to Japan, in general the sentiment can be understood. Watching Ellen as an Australian, I can appreciate many of the gags, but perhaps differently to the American, Canadian, New Zealander, British, etc, etc people watching – it is indeed “a world where all cultures are both (like) ‘us’ and (not like) ‘us'” (Ang and Stratton, 1996) and this synthesis into enjoyment for many cultures is something I think Ellen captures very well.
Aside from Aussies being smart enough to access the lols, Ellen does connect with Australians on some level quite specifically: she married ‘our’ Portia Derossi, and for this fact will sometimes sprinkle the show with jokes on her behalf, or facts she might have learnt. Ellen’s Australia as Country of the Week episode both works to invite Australian’s watching and make fun of them, for example with the boomerang coffee cup in the clip below.
To me it seems that relate-ability is the key for television (or anything, really) to cross over from one culture to the next:
“An early twenties [Taiwanese] informant told me that the life style and love affairs in an American drama such as Beverley Hills 90210 are something she enjoys watching, but she found Japanese love stories more realistic and easier to relate to. A 17-year-old high school student also told me that ‘Japanese dramas better reflect our reality. Yeah, Beverley Hills 90210 is too exciting (to be realistic). Boy always meets girl. But it is neither our reality nor dream’.” (Koichi Iwabuchi – ‘Discrepant Intimacy’)
If I wasn’t able to connect with or relate to Ellen, despite her being American, famous, middle-aged and so on, I simply wouldn’t watch.