“Let’s put another shrimp on the barbie.”
It’s the go-to-line of every American when they come across an Australian. The saying originates from a television advertisement campaign run by the Australian Tourism Commission back in 1984. A then internationally unknown Paul Hogan was the face of the campaign and encouraged Americans to travel down to Australia and sample all the wonders the country had to offer. It was his famous last words, “I’ll slip an extra shrimp on the barbie for you”, that rang in the ears of the US audience and has stood the test of time to remain a common reference to Australia in popular culture.
The only problem is that every Australian hates it. No Australian has ever genuinely referred to a ‘prawn’ as a ‘shrimp’, and it pains us to know that people out there actually think we do. Unfortunately, thanks to Paul Hogan, it’s stuck with us for eternity. That’s the power of television and film; it informs and enforces perceptions on culture whether we agree with them or we don’t. Luckily, this means that we also have a greater capacity to shape and control these perceptions. With the global reach of these mediums, countries have the opportunity to show the rest of the world exactly the way they want to be portrayed. So why does Australia seem to be wasting it?
According to Screen Australia, “the proportion of Australian and co-production features achieving theatrical release in Australia has increased slightly across the decades… However, cinema release in the UK and the US has declined across the decades” (2014). Between 1980 and 2013, only 23% and 26% of Australian films have been released in UK and US cinemas respectively (Screen Australia 2014). This is a worrying sign for both the Australian film industry and the perception of Australian culture in general.
What was left of the Australian film industry’s global appeal is diminishing and whatever is left doesn’t even appeal to the locals. So far this year, Australian feature films have only accounted for 5.8% of the national box office compared to an enormous 81.1% taken up by US films (MPDAA 2015). The majority of the Australian box office takings has come from ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ which, while considered an Australian film, is in fact a transnational film that gathers its talent, location, creative influences and financing from various countries all over the globe. Here lies the success, here lies the solution.
Transnational film blends the elements of many different cultures and nations and cannot be easily defined as belonging to one culture. Some may see this as bland and culturally empty however, when done right, it is exactly the opposite. Australia is famously known as a multicultural society and it only makes sense to show it off to the rest of the world. Let’s stop merely adhering to the stereotypes of the Aussie battler and the larrikin, and instead portray the diversity of the nation. That’s not to say that the larrikin, tin roof sheds and VBs don’t have their places. They are still a part of Australia’s culture. But perhaps it’s time to branch out a little bit.
Screenaustralia.gov.au 2015, ‘Screen Australia – Industry statistics, strategy & research’, online, http://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/research/default.aspx, viewed 27 August 2015.
Screenaustralia.gov.au 2015, ‘Screen Australia: Research – Australian content – Releases – Feature films – No. and proportion released’, online, http://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/research/statistics/releasesfeaturesproportions.aspx, viewed 27 August 2015.
Upe, R. 2014, ‘Hogan hero: why this is our best tourism ad ever’, online, Traveller, http://www.traveller.com.au/hogan-hero-why-this-is-our-best-tourism-ad-ever-311eg, viewed 27 August 2015.