In 1776, we Americans decided that our version of the colonies would be better than the British one, so we took charge. In 2005, we decided that our version of “The Office” would be better than the British one, so we put that on the air. How times have changed.

Americans have, for a long time, been reluctant to admit the importance of other countries for anything other than random imports. We have Japan for electronics, China for sneakers, Germany for cars and Mexico for Taco Bell and immigrants. But England, what have they done for us lately?

It’s easy to forget that some of our best pop culture comes from a tiny island off the coast of the European mainland, but we shouldn’t. The Beatles, Queen, Led Zeppelin, Radiohead, The Spice Girls – to whom Britney Spears and company owe their careers – Monty Python, James Bond and the guy who wrote “High Fidelity” and “About a Boy” are all British. Even “American Idol” was originally the British show “Pop Idol.” So how come we had to take one of the best shows in recent memory, “The Office,” and remake it for Americans? Because, bloody hell, if we do it the American way, the results must be better. The problem is that it’s not.

It suffers from an acute case of Americanizationitis, which happens when the heart of something gets ripped out and replaced with a wad of cash. Although the show itself isn’t bad, it’s not particularly good either. Making it in America added nothing to it. The characters are the same but with American names, the jokes are the same but with softer punchlines and the plot mirrors the British version exactly. There is nothing new or special about it.

Why do Americans insist on taking other people’s stuff, knocking it around a bit, putting a “Made in USA” sticker on it and selling it back to the public?

It’s been done before, with the show “Coupling” – which got the same treatment as “The Office.” Somewhat predictably, it failed as well. Americans seem to have a built-in adversity to other cultures that stems from our collective feeling of superiority, and it manifests itself in the ways in which we try to one-up other countries.

Imagine if other countries tried to do this. “Chapelle’s Show” done by the Japanese isn’t “Chapelle’s Show.” “The West Wing” remade in Russia wouldn’t exactly be the same – nor would “Sex in the City” set in the plains of Africa. It’s perplexing why we feel the need to rewrite people’s A-plus papers into run-of-the-mill B essays with our names on them.

In many ways, it’s also disheartening that the heads of the major media companies collectively feel that Americans are completely closed to outside cultures. There’s probably some truth in that, but it’s exaggerated by denying the public access to them. We are rarely, if ever, given the chance to see movies or TV shows from other countries in their original forms, even though they may be outstanding programming.

Rather than trust the viewer to be able to understand programming that is somewhat different and interesting, we are forced to re-brand it into something with more appeal.

It’s time that we faced certain facts and made the concession that we as a nation may not be the best at everything. This includes, but is not limited to, British humor. There is nothing preventing NBC from airing the original “The Office” with a few bleeped-out dirty words. After all, they are speaking English.

Voigt can be reached at svoigt@campustimes.org.



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