Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Talking Australian: The Media Moguls and Soap Operas

The Australian media magnets, that’s the Paker, Murdoch, and Fairfax families (now Fairfax Media Limited), dominate global communication and have done so for several decades. Their combined interests in radio, film, television, satellite television, telecommunications and newspapers not to mention the internet has everyone from Palestine to Paris; from Singapore to Seattle aware of what’s happening in Ramsey Street (Neighbours) or and Wentworth Detention Centre (Prisoner) long after home based Aussie fans may have filed it away as been there and done that.

Kerry Packer and Rupert Murdoch were both very much Ockers and have made no attempt to disguise their Aussie true blue background regardless of how rich and powerful they have became. Not confined to the big brown land the Australian media magnets have taken the Australian life style and flaunted everywhere and on every level of communication suffice everyone now talks Australian or at least is familiar with Aussie customs and vernacular which is now regarded as modern living and modern talking. Buying and selling as they did much of the TV culture of Australia gradually started to appear overseas. From the 80s onwards no longer was the Chips O’ Rafferty version of Australiana taken as a stereotype when the impact of Austalian Soap Operas shaped global culture.

Soap Operas started on US radio in the thirties and were short ongoing episodic dramas, broadcast during daytime slots and principally directed at female audiences. The original kitchen sink broadcasts were sponsored by soap companies like Colgate Palmolive and became known affectionately as soaps. The same was applied to television and soaps are now the most-watched genre of television program with a conservative estimated two billion viewers worldwide. No surprise then when the Australian mogels had space to fill on their television stations they chose Australian soaps. The Australian television industry of the 60s and 70s became very adept at making programs (for home consumption) on the cheap. Whilst many remain memorable by comparison to modern standards they were pretty awful but that did not stop the Australian entertainment industry from becoming most adept at working to a very high standard within a limited budget. All this proved invaluable as Australian technicians, actors and writers became an integral part of the US Entertainment business and of course with the Australian moguls taking greater control of world media then the Australian Front was complete.

Australian soap operas focus on everyday characters and situations, set in working class environments. Most plots explore real life storylines often puling no punches but with romance never far away and always tinted with a comic element. Experts believe the strength of Aussie soaps lie in the portrayal of family relations and suburban reality with drama that remains recognisable and relevant. This contrasts starkly with UK soaps which generally tend to be serious and humourless; US soaps by contrast glorify glamor. The first Australian TV series to make an international impact was The Sullivans in the mid-80s. Not only was it a big hit in the UK it became huge in Gibraltar.

Prisoner came later then Sons and Daughters followed.

Prisoner continues to have a massive worldwide audience with cult following in Sweden. It became the first Australian soap to be screened on late night TV in the UK and the US and has subsequently achieved enduring success with fans snapping up books, plays and even a musical.

All of this was dwarfed by the enormous success of Neighbours which is broadcast in Belgium, France (titled Les Voisins), Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Kenya, Barbados, Catalonia, Galacia, Iceland, Cyprus, Canada, US, and Israel.

Almost as successful was Home and Away (for a teenage demographic) which was distributed worldwide.

Now it is very common to find Australian colloquialisms like, "no worries" in common use in American and UK lexicons. According to linguistic experts Australians now provide more new words to the American lexicon than any other country in the world. I suppose we are just getting our own back for earlier intrusions into Australian English. Of course something we may not recognise is when it comes back at us (rather like a boomerang). If we were in Swahili just now and I said ‘Hakuna matata’ which literally means "There are no worries". In 1994 the American animated movie The Lion King brought the phrase international recognition, featuring it prominently in the plot and devoting a song to in the movie.

So in conclusion I would have to agree with Oscar Wilde when he said US and the UK were “Two nations divided by a common language,” but I am proud to say they are now connected because we all talk Australian.

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