Culture in Film: Part 1

After writing about intercultural issues in films last week, I’ve come across various other cultural elements that are often portrayed in film.  In the first part I’d like to examine the culture shock shown when people from a big city relocate to a smaller town.  Sometimes film show the opposite (small town people moving to the big city) but this seems to be more popular.

Several films (and one TV show) that come to mind are New in Town, Sweet Home Alabama, Did You Hear About the Morgans?, The Beverly Hillbillies, Funny Farm and For Richer or Poorer.  Numerous other films and serials portray this change but often it is not a major part of the plot.  Films of this nature are often referred to under the category of “city country contrast” (IMDB provides additional titles) and the differences between city and “country” life are often a main source of humour throughout the film, in addition to the main plot.

Upon watching several such films, I noticed that they all seemed to follow a similar pattern:

1) Portrayal of city life.  In the beginning there is usually a montage illustrating all the perks of living in a big city: the excitement, glamour, etc.
2) Initial shock and judgement.  After being transplanted to the smaller town, the hero is visibly annoyed at having to subsist in such an inferior place.
3) Doing ones best.  Acknowledgement and acceptance of the mediocre conditions leads to the main character trying to make the most of the situation.
4) Becoming fed up and/or giving up.  Despite their best efforts, the hero finds him/herself thwarted at every turn.  His/her ideas about life seem to clash with the archaic beliefs of the local townspeople and soon he/she can’t take any more.
5) Becoming drawn into the culture.  After giving up, the hero finds him/herself beginning to bond with the surrounding environment and people.  This often happens through situations or a special relationship.
6) Making a contribution.  A deeper acceptance, understanding and appreciation of the situation arises and the hero adapts and puts his/her skills to use to solve a problem or improve something, thereby finally finding peace and happiness.

After outlining these steps, I couldn’t help but wonder if they could at all be compared and contrasted to the stages of culture shock.  The four stages outlined by Kwintessential are (1) Excitement, (2) Withdrawal, (3) Adjustement and (4) Enthusiasm.  While most characters from films hardly find excitement before being relocated to a small town, the other steps seem to fit.  Because most people’s experience of culture shock is different anyway, I think these films are an excellent pattern for what people go through when adapting to another culture.

Although these films aren’t meant to outline culture shock and don’t show characters moving abroad, their heros do move into other cultures as there is a big city culture as well as a small town culture.  Watching such films can teach us a lot about different cultures and intercultural interactions as well as providing some comfort to people currently undergoing a cultural transition.

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