Have you ever ridden a Kangaroo?
… me either.
People make assumptions and judgments everyday from the mass media that they are consumed in. Many stereotypes from people around the world have been placed on Australians and our culture. The majority of these stereotypes are misconceptions and do not give a true representation of our country, forcing people to have an inaccurate view.
I am a 19-year-old Australian woman, studying health science in America. I have been living in America for two years now and I have been bombarded with misconceptions regarding the Australian lifestyle. It is fitting for me, as an Australian, to discuss the poor representation of Australian culture in the media. Australia is a country that is consistently ranked in the top countries in the world on international happiness surveys. Previously, I believed that people did not actually believe the representation of Australians in the media before living in America. However, since living in America I have witnessed multiple opinions about Australia that are far from the truth. These inaccuracies are due to what people have seen in the media and been believed to think.
The topic that stood out to me the most is the first point that I am going to discuss in this blog. The most common misconception regarding Australian culture is that Australians are confronted with life threatening creatures on a daily basis. I can perfectly understand why foreigners believe this. With landscapes and wildlife that is radically different from the rest of the world people are automatically terrified. I am not aiming to convince you that the wildlife is not dangerous, because it does exist in the wild. However, we have a vast desert outback that spreads throughout the country but only 3% of the population live in the desert while the other 97% live along the coastline (Australian Government, 2013).
In the media, it appears that deadly Australian animals are living amongst the coastlines and are a huge problem. This misconception is seen in “The Simpsons” episode, Bart vs. Australia. As soon as The Simpson family lands in Australia they immediately see a kangaroo. There is a scene where Homer and Bart try to escape by stuffing themselves into the pouches of two Kangaroos. Therefore, this is misleading information as people are led to believe that kangaroos are everywhere.
A researched secondary source from the Wiley Online Library supports my point and points out that this episode may have offended some Australians because it over sensationalises Australian culture (Dobson, 2006). The article states that, “The episode, Bart versus Australia represents a more sustained parody of foreign culture. Australia is portrayed as a backward, boorish, alcohol-obsessed nation with criminal tendencies.
Social media in recent times has developed ‘memes’. Memes are “an idea or belief system, or pattern of behavior that spreads throughout a culture either vertically by cultural inheritance or horizontally by cultural acquisition” (Bing, 2012). These memes are constantly displaying stereotypical views on Australian which forces the audience to believe that this is the norm. For example, there is a very popular meme that states “Welcome to Australia, where crocodiles swim in your street”.
This is not typical, as you would never see a crocodile walking down the street, in fact I have never seen one in my lifetime outside of Australia Zoo. I believe that what we are exposed to in the media influences how people see the world.
BuzzFeed is a social news and entertainment company that produces articles and has become popular in contemporary society (BuzzFeed, 2016). I came across an Australian stereotypes article produced by BuzzFeed. The caption of this image below is “what men are actually like.” (Taylor and Francis Online, 2008). This is another example of how society is exposed to thinking that Australians are constantly exposed to dangerous animals.
Moving on to the next misconception of Australian culture is humor and slang. First of all, Australian’ have a very strong sense of humor that most Americans struggle to understand, and sometimes think that it is cruel instead of humorous. Sometimes, people are left with the wrong impression when I talk to them because they are not used to the Australian humor and do not understand that it is humorous. Australian’s make jokes with each other by sarcastically making fun of one another and saying it how it is. Since I have been living in America, I have had to tone down my dry sarcastic humor so people are not offended and do not think that I am serious. Australian’s also value traditional values of being polite, saying “pardon, please, and thank you,” before moving straight into the directness of our humor. This Australian humor can be seen in the popular television show “Summer Heights High.” This show embraces humor where Australian’s make fun of each other and say exactly what they want to say. Slang is another aspect of Australian culture that foreigners struggle to understand. A common slang phrase is “g’day mate,” which basically means hello friend. I have had to reduce the amount of slang that I use in America because American’s might view this as inherent rudeness or an uneducated way to communicate.
A common term that I have heard a lot of Americans use when thinking of Australia is “shrimp on the barbecue.” We do not cook shrimp on the barbecue, in fact we do not say “shrimp,” instead we say “prawns.” A typical barbecue would be cooking sausages and eating them in a piece of bread with tomato or barbecue sauce. So it would be more accurate to say, “sausage on the barbecue.”
Another misconception that is common because of media portrayal of Australians is that we all have blonde hair, tanned skin, and blue eyes. There are some people that look like this, however the majority of the population is far from this description. Australia is one of the most multicultural countries in the world with many different ethnicities rarely represented on TV or in the media. The majority of Australian TV shows represent the ‘typical Australian,’ with blonde hair, tanned skin, and blue eyes. There are two examples of Australian TV shows that clearly represent this. “Home and Away” and “H2O Just Add Water”, where all of the actors are predominantly white, and fitting to this ‘typical Australian.’ However, diversity is a major part of Australian culture.
Finally, the drinking culture is a common stereotype of Australian culture. We do have a big drinking culture but it is similar to many countries around the world. According to a Taylor and Francis article, ‘The truly magnificent thirst’: An historical survey of Australian drinking habits it states that, “It is widely accepted among historians that strong drink has played an important part in the social life of Australia during the last 200 years” (Dingle, 2008). The Guardian News discusses drinking cultures on a global scale (Marsh & Stefanou, 2016). It explains that Australia is not the biggest drinking country in the world. The US and the Philippines drink more than Australians and France being on an equal level to Australia. Therefore, when I hear people talk to me about the alcohol consumption in Australia, I can say that America actually consumes more than us. Also, Australians do not actually drink Fosters. I have had a lot of people ask me about the drink but I do not know anyone that drinks it.
There are stereotypes all around the world regarding different cultures and beliefs. Most of the time I am grateful of the representation of Australians as friendly and humorous. However, sometimes people can become close minded about the world around us and do not look beyond the media that is placed in front of them. My journey to America, to play on the Portland State tennis team and to complete a college degree has been an eye opening experience. I have expanded my knowledge to other beliefs around the world through my journey. I believe that stereotypes and misconceptions are inevitable in today’s society.
- The most eye opening learning moment was from week five – I was shocked when I was reading the statistics about the unequal representation of gender, race, and LGBT in popular films. I was disappointed to learn that in the past seven years nothing has changed.
- The second most prominent learning moment that I had this term was formulating research questions in my research analysis worksheet. I found it useful to brainstorm initial questions and then give myself some time to come back and refine my work.
Australian Government. (2013, August 23). The Australian desert – the outback of Australia. Retrieved May 21, 2017, from Australian Government: http://www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/austn-desert-outback
Bing, S. (2012, October 18). Contest: What’s a Meme? Retrieved May 21, 2017, from Huffpost: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stanley-bing/contest-whats-a-meme_b_1981567.html
BuzzFeed. (2016, April 6). Australian Stereotypes Vs Australia In Reality. Retrieved May 21, 2017, from BuzzFeed: https://www.buzzfeed.com/matwhitehead/shredding-for-stereo-types?utm_term=.oeGN98kyr#.goDvmAr17
Dobson, H. (2006, January 18). Mister Sparkle Meets the Yakuza. Retrieved May 21, 2017, from Wiley Online Library: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1540-5931.2006.00203.x/full
Marsh, S., & Stefanou, E. (2016, April 15). Which countries have the worst drinking culturesv. Retrieved May 21, 2017, from The Guardan News: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/apr/15/which-countries-worst-alcohol-binge-drinking-cultures
Taylor and Francis Online. (2008, September 30). ‘The truly magnificent thirst’: An historical survey of Australian drinking habits. Retrieved May 21, 2017, from Historical Studies: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10314618008595636?journalCode=rahs19