By: Louis-Auxile Maillard
"A man who works for a huge global corporation is sent to live in the sticks, but realizes that it isn't such a backwards place after all." This is the plot summary for Welcome to the Sticks, a movie expected to come in 2013. It focuses on the regional diversity within United States, a topic which is not very usual since USA tend to be gathered and defined as a unique culture. According to some rumors, the hero in the movie wants at first to be sent to work in Hawaii, but is finally shifted to North Dakota. These two regions are actualy known to be very different in popular culture.
Welcome to the Sticks is supposed to be largely diffused in America, at least because in the opposite it wouldn't have been produced by the famous Will Smith himself. But why is Hollywood suddenly interested in this aspect of diversity?
Obviously, because it's successful. The original plot comes from Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis (Welcome to the Ch'tis), a French 2008 movie focusing on clichés and cultural differences between the extreme south and the extreme north of France. Watching its trailer shows what is this movie about, even if French culture is unknown to you.
Trailer (English Sub) Bienvenue chez les ch'tis
Uploaded by welcometothesticks. - Classic TV and last night's shows, online.
It was intended to be nothing more than a little funny comedy with the usual score of 2 millions entrances. However, it made more than 26 millions over the world, becoming the most seen French movie in the whole History of cinema and has been exported to five continents and 28 countries. Its plot has been sold to Will Smith's company in 2008 in order to create a remake focusing on American culture.
The reasons for such a success are hard to define because of the fact that it was totaly unexpected. It reveals a rupture between the traditional images of cultural diversity shown by the cinema and what the spectators really want to see. Finding new roots to be related to the place where people live, which is sometimes also the place where their ancesters used to live, and being more proud of everyone's cultural environment appear like new desires of spectators. And the cinema industry is precisely supposed to satisfy spectators’ desires.
But the clichés supported by Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis and eventually by Welcome to the Sticks are not at all to be removed by these movies. Most of these stereotypes are about language (accent, specific vocabulary), intimacy, food, friendship, weather, or all the things which characterize our daily lifes. Director of Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis Dany Boon told that he wanted to "Play with the clichés in order to ridiculize them better". He actually stopped at the first step, and never destroyed the clichés about northern France. On the contrary, his movie is a caricature which maintains and increases the stereotypes, even if it also shows how this cultural diversity within a country does not have to frighten, but to offer people their neighbor's complementarity: at the end of the movie, the hero finally is very pleased by his new neighborhood, and very sad to quit it on new professional purpose.
Because this unusual point of view about diversity is the only one thing which distinguish this movie from any other, and because it was also the most commented aspects of the movie when it was created, it is probably the main reason for its success. In Europe especially, the regional issues are not only related to current differences but also to a disturbed History which gave to each region its own identity. For example, there are no two regions there which have never been ennemies many times during past wars. Climate, landscapes, language, food, architectur or customs can change very deeply from one region to another, and emphasize the different aspects of land that people want to be related to.
Another hypothesis can be that people are likely to appreciate a movie which maintains and furthermore caricatures some stereotypes. Beyond the fact that it is often a pattern to provide a funny plot, and that funny plots are among the most successful, caricature also give landmarks and references to order our environment and to understand our position. It is also a way to emphasize our own culture by decreasing other culture's reputation. For these reasons, people may appreciete caricature even if they are not fair, unreal or misrespectful. Bienvenue Chez les Ch'tis success is a quite significant example for this.
However, most of cinema producers, directors and actors are officially involved in fights to improve the society, which includes sometimes to fight against stereotypes. Plenty of current movies are part of this: Forget former ideas about people, establish new views on the world which are more realistic and more friendly.
The question now is: Will the cinema industry keep fighting against stereotypes, or will it yield to the temptation of business? Will it produce a movie full of stereotypes in order to raise more money, or will it accept to teach people other views on the society even if they are less likely to pay for this?
Welcome to the Sticks will also probably be a great experience to measure the atmosphere among American states mindset, from Hawaii to North Dakota. As soon as the movie will arrive in American cinema theaters, its ability to attract spectators and the way it will be criticized or applaused will reveal a little bit of what people think about their land, the place where they live and their relation with other regions. These considerations about regional diversity througout the media are likely to improve social understanding, since they reveal people's yearnings and feelings about themselves and their neighbors.
Trailer with English subtitles available there:
About BMC 277: Media and Diversity
This course asks students to critically examine the role of the media in facilitating and challenging the social constructions of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation in U.S. culture.