A visual display of culture

Culture is an interesting thing. Expressed through food, music, dance and even relationship dynamics, we find traces of culture interspersed where we least expect them. One of the most intriguing and complex places to find these cultural strands is in the cinema.

Film is one of the most powerful means of communication, so it’s no surprise that subtle nods to different cultures exist in the visual realm of film. Sometimes the details jump out at you. The ceviche plate represents Peruvian cuisine and the introduction of samurai characters alludes to Japanese history.

Other times the cultural details are cleverly concealed and it takes patience to uncover them. Most of the time, these details do more than just express stereotypical cultural traits. They evoke the subtleties of this culture: the hidden foundations that support it.

Take ‘The Great British Bake Off’ – the quintessential British show has become so popular with global audiences that it has fueled the creation of its US and Canadian variants. For those unaware of the iconic show, it features a group of amateur bakers who are crammed into a small tent to bake their hearts out and compete for nine whole weeks – the prize: an overpriced glass cake stand .

The show is distinctly British. Not only are the bakers taken to the British countryside, they compete on the lawn of a traditionally magnificent English estate. And the tent, saturated with British flags hanging proudly from the ceiling, serves as a backdrop to reaffirm the venue of the show. From the start, the show’s message is clear: this is England, and we are a proud nation.

The British cultural display on the show is growing further. Not only does it express British nationalism, but it presents the traditional English feeling of stepping back. Having lived in England for three months during the summer, I soon realized the simple fact that the British are obsessed with the past.

A long-standing monarchy, a love of traditional teatime ceremonies and a strong push for Brexit are all evidence that England idealizes tradition and consistency. How does ‘The Great British Bake Off’ evoke British history, you might ask? She does this by emphasizing pastoral idyll and reinforcing social class, two strongly intertwined notions.

Haley Alvarez-Lauto | Graphic artist

At the beginning of the 18th century, social class expressed itself through real estate in England. Money meant a home in the vast, green countryside, far from crowded, disease-stricken towns. And with the money came extra leisure time – or cooking time.

The show mimics this notion. ‘The Great British Bake Off’ is an idealized reimagining of Britain’s past through the venue – a Victorian country house in Hatfield Heath. With the expansive, expensive-looking estate looming above the small tent, there is a heightened hint of social class, especially the upper class. Therefore, the show is a battle to reinstate conventional British class ideologies and create an image of a traditional nation by displaying the perfect laid-back upper-class lifestyle.

Just as “The Great British Bake Off” exemplifies a call to a traditional nation, American shows like “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” do just the opposite. A lavish portrayal of wealth, “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” is a truthful illustration of American consumerism and greed for material wealth. But the show does more than just reflect superficial values, as they represent a more complex American sentiment: a push for change.

While “The Great British Bake Off” worships tradition, “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” revels in breaking tradition through ever-changing body standards, fashion choices and visual representation of class ascension. Amid the changes there is one constant variable – the important role of the individual.

As the most popular family on American reality television, the Kardashians display the contemporary American dream: you control your own destiny. While the British focus on collective power with an emphasis on socio-economic class, the Kardashian family declares that power is in itself.

Don’t like your body? Change it. Want to climb the social ladder? Meet influential people. If you have a problem, find a solution and, above all, do it yourself. As “The Great British Bake Off” spends time competing against a community of bakers, the Kardashians feature the sisters as individuals: taking selfies, showing off their wardrobes, or going about their day.

So what do these shows say about their perspective cultures? While England values ​​tradition, the United States, honing a do-it-yourself attitude, embraces the American dream of radical change fueled by the individual.

Edward N. Arrington