So, it was Christmas, so I watched the last ever Extras. Twice. The BBC version, and the one shown in the States, on HBO. This isn't a case of a no-holds-barred remake, as happened to The Office, but a few gentle tweaks to the script to make it more palatable to a Stateside audience.
First, the scene in the department store. In the original, we heard a Jade Goody doll emitting a racist tirade; on HBO, for the benefit of those unacquainted with Ms Goody, she is replaced by Michael Richards (aka Cosmo Kramer), who had a similar fall from grace a while back. This is just about feasible, as Seinfeld was pretty popular on the east side of the pond. But then the manager's line about Same Difference (Brit reality show act) is replaced by one about Sanjaya (US equivalent, but without the slightly iffy incest overtones, and not from Pompey, apparently). I know this isn't documentary realism, but one of the strengths of Gervais's shows is that they are at least grounded in observation and recognition. It's not just that a British shop wouldn't stock a Sanjaya doll: nobody in the scene, Andy, Maggie nor the manager, would have the faintest clue who Sanjaya was.
Things get even dafter towards the end. In the Big Brother house, June Sarpong claims that she wants to become a proper journalist, but then looks stupid because she doesn't know who Kate Adie is. Except that, for North American viewers, Adie is replaced by Katie Couric. Why would a British TV performer be expected to know the anchor of the CBS Evening News? What purpose does this serve.
I don't want this to turn into an "Americans are stupid" post, because they're not, or no more than the Brits or the Belgians or the Bhutanese, at least. But Americans exist in a media environment which appears to have very low expectations of them, and this can't fail to have an effect. First, there is no appeal to a sense of curiosity. Of course American viewers would be unfamiliar with Jade Goody. Lucky them. But they're never put in a position where they have to find out who she is, even via the simple task of keying her name into Google.
Moreover, American viewers will get a skewed perception of the rest of the world, and will end up believeing that the rest of us know and care about Katie Couric or Sanjaya. The funny thing is, lots of foreigners do know about Couric and Sanjaya: not necessarily because they watch CBS News or American Idol, but because the US product they do see is not adapted for their market, so any such references appear, unamended. So they Google them. Not necessarily the primary use for which this wonderful technology was intended, but hey, wuddeva. The thing is, if America is to remain the sole hyperpower (a status that may come under threat in the future, but we're not there yet), this monocular idea of what's going on beyond the nation's borders can only be unhealthy.
Oh look. Mike Huckabee just won the Republican caucus in Iowa. Point made, I think.
PS: More Huckabee stuff here.