Friday, February 20, 2015

The Slap, Social Intimacy, and Transposition

Although the NBC adaptation of the Australian TV version of Christos Tsiolkas's novel The Slap has not, after being on for two weeks, garnered impressive ratings, word of mouth from people I know indicates it is being watched. Even if it turns out to be an overall flop, commercially, this is certainly, by any way of measuring, an event in terms of the visibility of Australian literature on international media: only The Thorn Birds has ever received the equivalent US television treatment, and that was not nearly as highly regarded a novel in the literary sense. But, although The  Slap has received much publicity, it has not been linked to Tsiolkas per se; it is duly noted that the series has been adapted by from 'an Australian novel; or even 'an Australian novel by Christos Tsiolkas," but there has been no new reconsideration in the media of Tsiolkas himself,  and his latest book, Barracudaemphasizing some of the same themes as The Slap, has languished in terms of US reviews and sales. Somehow, if the show in question were an adaptation from a French or Russian author, I doubt this would happen. It is the old mantra, Australia is not really part of world literature, it is too close to be distant, too distant to be relevant....

The Slap might seem easily adapt alb,e simply because it concerns lifestyles and questions of contemporary life which are the same in Australia an the US because both countries inhibit a  twenty-first century world which values money more than it knows it should but struggles with the reality that not everybody with social influence subscribes to that valuation. Yet even as the setting is seamlessly transposed from Melbourne to Brooklyn with no loss of plausibility, one feels a difference, or at least a sense of loss of the Australian original which tears at the self-sufficiency of the US version. his reminds me a bit of Homeland, based on an Israeli series. In each case, I feel the US version not so much suffers but is haunted by the fact that the originals came from smaller societies where everyone knows each other and circles overlap. In Israel, because of the cultural and linguistic proximity of Israeli and Arab, it is easier for a soldier to be turned into an Islamic militant than in the US, In Australia, with its small population and evasive sense elf a navigable social world, it is much more typical for a character risk Anouk to have relationships with so  many of the others, for Harry and Gary to even run into each other despite their characterological differences. new York is such an atomized and fissiparous social world, and it is hard to circle around the same people as they are always, literally and figuratively, moving, This is not true in Australia, however hypermodern it has become. Israel and Australia are also alike in being settler societies whose very identity is today contested, however geographically dissimilar, the actual demographics of the two countries are closer to each other than either is to the US, and in both cases one can occasionally see the suppressed smaller-country reality beneath the lager-country veneer....

I thought several items while watching the first two episode sod The Slap of Christina Steads The Man Who Loved Children, similarly transposed  from Sydney harbor to the Potomac and Chesapeake. Although I understand why Stead's most salient contemporary critics insist nothing was lost and everything was gained by the transposition, that it is a deliberately transnational novel, part of the tremendous sadness of a very sad novel is a sense that the original cultural foundation has become unknown, The Slap is more rancorous than sad, but similarly a haunting sense of an erased cultural foundation generate unease,  friction; I felt this especially in the scene in which harry was arraigned which felt like it was out of a Dick Wolf series, yet beneath it all there was this inedible, insensate Australian tinge....

Interestingly the aspect of the show most  objected to by reviewers and by people on Twitter sing he hashtag #theslap--Victor barber's  narrative overvoie--is a curious reminiscence of the series being adapted from the novel, a sense in which the viewer is reminded of the series; source coning ultimately from literary fiction. I wonder if people find the overvoice irritating not just because it interrupts the narrative flow but because, invisibly, it forces them to take account of this projected novelistic source. I discussed on my personal blog in May 2013 the issue of the Baz Luhrmann verso not The Great Gatsby and the sense that, for all the pop razzle-dazzle of the thing, Luhrmann clearly felt the audience needed to be reminded this was a literary texts, that the origin of what we were seeing was literary--which in immediate terms made the movie more stilted and less accessible.

One of the thematic points of The Slap, in all its media avatars, is that contemporary life is not easy--that choices are difficult, and it is hard to moralize whether in favor of stern versus soft parenting, Nietzschean entrepreneurship versus hippie flaccidity, marriage, sexuality, and other issues which The Slap examines from many angles, refraining, for all its excitement or polemical verve, from endorsing one particular stance. Difficulty is acknowledged where in some ways we least like to see it. One might suggest that issues such as transnational portability and adaptations between media is similarly difficult. We would like to believe the creme rises to the top, that a truly great novel or truly absorbing plot can be true anywhere, that a fine, stimulating,  provocative book can, in the hand sod able writers, directors,  and actors, can be turned into a fine, stimulating, and provocative TV show. That this does not occur seamlessly with respect to the US version of The Slap, for all its merits, might suggest we take a more melancholic view of international success, not expecting it to occur instantly or seamlessly or without loss.

That Melissa George plays Rosie  in both productions, and that Rosie, as the mother of the child who is slapped but as the key parental figure in a narrative essentially about parenthood, is a strange symptom of how autonomous The Slap is as an American project, but that its Australian origins still interpretively tug at it.....


Again, I like the US show, Lisa Cholodenko and on Robin baits have done a superb job adapting it, nothing her dis their 'fault', but negotiating Australian literature's place in the world is just not as easy as we might think and hope....and this is probably more the world;s fault than that of Australian literature.

In any event more of these issues will be discussed in my forthcoming book on contemporary Australian literature, to be released later in 2015 by Sydney University Press and prominently featuring both Stead and Tsiolkas.....

No comments:

Post a Comment