Non-Arabic in Movies

Roozbeh wrote a blog entry where he points out how Hollywood media tends to make a lot of silly and phony mistakes when depicting Arabs and Middle Eastern culture. Reading Roozbeh’s entry one could be made to believe that the lack of attention to details are limited to the middle east. I found his mention of how 24 had used the named of a former Iranian president to name some of its arab antagonists amusing, as is not to different from what I remember happened when the series The X Files placed an episode in Norway. The ‘random’ name of one of the people was Mr Brundtland. Which is not a common name in Norway at all, but it is the surname of a former Norwegian prime minister. And the average dress style was probably as representative of modern Norwegians as the dress styles of the first pilgrims are of todays US citizens :)

Funnily enough one of Norway’s largest newspapers made an article just 5 days ago, an article that talks about how Norwegians are depicted in US movies and TV. They mention for instance that Norwegians have been depicted wearing lederhosen on multiple ocassions, for instance in The Sorpranos, which is a Bavarian tradition, and which has nothing to do with Norway at all.

Another fun quote from that article is from CSI where they are reconstructing the face of a dead Norwegian woman and one of them says something along the lines of “There are a few Norwegian brunettes, but she is most likely to be blond, and then puts on the reconstruction a platinum blond wig”. Anyone who has been to Norway would know that there are more natural brunettes than natural platinum blondes. And most of the women who are platinum blond are so for the same reason they are so in the US; hair bleaching. In other words the colouring of the curtains doesn’t match that of the rug. :)

Another example of not caring too much about the details I remember, which is not directly related to Norway though, is from the movie Swordfish. At the start of the movie there is a Finnish superhacker stopped at the border, whose name was something like Axel Torvalds. Then later on when he speaks ‘finnish’ with his laywer, they actually speak German. Also if they wanted to style him after Linus they should probably have him speak Swedish and not Finnish as Linus is from the swedish speaking population of Finland :)

So Roozbeh, don’t worry, everyone gets misrepresented by Hollywood :)

19 thoughts on “Non-Arabic in Movies”

  1. In a lot of movies like DieHard the bad guys are Europeans, mostly speaking French, German or English with a Russion accent. It often happens that Europeans of smaller countries speak with a Russion accent.
    There is this episode of Friends where a Dutch girl called Marggggga watches the friends play baseball. It looks and sounds like there were too many actresses with Russian accents now the Cold War was over.

  2. Hehe typically Norwegian (typisk norsk) that you are so concerned with what the rest of the world thinks of you (or how much they are wrong about it:)), but this kind of stuff happens everywhere:

    In The Netherlands, we used to have Finse drøp (finse drop would be finnish licorice)

    Swedish meatballs are gehåkt bullår (gehakt ballen is dutch for meat balls). Granted, köttbuller would be pronounced as kut buller in dutch, which would be a bit too close to kut ballen, which would mean shitty balls, or cunt balls literally:)).

    When I lived in Norway, and I told people I was from the Netherlands, they *always* think Dutch people are like these crazy party animals, that don’t know their limits, and use drugs on a daily basis, and that our girls are really slutty. Truth is, it’s quite the opposite, and the whole reason I think that our drugs policy works that well, is because Dutch people are able to hold back on those kind of things by themselves. We don’t need the government to do that.

  3. I shudder when they describe an English accent as a British accent. I like it even less when they say Glasgow’s in England.

  4. Not that Torvalds would be a very typical name even among the Swedish speakers in Finland. IIRC it’s pretty much an invention of Linus’s father, or perhaps *his* father while changing the family name into a cooler one.

  5. Heh! i was also reminded of the Torvalds joke when i read Roozbeh’s blog today. Since in Finland they don’t dub the movies in Finland, I don’t know what they did with it in here but in Germany they had to actually put Finnish in there. Although they failed to make it any believable.

  6. Something similar: the larger part of the story in the novel “Angels and Demons” by Dan Brown is set in Rome. Some short dialogs are written in Italian, and contain lots of orthography mistakes. Not to mention the fact that they picked an Italian last name for the commander of the Swiss guards… which is not Italian but has typically a German-sounding name!

  7. Something similar: the larger part of the story in the novel “Angels and Demons” by Dan Brown is set in Rome. Some short dialogs are written in Italian, and contain lots of orthography mistakes. Not to mention the fact that Mr Brown gave the commander of the Swiss guards an Italian last name (Olivetti) not found in Switzerland… The Swiss guards are not Italian!
    If your cultural background is Italian, these things are very irritating!

  8. Heh, I’m feeling contrary and want to defend Hollywood here, but I can’t think of a good angle for it. Truth is they really ARE this bad all the time. I guess if I was dead set on being a Hollywood apologist, I’d say something like, well, they’d get it right if their Audience (Americans) knew Sweden from Switzerland (good luck there), but till then why should they care? But even that line of defense fails, cause I think Hollywood makes more money globally than it does in the US. Fail!

    But along those lines a question arises: how does Hollywood sell so well outside the US if it constantly screws up this kind of routine stuff? Any ideas?

  9. At least your not Irish! I shudder at some of the representations Hollywood (and even London) has made of the Irish. On the other hand, representation of Americans on non-US media can be tends to be cliqued also.

  10. At least your not Irish! I shudder at some of the representations Hollywood (and even London) has made of the Irish. On the other hand, representation of Americans on non-US media can be tends to be cliqued also.

  11. @Ian:

    Hollywood sells so well – at least here in germany – because we germans are *not* humorless. ;-)

  12. As for the X-Files episode mentioned… I can’t recall that the “norwegian” they spoke sounded like any norwegian I’ve ever heard. I am swedish, so granted, I have not heard every possible norwegian dialect, but this just sounded very…rehearsed? :)

  13. Well, Linus is member of the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland, but they only speak Swedish to each other (and Swedes of course). had his lawyer been Finnish-speaking, he would have most likely spoken Finnish.

    I would guess that most of the Swedish-speaking Finns spend most of their time speaking Finnish.

  14. Bruce: What’s an ‘English’ accent anyway! RP? Cockney? Estuary? Cornish? Brummie? Geordie? Mancunian? Liverpudlian?

    Hollywood is pretty bad at portraying the English too – let alone the Scottish or the Welsh. As with all countries, English people come in many variations. We aren’t all villains, and we don’t all speak like the Queen.

  15. Stormking: “Hollywood sells so well – at least here in germany – because we germans are *not* humorless. ;-)”

    LOL, good point. If every American in a German movie was named Bush or Cheney I’d probably laugh my ass off.

    Matthew Walton: “Hollywood is pretty bad at portraying the English too – let alone the Scottish or the Welsh. As with all countries, English people come in many variations. We aren’t all villains, and we don’t all speak like the Queen.”

    Yeah, what’s up with that anyway? What grudge could Hollywood possibly bear against you guys? Are they still not over 1812 or what! Probably it’s just a tradition, but man, how did that get started in the first place?

  16. @Hannes: As far as I recall they had just rounded up some American-Norwegians to play the Norwegians. Which is why it sounded so stunted, as these where people who barely spoke they language themselves :)

  17. In that x-files episode, hasn’t one of the men the name Trondheim?

    Trondheim is one of the largest cities in Norway. It’s like calling someone London

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