globalization of trade and culture turning the world into
a bland boring (American-dominated) monoculture? Maybe yes.
But maybe it's a little more complicated...
One: The Movies
Jack Miles & Douglas McLennan
opposite ends of Eurasia, France and South Korea share a cultural
problem: Their citizens prefer American to homegrown movies.
In 2000, the share of the domestic market that went to the
domestic product dropped to [Telegraph] and to [Korea
Times]. In both countries, Hollywood movies
claim the largest share of the box office But just how serious
a problem this really is and just what should be done about
it depends on which Frenchman or Korean is speaking.
film critic Michel Ciment sees a serious problem: “The American
cinema has imposed its rhythm and subject matter on the young
[French] audience. When they see different films,” meaning
even films in the classic French manner, “they
have difficulty adapting” [Telegraph]. Korean filmmaker Lee Chang-Dong
agrees. At the 2000 Cannes Film Festival, he called for an
international coalition to stop “the United States’ attempts
to use free trade treaties to expand the reach of American
if Ciment or Lee want to protect their respective national
film industries, they must first plan on doing battle at home.
The free trade that has motivated creation of the European
Union inevitably undermines each constituent nation’s cultural
uniqueness, sometimes to the secondary benefit of the Americans,
and many of the French are enthusiastic Eurocrats.
“The problem is Europe,” complains
Daniel Toscan du Plantier, the president of UniFrance, a state-funded
body promoting French film. “Can we keep rules which protect
France’s film industry? Rules are more important than money,
but we are looking at a Europe of bankers, not
cultural people” [Telegraph].
has bankers too, of course, and Korea’s equivalent of Toscan
du Plantier’s EU problem is free trade between Korea and Japan.
In the latest phase of a trade liberalization that began in
1998, the Korean market is open to unrestricted competition
by Japanese pop music and animated movies (“Japanimation”).
Korean Culture Minister Park Jie-won, a free marketeer, proclaims
a [Korea Times]. Lee Chang-Dong presumably disagrees.
IS THE ENEMY?
is the battle then between the United States and the bankers
of the world, on one side, and the endangered national cultures,
on the other? This, again, depends on whose national culture
you’re talking about.
as the end of the international Cold War has fostered the
eruption of smaller national wars, so the emergence of supra-national
polities like the European Union has fostered the resurgence
of older ethnic identities that some thought dead.
newly energized minority cultures are oftenmore
comfortable with the remote anonymity of the EU or even the
USA than with the more immediately intrusive nationalism of
an erstwhile great power like Britain or France.
the biggest and the smallest make common cause against the
middle-sized. “As part of their efforts to downgrade the nation
state, EU federalists are led into…backing Welsh, Catalan
or Bavarian minority cultures—but not national cultures,”
writes Nick Fraser, who sees European cultural policy as the
quest for “a supranational sense of identity [that] will ultimately
as the secular religion of Europe” [Telegraph].
British Prime Minister Tony Blair
has built support for his EU federalism by fostering the “devolution”
that has created parliaments in Scotland and Wales. For Blair’s
Euroskeptic Tory opponents, one parliament was enough, thank
you, and the key identity was not English, Scottish, or Welsh
but British. But the Scots and the Welsh are happy, and Labor,
for all its recent tribulations, is still in power.
for the Irish, they have thrived within the EU as they never
could have if Ireland had remained (economically even if no
longer politically) John Bull’s Other Island. The EU has by
now replaced the United States in Ireland as the counterweight
to British cultural and economic domination.
Like the Irish, the Australians,
who live in a not-quite-former colony where the British governor
can still fire the prime minister (and did so in 1975), “tend
to like Americans more than most nations do, although we do
not have the
least desire to be like them” [Guardian].
that globalization may pay paradoxical dividends to cultural
diversity, the case of cinema is still not a happy one. If
major national schools of film-making like the French, the
British, and the Italian go into terminal decline and this
art is left to Hollywood and to the market-liberated little
nations and minority cultures, then Hollywood will be more
dominant than ever.
Yet if that dreary prospect is to
be avoided, it may be less because the endangered national
schools have protected themselves from competition than because
the most talented within those schools have mobilized to compete.
And the first step in this mobilization may be conceding that
Hollywood does not succeed by money alone.
MATTER OF QUALITY?
to one British critic, the reason why British film has been
in decline for thirty years is poor screenwriting. Andrew
O’Hagan writes: “There may be more cynicism in Hollywood,
and…zero tolerance of what used to be called social responsibility,
but even their most appalling
movies are better written than ours” [Telegraph].
Laudadio, the head of Cinecittá, Italy’s most important commercial
studio, sees poor screenwriting as the besetting fault of Italian
cinema as well [NYTimes]. Laudadio went so far as to establish
a screenwriting prize in 1985 to stimulate better scripts,
but the problem continues. Not a single Italian film made
it to the main competition at Cannes in 2000.
part of the problem, of course, is that top talent tends to
gravitate towards Hollywood. Two admired younger French directors,
Eric Zonca and Bruno Dumont, neither of whom speaks English,
intend to make their next
films in the United States [Telegraph].
when top talent stays home, and perhaps particularly when
it pays attention to screenwriting, it can still compete with
Hollywood, particularly for markets outside the United States
itself. For years, “Bollywood”—the Indian film industry centered
in Bombay — produced musical extravaganzas with mythological
or otherwise improbable plots that were popular in India and
continues to prosper in India, but more recently Indian films
with serious storylines, breaking with the “Bollywood” formula,
have found a crossover
audience in Britain [The
highly distinct film cultures may be difficult for Hollywood
to dominate. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was greeted
with a yawn in Hong Kong, where the genre originated. Hong
Kong has been there
and done that [China
if money can lure overseas talent to Hollywood, money can
also lure Hollywood talent overseas. Canada’s strikingly successful
strategy has been to be to fight American imports by counter-importing
actual Americans. A combination of tax breaks, government
subsidies, and favorable currency exchange rates has made
Canada the most serious competition Hollywood has ever faced.
Vancouver is the third-largest
film-making city in the world, after Los Angeles and New
York [Ottawa Citizen], and Toronto, where the film industry is worth
$1.2 billion, [CBC] is talking about building an enormous new “film city”
to help attract and host more. Such plans are aimed
at a similar transfer of technology and personnel from the
United States to Canada. If the resulting product, so far,
is neither culturally Canadian nor, as to its quality, even
top-drawer Hollywood, the moment may yet come.
protectionism will continue, it may no longer be the strategy
of choice even for those who most cherish the traditional
protectionist goal of cultural diversity. The most talented
people in the strongest cultures will always want to take
their national product international just as Fellini and Godard
and Bergman did in the golden years of international cinema.
There are those who would argue that
that kind of internationalism isn’t possible today, given
evidence of declining national film industries in Europe and
elsewhere. On the other hand, World Music has become a thriving
global phenomenon that does very well next to an American
pop industry no less slick and market savvy than the movie
industry. American movies might dominate for now, but there
is reason to believe that in the longer run, film diversity
might be better served by giving audiences what they want.
Global March, Part II - Trading in culture is a whole
lot different than trading machines or food. Should different
opinions, reactions, suggestions?
Send your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org