Love Hate Relationship

Dan Glickman, head of the MPAA, often points out that Al-Qaeda hasn't attacked movie theaters or other symbols of Hollywood, arguing that US films are not even as much of a target as McDonalds.

This is not quite true.  Along with consistent enthusiasm for Hollywood films, one finds hearty opposition.  For example, in South Korea, the 1988 release of Fatal Attraction caused riots and vandalism, including spray-painted slogans like "Drive Out Yankee Movies," and (from one especially creative group) the placing of live snakes in theaters showing the film.

In 1993, the Disney animated feature Aladdin was released globally, and set off angry protests in Islamic countries for the song lyric: "I come from a land, a faraway place, where the caravan camels roam, where they cut off your ear if they don't like your face - it's barbaric, but hey, it's home."

To be fair, there have been more protests in favor of Hollywood films than against them.  Over the years, one of Hollywood's most effective tactics against foreign protectionism has been the boycott.  In 1947 the Motion Picture Export Association's threat to withhold US films from Great Britain caused the British government to knuckle under and agree to eliminate restrictions on the import of foreign (Hollywood) films.

This threat has worked many times since.  Even the Cultural Diversity Convention led by Canada and France has turned out to be toothless, because theater owners in most countries know that their business depends largely on American films.

Yet this could be changing.  Overwhelming demand is not universal.  In some countries - India and Turkey, for example - it does no good to threaten a boycott, because the audiences in question have never gotten hooked on Hollywood in the first place.  In such cases, the major US companies follow what for them has always been Plan B: instead of overwhelming rival film industries (Plan A), they buy them out.  "Runaway production" and "runaway investment" are not new concepts; they date back to the 1950s and early 1960s, when many of the "foreign films" gaining market share in the US were largely or wholly financed by Hollywood.

Back in 1969, the historian Thomas Guback argued that this strategy of US domination of foreign production would, over time, affect content by muffling foreign voices deemed unmarketable in the US.  Has this happened?  Or has the sheer size of foreign markets made the domestic US market less important?  More anon ...
May 13, 2008 9:24 AM |



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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Martha Bayles published on May 13, 2008 9:24 AM.

More on Cultural Diversity was the previous entry in this blog.

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