07 septembre 2010

Hollywood Hegemony

U.S. Imperialism Through Film
Milos Stehlik, 23 Oct 2009 (MP3 podcast + transcript)

Hegemony takes many forms. In his regular film documentary, Milos Stehlik of Facets Multimedia looks at how the U.S. culturally colonized the world through film.

Is American cinema imperialist? In a word, “yes.” Sweetheart deals gave Hollywood special access to European markets after World War II. Exporting American films overseas was part of the Marshall Plan that reconstructed post-war Europe. American films were viewed as a way to oppose Communism by promoting the “American way of life.” U.S. films were dumped at cut-rate prices onto war-torn Europe, whose film industries were in ruins, under the guise of promoting the “free market.”

This scheme gave American films world-wide dominance. Today, entertainment is America’s largest export, with sales higher than any other industry, accounting for over 60 billion dollars annually. English-language films account for about 65% of the worldwide box office gross. [see BO 2009, Foreign films friendly audiences]

American film brilliantly executes its role as the sales agent for this “American way of life.” Though this way of life may never have existed in reality — it did represent a worldwide ideal: the nuclear family, the house with the white picket fence, boy gets the girl, the good guy always wins. American movies fueled the global fantasy: everyone else in the world wanted to be just like us – or just like we seemed to be in American movies.

Shopping malls, T-shirts, fast food – Hollywood films laid the path to globalization — brick by cinematic brick. Cultural imperialism blazed the trail for economic dominance: would McDonald’s or Pepsi or Coca-Cola be the global brands they are today without the Americanization of the global psyche by American movies? [..]

But by fueling fundamentalist and conservative fears of a hedonist American culture which spreads immorality and lawlessness, American cultural imperialism can foster the opposite of its intended message of freedom and democracy.

This is further amplified by the prevalent theme of violence in so many American films. Over-simplified characters and cartoonish plot-resolution lead to an eye-for-an-eye philosophy where conflict is resolved by the gratuitous use of excessive force. In the tried and true good-guy versus bad-guy morality tales of American Westerns, good and evil may have been overt, but they were governed by a code of honor: may the guy with the surest aim and the fastest trigger win. Today, this code has been put on steroids. Conflict resolution plays out with entire buildings, planes, boats, cities or planets destroyed in battles to the death between good and evil characters.

These movie plots — designed to satisfy the fantasies of hyperactive teenagers oozing testosterone — are not substantively different from real-life predator drone missile strikes or terrorist attacks on subways. Conflict, as presented in so many Hollywood films, rarely bothers with negotiation. Moral choices are made to have simple, easy solutions through pulling a trigger. [..]

The subliminal message, spread globally, is easily transformed into fundamentalist religious narratives, and becomes a seed easily turned against us, threatening to become an anti-American instrument, shaped by ideas we ourselves have propagated in our imperialist movie fantasies.

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