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The Promotion of American Culture through Hollywood Movies to the World
Wanwarang Maisuwong Thammasat University
State and non-state actors pay more attention to the use of media, because media reach amount of audiences and the messages conveyed through media are obvious. Film is seen as a global medium that reaches a huge amount of the audience with the same message while the film industry plays the leading role in the global media system. The audiences receive the messages in the film at almost the same time, but different interpretation depends on personal perception and external environment. The movies have a high ability in capturing imagination, shaping, and directing the sense of what was real, true, and preferable, because movie contains both motion picture and sound.
The promotion of American culture through Hollywood movies may make the rest of the world to decide whether to fear or favor the promise of Americanization. It may facilitate an emerge of a global culture while invade the national sovereignty and identity of other nation states. In the future, American culture will continue to be a major force in global community. As Thomas Friedman wrote, todays era is dominating by American power, American culture, the American dollar, and the American navy.
America is seen as the only super power in the world, its decision to promote its American culture to international community may affect the relations with other nation states. The promotion of American culture through Hollywood movies is a representation of cultural imperialism. Hollywood movie is a cultural product where America is trying to imperialize the world once again by using a soft tool. American culture is U.S. leading export, America is trying to sell its culture to any other state around the world.
Cultural Imperialism is a domination of a more recognized culture over other cultures, it is a soft mean of colonization. According to John Tomlinson, cultural imperialism is the spread of modernity, it is not the process of cultural expansion, but it is a cultural loss process. It means that cultural imperialism is a process to eliminate
culture of minority groups or the old-fashioned cultures. Cultural imperialism makes those local cultures vanish from time to time.
In this paper, I have selected 30 Hollywood movies from year 2001-2010, each of them won international awards. I have analyzed the movies on what are critical cultural values and political messages in each selected film that America tries to communicate towards the world audience under the bases: freedom of expression; nationalism; sexuality; language; lifestyle; value; and ideology. And what could be the expected cultural impacts to the audiences regarding to: language; lifestyle; value; and ideology. I certainly believe that each movie contains some or all of these cultural aspects. I mainly focused on seven different perspectives of culture which seemed to be the most obvious culture appeared in Hollywood movies.
The Americans films are not only viewed in the America, but they are viewed by the massive audience around the world. Additionally, the American film firms dominate the majority of market share in the world film industry. It seems that using films is the best mean for the America to gain recognition and friendship. Films portray a smooth storytelling and attract the people to keep watching from the beginning until the end. To me, the American films are still the most interesting films to watch and the easiest to understand. The promotion of American culture through films is a phenomenon where America subtly wants to dominate the world by spreading out its own
culture and tradition through the movies. Americas transferring of culture becomes more relevant while the concept of Americanism is known worldwide since it became the world superpower. America tries to make the American values in the films meaningful to others and it tries to make the films as a new political tactic used in world politics.
Film is seen as a global medium that reaches a huge amount of the audience with the same message while the film industry plays the leading role in the global media system. The audiences receive the messages contain in the film at almost the same time, but the interpretation of the films are different in which it depends on personal perception and external environment.
America is the only super power in the world, its decision to promote its American culture to international community may affect the relations with other nation states. The movies have a high ability in capturing imagination, shaping, and directing the sense of what was real, true, and preferable, because movie contains both motion picture and sound.
The promotion of American culture through Hollywood movies grasps larger populations. The popularity of American culture may make the rest of the world to decide whether to fear or favor the promise of Americanization and a globalized planet.
List of Selected Hollywood Movies
2001: 1. A beautiful mind
Moulin Rouge 2002: 1. Gangs of New York
The Pianist 2003: 1. Shattered Glass
Lost in Translation
2004: 1. The day after tomorrow
Finding Neverland 2005: 1. King Kong
2006: 1. The devil wears Prada
The departed 2007: 1. The visitor
2008: 1. Vicky Cristina Barcelona
The curious case of Benjamin Button 2009: 1. The messenger
The blind side 2010: 1. The social network
Globalization affects film to play an influential role in international relations where it encourages America to realize a significance of the film and decides to use films as a medium tool to contain its political messages and cultural values to communicate throughout the world audience.
The objective of promoting American culture through Hollywood movies is to dominate the other cultural communities around the world and become the universal culture of the world.
Film has an ability to reach mass audience globally; they provide powerful persuasive messages by letting people learn through play. Thus, films with cultural values may provide preferred consequences to the proposed objectives of the film producers.
Cultural Imperialism is a domination of a more recognized culture over other cultures, in other word, cultural imperialism is a soft mean of colonization. Cultural imperialism can be due to economic and technological factors. It said to be that the cultural products i.e. MNCs, foods, films, news, and etc., of the developed world step across the border lines to the developing and non- developed countries and conquer the local culture of those ones. Receiving culture can be either a threat or a gift. The dominant culture may superior over and beat the cultural identity of local cultures. On the other hand, receiving culture is a spreading of some universal values, for example, freedom of expression, democracy, human rights, and equality. Regarding to Frankfurt School, the postmodernisms have bee fascinated precisely by the whole degraded of landscape of schlock and kitsch, TV series, advertising, and the grade-B Hollywood film.
Significance and Influence of Hollywood Movie
Hollywood is double-sided sward, the Hollywood movie can influence the people around the world, and it gives several impacts both positively and negatively. America is the most powerful country in the world, it has impacts to all aspects like; politics, economics, military, or even entertainment. Hollywood is always considered as the fashion leader where the actors and actresses in the movies portray fashionable hairstyle, cloth, make up, and etc. Otherwise, Hollywood movies always contain the rude words or aggressive behavior of Americans which resulted to the audience to imitate and adopt those things to their daily life. Hollywood is the succeed story of America which it works as an instrument to affect the ideology, and culture of the world populations.
Anyone who does not follow the West is gone.1 The American culture and ideology are spreading out toward the world, movie is one medium that carries those messages. The consequence of this domination of American culture is an appearance of cultural imperialism where it encourages the consumerism trend around the globe. The world audience became consumerist overnight after watching movies, for example, the culture of eating low carp food in American movies caused the popularity of McDonalds, KFC, pizza, and so forth. Hollywood movie is the American medium, it has influences to the movie industries in several countries as well. It is called Hollywoodization2 in which the Hollywood affect the movie industries in Asia to adopt the production
1 Perry, October 20, 2003
2 Por Kuldip Rampal, Cultural Imperialism or Economic Neccessity?: The Hollywood Factor in the Reshaping of the
Asian Film Industry, http://www.razonypalabra.org.mx/anteriores/n43/krampal.html
style, dressing, or even imitate the name of Hollywood, as such.
Bollywood is a name of Indian movie industry, the name is primarily based on the Western city of Bombay. Bollywood movie mainly focuses on the Indian traditional songs and dance, and love storylines. It produces more than 800 feature films3 each year in many languages. As a result of Hollywoodization, the Bollywood began to touch more on the love scenes and sex scenes.
But to some conservatives, the new trend in Bollywood is threatening the values and culture of the Indian people. In the past, Bollywood was bound strongly to the storylines of good and evil, boys meet girls, and family oriented. Hence, the influence of Hollywood is transplanting the Western ideas, which are extremely rude, to Indian society. It seems that Bollywood depends too much on the Western idea and Hollywood, where it could diminish the real and traditional cultural identity of India. Hong Kong film industry also gains the Hollywood influence, but the film producers of Hong Kong take some inspiration from the Hollywood without losing the national identity and eliminating their products. There are many Hong Kong movies follow and imitate the Hollywood style of production. John Woo, Hong Kong film director, he adopts the style of American director Sam Peckinpah.4 In the late 1990s, Korean film industry also integrates the Hollywood action- thriller approach to the Korean cinematic style.
Action film is the symbol of Hollywood, Korean film industry has been trying to develop its production capability in producing action film, to be more similar to the Hollywood, by employing more complicated digital imagery and special
effects. Hollywoods influence also appears in Thai film industry. Similar to Korea, the success of action film of Hollywood makes Thai film industry release Beautiful Boxer in 2003 which the director adopted the action-drama style for making this film.5 There are differences between Asian media and American media, and between Asian film values and American film values, but the success of sex appealing and nudity of Bollywood films assures that the Hollywoodization is overwhelming the Indian audiences. In Hong Kong, Korea, and Thailand, the action movies influenced by
3 Por Kuldip Rampal, Cultural Imperialism or Economic Neccessity?: The Hollywood Factor in the Reshaping of the Asian Film Industry, http://www.razonypalabra.org.mx/anteriores/n43/krampal.html 4 Por Kuldip Rampal, Cultural Imperialism or Economic Neccessity?: The Hollywood Factor in the Reshaping of the Asian Film Industry, http://www.razonypalabra.org.mx/anteriores/n43/krampal.html 5 Beautiful Boxer, directed by Ekachai Uekrongtham, 2003. The movie based on true story of a transgender kick boxer, Nong Thoom, Parinya Charoenphol. The critics analyzed this film as touchy and funny.
Hollywood became more popular from time to time.
Since Hollywood influences the movie industries around the world, on the other side, Hollywood as well gains the benefits from its Hollywoodization. Hollywood tries to take advantage of its popularity over local audiences and distribute films in many other languages.
Todays Hollywood is beyond entertainment, but its entering the business. The cause of producing
and distributing movies in foreign languages is not only to entertain people internationally, otherwise, it is to diversify the foreign markets and gain more market share. Hollywood is becoming an export industry, making movies primarily serve people outside the US.6 China and India are assumed to be the larger movie markets over Europe whereas Hollywood is expected to still influence the Asian film industries. The success of Asian films based on the structure of Hollywoods success.
As time goes by, the movies were produced differently. Hollywood is now responding to a wider social trend and circumstances.
Nowadays Hollywood films express much about the women abusive, the human rights, the child protection, sexual harassment, and etc. This responding is seen as an echo of the society. After 1929, the Hollywood film industry has been influencing the reconstruction of American values, the Americans were driven to accept the new social values. Hollywood is recently in a New Deal Era where there are changes in attitudes, ideals, and social values.
Hollywood movie is a mass communication, because movie and its plot is simple and easy to understand. Some people see movie as harmless and no serious thought is required during watching movies. Movie is a mass culture product, they are designed to please undifferentiated audience.7 Movie contains different kinds of culture while it needs to please flavor of people who are from various cultures.
Furthermore, movie is a part of modern society development, it more or less shapes the way people live and interact within the society. It is a powerful and influential source of ideas. People can be inspired after watching movie while their way of living may change or shift from the traditional ones. Movie is a worldwide cultural influence, it is important in shaping visual perspectives. The people see movies visually, they are exposed to the movie by motion picture, thus people will always see their life visually through their imagination based on what they have seen in the movies.
To be global is to be American.8 Hollywood film industry, to me, is a form of media
6 Klein, 2003
7 Jowett, G, & Linton, JM, Movies as Mass Communication 1980
8 Branston, G, Cinema and Cultural Modernity 2000, p.66
imperialism. Hollywood for a long time, has been influencing in many aspects of the world. As mentioned before that Hollywood is an American instrument, so the access of Hollywood to the world is the access of America. So the world society which is seen as globalized but it is subtly Americanized. By watching movie, the audiences get the pseudo-involvement with the scenes portrayed in the movie. After they are exposed to the movie, they sense the reality and the possibility from the movie where the movies can move the audiences. It means that the intimay between movies and audiences becomes clearer and
stronger. The movies shape peoples thoughts and life as mentioned above, while the audiences are moving to perform like the characters or to be in the situations within the movies.
Hollywood movie are influential to any part of American society and the world. Perhaps, it seems that the movie producers mainly focus on producing movies to involve with American politics and world politics. In the past, the movie producers worked corporately with the US government, there were propaganda films released during Spanish-American War in 1898, and there were several movies related to the World Wars, for examples. This indicates that Hollywood and politics are inseparatable.
Role of Films and Its Prominence in International Relations
We all know that broadcasting media is one-way-communication. Film is a type of broadcasting media, but to me, film conducts two- way-communication process. Films carry the message and distribute to the viewers around the world. It seems that people only perceive the
messages without any response or feedback. Its true. But the audiences respond to those films via their actions as its has been mentioned that films influence or alter human behavior more or less. When people are exposed to films, for examples, Pearl Habor9, and the Pianist10, they could happen to favor America more and more by the message that America remained neutral during World War. Moreover, the world wide audiences may perceive that Germany and Japan were a threat to others only because to serve their national interests and become the world superpowers one day. And the worse case, the people who watched these two movies may have a negative attitude to these two nations, and negatively act and behave to the Japanese and German people. Conclusively, the feedback of the receivers may be expressed in
many forms in which those feedbacks may have an impact to the characters themselves, or to the
9 Michael Bay, 2001
10 Roman Polanski, 2002
people, the places, the nations, or whatever referred in the film.
Film provides motion picture, large image, and concrete impressive. It has an ability to capture imagination and its a powerful medium. The viewers can sense the expression of all characters visually. Film is a narrative style that depends of the personal perception and discourse. It contains psychological messages and its often a rhetorical device of social circumstances, political situations, real life aspect, and so forth.
Propaganda is a powerful persuasive message and it has an ability to produce and spread fertile message11, thus film with a propaganda values has an influential and effective consequences. Film is used as a propaganda tool, it contains propaganda dialogue in the conversations of the roles in the movie. The blending together of film and propaganda reflects the world of fiction where film is fiction and propaganda is a message that has a purpose with intention of the one who generates it.
Film propaganda in Nazi Germany12 remains one of the most notorious examples of the political spectacle in the 20th century. It represented the aestheticization of politics where the masses are brought face-to-face with themselves.13 Meanwhile, America also has film propaganda, Casablanca14 is one of many films fully called propaganda film, the film was invented during WWII, and the story telling has also taken place during WWII as well.
Casablanca is a kind of cinematic discourse where the producer tried to contain the romance story among the war situation. The Moraccan city of Casablanca was a place for the people who escaped from the war in Europe stayed and may fled away to the third nation. Rick who is an American, the main character of the movie has been portrayed as a symbol of America, who was very generous helping people to escape to America, and had a bitter memory of love. The messages of this film is obvious, America remained neutral and benevolent.
A propaganda film uses the sense of drama and technical resources and it became a learning material for people to learn about big events, processes, war crimes, and etc. Because learning through plays and visual is more preferable than reading or attending a history class.
In America propaganda films were used in domestic politics. Many candidates who ran for the president of America put their campaigns in the propaganda film and used the fame of movie stars
11Combs, ST, & Combs, JE, Film, Propaganda, and American Politics 1994
12 period of Nazi Germany, between the time that Hitler rose to power, January 30, 1933, and when Admiral Karl DÃ¶nitz
surrendered to the Allies, May 8, 1945
13 Haskins, EV, Time, Space, and Political Identity: Envisioning Community in Triumph of the Will, eBook collection
14 Michael Curtiz, 1942
to take roles in the film. To me, propaganda film of America is a communication of democracies, the candidates deliver a sense of democracy through the movie and raise up their popularity via the film at the same time. Accordingly, public opinion is the most important thing for the American government, so the propaganda films became the political tool for the international affairs of America to other countries in the world. America began with the propaganda film on the Spanish-American war in 1898. On the other way around, after the world war era has ended, the films include the propaganda values in terms of cultural values, fame values, traditional values, human rights values, freedom of expression values, and so on. Hence, the era was changed but the technique of containing propaganda messages through films still unchanged, the messages are subtly cultivated in films and let the viewers learn through plays and dialogues, due to propaganda consequence is long- term and indeterminate.15
Film is a language of power. It directs and leads actions of the people, because films always evoke widespread public support. The objectives of the film producers are different, some of them call for public support, some of them want commercial profits, some of them work corporately with the government which their objectives are under government, and some of them oppose the government. The Hollywood film producers during WWII, worked corporately with the American government to express the advocacy of telling the audience that the war was worth fighting and must be won at all cost, for example.16 The films often encourage the nationalism and the participation of the people in a country and the ones who residing outside. On the other side, the movie makes who patriotic to their nations as well, but do not like the way the government acts. They make sarcastic films to the government to call for the responsibility to the society, to motivate public concerns, and to change the potential risk created by the national government. For example, the City of God, the Brazilian film, the film talks about the city provided by the Brazilian government to the poor and homeless people. The government built the houses for those poor people but the hidden agenda of the government was to kick those slum people out of Brazilia and Rio de Janeiro, in case the Brazilian government was trading off between development of the country and poor people who seemed to contribute nothing to the country. The
and sexual harassment. Those beautiful houses do not higher standard of their living.
Another role of film is the promotion of peace. There is some films talk about the success of the peace process, and some of films represent the angle where there are many places in the world still suffering from the poverty and food crisis. UN is considered as one of the most important and active non-governmental organization of the world, the UN uses the strength of film to create several films to call for more concerns on the children, human rights, women, freedom of expression, displacement people, immigrants, and etc. The main purposes of UN films are to raise funds and donations, to each and acknowledge the public, and to remind the world.
The UN film festival in Thailand was held last year in order to recognize people and acknowledge them about refugees. There were four movies selected to represent to the audiences.
Those four movies are Sergio17, moving to Mars18, the visitor19, and the heart of Jenin20. The festival features award-winning films and documentaries giving voice to seldom-heard refugee stories of hope, despair and resilience. The selected films will provide a rare opportunity for Thai public to look at the stories of refugees who are forced to flee their homes to escape persecution, wars, or conflict.21
Last but not least, the film also cultivates the values to the audiences. Under the cultivation theory, after the people watched films, they have sensed the pseudo involvement and feel like they are parts of that movie. They then absorbed whatever values and messages remained in the film and adapt to their daily life. It is to say that if you want the people to perceive the values of your
countries, its easier to put in the movies and distribute those movies to them. Cultivation theory is a theory of how the people are nurtured and taught. But in case of film, the cultivation theory can be applied as the cultivation on the exposure to films of the people and how much they absorb the values in films. For example, after Thai people have exposed to the Korean series, the Thais are obsessed to the Korean things, such as, Korean cosmetics, Korean dancing culture, Korean food, Korean singers. Some Thais are now Korean materialism because they favor Korean values and believe that it is the most fantastic culture of the world. Film cultivates the images of society, it produces a long-term exposure, the people are
intention of the film maker was to disclose the
reality of Brazilian society, in which even the poor people were provided the house, but they were still uneducated, they still involved with drugs, fights,
15 Combs, ST, & Combs, JE, Film, Propaganda, and American Politics 1994
16 Chapter 1, Background
17 Documentary Editing Award, Sundance Film Festival 2009, Director : Greg Barker
18 Best Documentary, Grierson Award 2011,Director : Mat Whitecross
19 Academy Award (2009), Best Actor Nominee: Richard
Jenkins Director : Tom McCarthy
20 Best Documentary, German Film Award 2010 Germany
growing up and living with film, TV series, and other types of visual media.
Film is an ideological product and a construction of an image, it becomes an important and integral part of the people since there are more than thousands films from several different countries, and production and distribution companies come out each year. As mentioned above, film not only conquers the domestic circumstances of each nation, but it also reinforces the performance, behavior, and ideology of the overseas community and the international relations between states to states, states to non-states, and non-states to non-states, as such. Film is seen as a representative of both cultural and political authority to national and international spheres.
The Possible Effects of Globalization to the Role of Films in International Relations
Globalization makes film becomes cosmopolitan product in which those films carry direct effects and sided-effects to societies.
The access of film internationally breaks down barriers to entry, e.g. anti-American attitude, anti-German attitude, materialism, anti- Islamic attitude, and etc, and brings the world audiences closer and make more understanding of each others.
Globalization encourages film to play an active role in the international relations world. Nowadays, the improvement of technology allows us to have colored films that are being viewed internationally. Furthermore, nicer motion pictures represented in films persuade people to watch films more and more. The development of camera, make up trend, fashion industry, the advance of tape recorders and video recorders, and etc, are the factors that make films become more preferable.
Such the effects of globalization provide more facilities and higher technologies in making films, so today films are produced much faster than the consumption of film.
Films also influence the cooperation of human organizations. For example, Milk, the film reinforces gays and other minority groups of people to put more concern on their life and rights.
The global films often conduct violence, drug abuse, sex abuse, and other kinds of violence overseas. Programs that contain the violent materials travel fast with the expression of motion picture and sound.
The effect of globalization to film further makes film becomes a cultural product where it could have cultural effects to any society that the film goes through. It seems that the American culture is superior over the rest of the world. English is a global language but American English is widely speaking. Speaking American English is a manifestation of a new class society.
The film is used as a propaganda to make known to the public, where it sometimes used as a commercial communicator to advertise or to publicize the profit companies or the business organizations.
Possible Motivations of America in Promoting American Cultures through Hollywood Movies
To conclude from 30 Hollywood movies I have selected and watched, the possible motivations of America are as listed;
To propagandize the bright side and good wills of America.
To publicize the reputation of America
To promote the nationalism of American people and use this nationalism aspect as
their own defensive tool to the others interference or invading.
To liberalize the world, since the Hollywood movies tried to express the freedom of expression to make the people from all over the world realize their human rights and became more independent.
To spread out the lifestyle, value, and ideology of America to the world.
From five possible motivations above, the possible core interest of America in promoting its culture through Hollywood movies is to dominate the other cultural communities around the world and become the only culture of the world. We may used to hear that we all could make our culture becomes unique, while we also need to accept other cultures. But, America is doing differently, as I have seen through 30 selected Hollywood movies. America is likely to make its own culture as a universal culture in which every nation or community has to accept American culture and adopt those American cultures as their own culture.
On other way around, it is likely that America is trying to throw out the political messages where there were other nations mentioned or related in some movies. The Hollywood World War stories always contained some of those countries who were important actors during the period. Some of the stories made me believe that the nations mentioned in Hollywood movies were bad to mankind, like Jews, they were brutal, and they were opposite to Americans ideology who always remained neutral during the war crimes.
The reasons that America wants to dominate other cultural community because nowadays we are living in the liberal world with high level of cooperation in which the people-to- people interactions are more encouraged. Its easier to subtly access to peoples minds. To use movie as a tool is preferable to America. Additionally, since America could possibly dominate other cultural community, America may be able to spread the
capitalism to any nation in the world. American culture could make the entire world becomes the only one cultural community, and it could encourage this single community to be capitalism led by America.
Expected Cultural Effects of Hollywood Movies to the Audience
After exposing to the movies, the people may turn to speak American accent, they may also adopt those American slangs and jargons to their daily life. Regarding to my survey, almost a half of survey pool, 77 people, they adopted the language they have heard from the movies to their life.
Thirty eight people, whose favorite nationality of movie is American, accepted that they absorb the American English spoken in movies to their speaking accent.
Generally, I believe that most of people around the world speak American English accent more than any other language.
According to my survey, once again, around two third of the total survey pool adopted the lifestyles represented in the movie to their usual lifestyle. They behave, they dressed, and they express their feeling or rights according to the movies they have exposed to.
As it appears that there is a rating system for the movies nowadays, one reason is to protect the audience from exploring to the violence, and crimes, and to protect the teen audiences from sex and drug abusive. The teens and some people always imitate things occur in the movies. Some of them had sex before an appropriate time, and it sometimes causes abortion, and other social problem. Some of them committed suicide imitating the scene happened in the movies.
The main lifestyles appeared in the movies are partying, smoking, and drinking alcoholic beverages. These kinds of lifestyle were mutually and commonly include in every of those 30 movies.
In the other societies nowadays seemed to absorb and adopt these lifestyles to their routine life. For example, since I have watched these movies, I think that to celebrate something, I should then organize the party, and make the alcoholic beverages as the main drinks. And from my survey, some of my samples believed that smoking is a personal behavior, and its acceptable in Thai society.
Value and Ideology Effect
Regarding to my survey, only one third of the survey pool adopted the ideology and values taken place in the movie to their real life. It means that the ideology and value culture affect the life of the audience the least. Otherwise, the ideology and values contained in Hollywood movies always
cause the behavior and thought changed in some people. For example, it appeared that America was the worst during World Wars, but after watching the movies about World Wars, some other countries were bad, killing others brutally and cruelly.
Freedom seemed to be the main ideology of America as it normally appeared in the movies. Freedom must be granted and to fight was to gain freedom. Moreover, most of the movies represented that America is the best nation in the world with benevolence, moral, and ethic. During World Wars, America was the only nation who remained neutral, and tried to ignore the war. But at the end, when the wars became more violent and brutal, and spread through many nations around the world, America became a hero who declared war with the enemy of freedom and helped those nations who have been invaded.
This turned out that after watching Hollywood movies, some people believe that freedom could bring peace, and they require more freedom to their life.