[chronicle] After the United States refused to sign the UNESCO Convention on Cultural Diversity in October 2005, the criticism hailed. The US protest was interpreted as evidence of how the cultural-imperialist Hollywood plays a key role in America's pursuit of its world hegemony.
On the other hand, UNESCO's focus on the axis between Hollywood-Washington as the great enemy is a poor fruitful starting point for the preservation and development of our cultural diversity. Unesco's involvement in the Hollywood phenomenon so much reveals an equally one-dimensional attitude to the challenges of cultural globalization that they accuse Hollywood of representing.
Silly American culture. Oddly enough, over a year later, this part of the debate has passed silently. This is despite the fact that the Convention goes against UNESCO's manifesto in a number of areas: respecting the fertile diversity of cultures, supporting free flow of ideas, preserving our cultural world heritage and facilitating today's cultural creativity for good living conditions.
Predictably, many critics argued that the United States' "no way" could be interpreted as an opposition to cultural diversity in itself. For the United States – which rejoined Unesco in 2003 after excluding itself since 1984 – however, it was about economics. Above all, they demanded the absence of anti-market quota schemes.
This did not prevent Mode Steinkjer, cultural editor of Dagsavisen (October 25, 2005), from defending the convention on the grounds that it could “contribute to the unification and commercialization not extending further beyond the United States. When small nations and smaller language areas are given tools to build support for cultural identity, it helps prevent the world from becoming – to borrow an American film title – Stupid and stupider.
Thus, like so many others, Steinkjer draws a similarity between American culture and the most silly Hollywood has to offer. Such performances are at best prejudicial. What would he have said if an American had said that Norwegian culture was tantamount to the film comedy Cold Feet?
Babel. Of course, this does not mean that we should blow into the economic differences in strength between different cultural spheres. The challenge is rather how to deal with this – one-sided protectionism or differentiated countermeasures? Should an offensive tactic be chosen, where diversity is made more accessible through broader exchange channels?
Or should, like Unesco, aim for a defensive strategy, where local cultures should preferably be transformed into strictly guarded national museums?
UNESCO promoted the Convention to strengthen the nations' cultural self-reliance and identity. But what kind of criteria should determine the "national identity" of a cultural expression in the transnational 21st century? Take the globalization-typical movie Babel from 2006. The funding comes from American Viacom, where also British Barclays Plc. and French AXA has equity shares. Four production companies (one US), seven distribution companies (two US), and two special effects companies (one of which is US) are involved.
The film takes place in three continents and four languages (five if you count deaf language); English, Arabic, Spanish and Japanese, and recorded in Mexico, Morocco and Japan. Director is Mexican Alejandro González Iñárritu. Actors include American Brad Pitt, Australian Cate Blanchett, Mexican Gael García Bernal, Japanese Rinku Kikuchi, and Moroccan Mohamed Akhzam.
Runaway production. Most egregious, however, is how Unesco ignores Hollywood's global network of production, financing and distribution. The 2001 Global Hollywood book further shows that about two-thirds of Hollywood's major films, including Superman I and Platoon, are funded by twenty transnational media and financial conglomerates based in Japan and Europe. For example, Universal Pictures has been owned by Japanese Matsushita, Canadian Seagram and French Vivendi.
In the United States, the globalization of Hollywood is often called "runaway productions." Reports from the US Chamber of Commerce, Directors Guild of America and Screen Actors Guild say that approximately 125.000 jobs in the United States were lost in the 1990s in connection with this. At the same time, the economic value of this relocation has risen from $ 1990 billion in 10.3 to $ 1998 billion in XNUMX. Among the most popular recording countries are Hungary and Mexico.
Another example of this was reported by the Indian Hindustan Times (December 9, 2005). "There is a clear belief among Indian authorities that after IT, India can become an important flagship name for international film productions," said Dilpeep Singh Rathore, owner of On The Road Productions. Rathore's company supplies the larger film studios with location information, local technicians and government permits.
Wings and roots. Does it matter that Platoon was financed by French money? Isn't it a Hollywood movie no matter where the money comes from? Possibly. But by accepting this incomplete basis of understanding as a premise for cultural analysis, it is revealed that Unesco does not seem to care about the material infrastructure behind Hollywood – only in the surface of the films and the threats they allegedly make to UNESCO's idea of "national cultures".
However, this is not an argument for burying the term "national culture". The idea is simply to take into account that "national cultural expressions" often have multinational developmental histories. The UNESCO Convention, where such considerations are rarely held, therefore signals a cultural understanding that is not adapted to our times. We need other ways to deal with cultural diversity.
Cosmopolitanism offers a key to resolving this tangle. Sociologist Ulrich Beck writes about rooted cosmopolitanism, with both "roots" and "wings" at the same time. If we are to understand Hollywood's popularity, then it is not enough to just marvel at the global popularity of the Hollywood phenomenon – that is, the "wing part".
We must also know the film's production history, its economic framework conditions, legal aspects and culturally diverse usage patterns – in short, the "root part", the transnational division of labor that makes the Hollywood system possible. This will make us better able to understand the global and local connections between the superstars' mega-salaries, the World Trade Organization (WTO), On the Road Productions, the visitor numbers to Casino Royale, and the sour guy at the ticket office at Saga cinema.
UNESCO is the UN's organization for education, science, culture and communication. A longer version of the article is printed in the last issue of the journal Argument.