The Americanization of Popular Culture Should Terrify Us All

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Professor Violaine Roussel Photo courtesy of Annenberg School of Communication, USC

The verdict is in and Hollywood has won the global war of cultural domination, according Professor Violaine Roussel, a French scholar who’s had unusual access to the California entertainment industry. In other words, American culture, packaged neatly in film and television for worldwide consumption, has cast a shadow over cultural products in much of the world.

“The influence of Hollywood has definitely grown these past years, these past decades,” the University of Paris professor tells Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer in the latest installment of “Scheer Intelligence.” “And that’s true in the realm of cinema, and of course, maybe even more as far as TV is concerned.”

European nations, among others, are attempting to preserve their artistic industries through government subsidies. And yet state-funded works continue to fall short of the multi-million dollar American productions that flood cinema listings from Paris to Pittsburgh.

“The Americanization of the world [is] sort of a horrifying prospect when you extend it to cultural life,” remarks Scheer. “It’s one thing when we used to make very good cars, and maybe people wanted them--that’s no longer the case. [...] But the irony is that what the world seems to be most influenced by is our technology and our cultural output. And I find that depressing because it suggests a certain uniformity; it suggests a certain commercialization, a certain jingoism, in a way. What happened to world culture?”

Part of the problem with the homogenization of Hollywood’s output has been that conglomerates such as Comcast, Viacom, AT&T and others have taken over the industry. And while it may seem like movies make companies a lot of money, the profits are a pittance to these companies. The emergence of streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon raised the possibility of greater variety, but ultimately come with their own issues related to data collection. None of these companies, be they Netflix or Comcast, seem to truly care about film and television as artwork, however.

“The time of the great artist may be over in the world of entertainment that shapes the world’s culture," Scheer tells Roussell. "The American entertainment industry that shapes the world’s culture, at least you could count on somehow the maverick director, the maverick artist, the person who could open a movie and yet had an idea, the great scriptwriter--and you can’t count on that anymore.”

“Hollywood has changed, and that the power of the director, or the power of the star, is not what it used to be,” Roussell agrees. “So it’s another reason why we should try to find, collectively, any way we can to use the new tools to sort of reactivate or rejuvenate that power of the artist.”

Roussel and Scheer's discussion, which you can listen to in the media player, leads them to different conclusions regarding whether the future of film and television around the world and whether it’s even possible for artists in the film and television industry to produce less uniform, more profound work given the obstacles they face.

Credits

Host:
Robert Scheer

Producer:
Joshua Scheer