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Debate: Hollywood’s Influence

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Does Hollywood have a negative impact on the world?

Background and context

In this topic ‘Hollywood’ is used loosely to stand for the cultural products of the USA, so popular in the rest of the world; principally films, television programmes, music and global broadcasters such as CNN, Disney and MTV. The success of Hollywood is undoubted; in 1998 the 39 most successful movies were all American, and in Europe the domestic film industries struggle to hold even 30% of their national market share. The issue of America’s cultural influence is perhaps felt most profoundly in France, where President Jacques Chirac said in 1999 that France refused “to consider cultural products like ordinary goods, subject solely to the law of the market.” This attitude is reflected in large subsidies (over $500 million) to French creative industries and in laws which limit the amount of foreign material on television and in cinemas. Such cultural protectionism has become a major issue in WTO negotiations.

Contents

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Argument #1

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Yes

Moral. Hollywood films glorify sex and violence, attacking the moral values of all societies and leading their young astray. Even in America the ethical values of Hollywood have come under considerable attack in the 2000 Presidential race.

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No

Again,not all Hollywood movies are the same – some are pornographic or gratuitously violent, but this is true of cinema elsewhere too. Taken as a whole, Hollywood movies actually tend to promote liberal values of universal significance, e.g. women’s rights, the evils of tyranny, the independent worth of each human life, and the possibilities of individual success through hard work. It is hardly surprising that those countries which most wish to ban American films are those who least value these values, e.g. China.

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Argument #2

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Yes

Artistic. Hollywood films are poor, lowest-common denominator pulp, relying on special effects and large quantities of sex and violence to mask preposterous plots, weak dialogue and poor acting. The studios’ addiction to test audiences leads to unadventurous films, with compulsory happy endings and slushy morals.

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No

Hollywood movies are internationally successful because they are popular. Films made in Hollywood can be rubbish, but they can also be terrific – as can films made anywhere else in the world. In any case, it is elitist to condemn films made purely for lightweight escapism for lack of “artistic credibility”. If the public wanted “artistic credibility” it would be profitable and be provided by the studios.

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Argument #3

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Yes

Cultural. Hollywood imposes American entertainment and its language on the world, at the expense of indigenous cultures and languages, and of domestic film industries. Globalisation of entertainment threatens to result in a bland, American-flavoured uniformity.

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No

Hollywood’s success does not mean failure for domestic film industries elsewhere in the world, e.g. India’s hugely successful Bollywood, and the recently thriving French, Spanish, Iranian and Chinese-language cinema. Instead the attraction of Hollywood movies may help to create an infrastructure of cinemas and marketing methods, as well as a film-going public eager for a more varied diet of entertainment, stimulating the development of thriving indigenous film studios.

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Argument #4

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Yes

Political. Hollywood promotes a biased and peculiarly American view of the world. Hollywood portrays a simplistic good vs. evil view of international conflicts, in which stereotyped and negative images of Muslims, Russians, South Americans, etc. are presented as the enemies of freedom and progress. Hollywood even distorts history, with numerous second-world war films downplaying the contribution of other nations to allied victory, and anachronistic innovations in period drama designed to show Americans in a favourable light.

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No

Hollywood is far from typically or monolithically American, instead its concentration of creative resources have made it an international centre for the production of entertainment. Many of its most successful producers, directors and stars have in fact been foreigners, coming to the USA either as refugees or because they sought the international audience which Hollywood can provide. Recently cross-fertilisation has taken place, with acclaimed directors from a variety of non-English language film cultures bringing new perspectives to Hollywood at the same time as creating internationally successful hit movies.

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Argument #5

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Yes

Economic. The sheer size and financial power of Hollywood’s major studios allows them to dominate foreign cinemas at the expense of domestic industries which cannot compete with them. This is achieved through big budgets associated with very expensive special effects, huge salaries for star actors from around the world, who may be lost to their own film industry as a result, and immense marketing budgets. Hollywood has also lobbied the US very effectively over decades to ensure cultural exports are classed as just another form of trade in international agreements, and to help it gain control over distribution networks abroad.

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No

If money guaranteed success then small-budget films such as “The Full Monty” would never become international hits, and expensive monsters such as “Waterworld” would always succeed. Similarly, the French government has been throwing money at its domestic film industry for years, yet the market share of American films in France has continued to rise. In any case, most of the major studios in Hollywood are, of have recently been, owned by non-American companies.

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