Monday, October 20, 2008

Oh Hollywood

We've spent a fair amount of time reading and talking about cultural imperialism and the dominance of American media abroad, specifically the dominance of Hollywood. I was on today and I noticed they had a list of the top grossing movies of the weekend.
  1. Max Payne
  2. Beverly Hills Chihuahua
  3. The Secret Life of Bees
  4. W.
  5. Eagle Eye
  6. Body of Lies
  7. Quarantine
  8. Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist
  9. Sex Drive
  10. Nights in Rodanthe
My first thought was, I can't believe Beverly Hills Chihuahua is doing so well. My second thought was how diverse these movies are. From the action movie Max Payne, Oliver Stone's political commentary "W", the CIA thriller "Body of Lies," the tween-tastic "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist" and the comedy "Sex Drive" all in one category. Obviously different films are made for different audiences but what do you think this variety says about American society? How do you think that these 10 movies contribute to a positive image or foster a negative image of America?

Hollywood movies make a significant amount of profits from the foreign box office. Hollywood films are successful in foreign markets partly because the distribution system of Hollywood is so well developed, partly because the production techniques are so advanced and partly because the themes of some movies cross over to other cultures easily. This is not always the case, however. Movies such as "Forrest Gump" did not succeed outside of the American context. Do you think movies such as "W" taken out of the America would be popular abroad or do you think on a whole people would not be able to understand it?


gayatri murthy said...

I think you make an interesting point. Just the diversity of these movies on the list, both independent, mainstream, is indeed presenting many slices of America.

If I have to fall back on my experience, then I have to say, most independent movies like the Secret Life of Bees and Nick and Norah's infinite playlist don't travel as well as say the next Spiderman movie would. They might still travel to Europe with much enthusiasm, but such movies do not have such a big audience in Asia for example. This might have much to do with language barriers and distributors too might be more interested in selling low context movies that offer bigger business.

I, would qualify that such movies do come to India, but will only be shown in big cities like Bombay and Delhi where there is larger elite English speaking audience that have a greater engagement with American popular culture. Ergo, I saw all the independent movies growing up, but that was pretty against the norm.

Jo Wiseman said...

I think it’s very important to make a distinction between the accessibility of American movies to other western societies and to the East?/Non-West?/insert your classification? societies. For example, Forest Gump was very popular in Western Europe countries and Australasia whereas it may not have been received as well in Asia.

With regards to the current movies, I think you can argue the differences between them are not so vast. The primary goal of all in the top 10 are to entertain their audiences and bring in revenue. They are mainstream Hollywood productions filmed from a US ethno-perspective. Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist is an example of how indie cinema is being infiltrated or utilized by Hollywood. W. limits it’s political satire in favor of established comedic acts and cannot be considered a particularly ‘revealing’ political commentary. In the Secret Life of Bees, the political and social structure of the book is also diminished to appeal to a broader audience. And so on...

None of the movies are foreign films, reflecting the power of the US film industry. Find another country where the top 10 are all domestic productions?

I think this goes to the discussion today regarding the medium as the message. In The Secret Life of Bees, The Golden Compass, Lord of the Rings, Chocolat and most movies adapted from books, the content and the message (frequently the ending) is significantly altered as the medium changes from print to screen.

W. could be popular outside America, as he is an internationally recognized and highly controversial figure who has drastically influenced the current global climate. The themes it touches on would cross cultures, particularly throughout the western world. That said, the interest in W. has dwindled rapidly as a result of the upcoming elections which have most of the world transfixed.

Yana said...

It's a little late in this discussion but an interesting tidbit I might add is that I read about how two Jessica Simpson movies, which made almost no money in the U.S and went straight to dvd, did extremely well in Russia and Ukraine, and maybe other Eastern Euro countries as well (I only read about the first two). I wonder what cultural factors influence Jessica Simpson being so popular in such a specific part of the world, without her work being so popular in her home country, much less globally. It's an interesting dynamic, and I can't really think of any other examples similar to this. Anyone else?

Huong said...

In response to Yana's question, Jessica Simpson is big in Vietnam too. The reason she is popular? Sexy, blond and her music is easy to understand by Asian. I used to think that she is an American icon before I came here. Another reason is that, MTV Asia plays an important role in promoting some singers like Jessica. Digging further into question why do they promote this artist, I really don't have any idea. But I have to say that I am now glad to know that American music is more than that.