Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Baftas and cultural imperialism

A sequence of thoughts so typical of our intellectual class.
A night at the Baftas. Observed by The Guardian.

American cinema is funnier, more intelligent, provocative and entertaining, and less parochial than most British films of 2005.
Seems fairly clear, doesn't it? The American films are better; not just more popular, but better. However, ...
One of those was a Bafta given to Joe Wright, the British director of Pride & Prejudice, for his emergent talent. In his speech, he had the gumption to provide at least one subtle dig at this mean-spiritedness. The star of his film, Keira Knightley, had been bafflingly ignored for even a nomination.
Now, 'mean-spiritedness' is when the best films get the prizes, even if that doesn't please the national audience. Right? One little indication why the American films are 'less parochial', perhaps.
By contrast, Lord Puttnam's acceptance speech reminded me of the kind of self-deprecating address that the great Iceni leader Prasutagus, a staunch Roman ally, might have made to visiting Romans during their occupation. He pandered to the great and good of Hollywood almost in the way you might have thought Tony Blair did when he addressed Congress in the wake of his pact with George Bush to go to war with Iraq.
Here we get to the point. Yes, it is true that American films are better, but they are also American. And that cannot be Good, can it? Is that clear?

One further point. We know what the British tribal leaders said because Tacitus, a Roman, wrote it down, or made it up. A small point perhaps, but the British didn't write anything down, so they have left us very little. The Romans did, and have.
I realised what I had been seeing in microcosm: the triumph of American cultural imperialism. A sad reminder that we live in the modern equivalent of a Roman-occupied Britain. Prasutagus had a saving grace: one of his daughters was Boudicca. Where is her cultural equivalent now, I wonder?
No. We don't live in 'the modern equivalent of a Roman-occupied Britain'. This country gave to America even more than they have yet returned. The Ancient Britons gave very little to the Romans that wasn't dug up for better use elsewhere.

What does 'cultural imperialism' mean? That the Americans impose on us their products quite apart from their relative value? Is that what actually happens? But our writer has already said that their films are "funnier, more intelligent, provocative and entertaining". So is it that they do certain things, or even many things, better than we do? But we can't say that, can we? To say that is to claim that one culture may be better than another - a patent absurdity, as well as neo-colonialism!

Why is so much of the language of music Italian? Cultural imperialism? That's one way of putting it. You could also say that they were just better than us, and that we benefited from what they created. We took what they created, and tried to do it ourselves, the evidence for this being the words that we borrowed to help us do so. It is inelluctable that the Italians were better at making music than we were even if they also created Cesare Borgia and Benito Mussolini. One does not negate the other. Just as the Americans are better at film-making than we are with or without George Bush. If it is cultural imperialism that quality be rewarded, then let's hear it for cultural imperialism.

(via Norm)


RC said...

Interesting post...I thought it was interesting that the Constant Gardner was so ignored...

but alas...what can you do?

--RC of strangeculture.blogspot.com

NoolaBeulah said...

I must confess that I haven't seen any of the films in contention. The only ones that I get to see are those you can take a 10-year-old to. So I can't comment on the relative merits of The Constant Gardener, or anything else. What was so special about that film? I assume it was implicitly, or explicitly anti-American.

RC said...

not anti-american...it was anti-big business... :-)

and as far as this years film race goes...it's just not a year for any 10 year old friendly films with any accolades.

--RC of strangeculture.blogspot.com