Tuesday, May 13, 2008


"Unlike those articulate elites who acted as voices of the political status quo, the tradition in film studies has always been enriched by an element of oppositionalism. The political persuasion of many influential writers on film was radical. The effort to legitimate film as a fine art, however, drove them to adopt the elitist discourse of traditional aesthetics. The populist aspects of mass culture could scarcely be appreciated in such terms. The demotic materials were threatening to elites--even progressive ones--because they challenged the status quo which elitist aesthetics presupposed. Overseas audiences saw displayed in American movies mores, values and attitudes they took to be subversive of local custom and political arrangement. American films were marked by an aggressive egalitarianism in dress, speech, action, relations between the sexes, and access to the basic necessities of the good life, as well as by an attitude implicit in their mode of address to the audience that they were out to please. This was and continues to be part of their attraction and of their threat."

-- Ian Jarvie, "Free trade as cultural threat: American film and TV exports in the post-war period" in Hollywood and Europe: Economics, Culture, National Identity: 1945-95 (eds. Ricci & Nowell-Smith)

"The external aspect was less the model of better unified states, but rather the invasive and disruptive threat of movies from a nation that did not have a single culture--the United States. The vitriolic descriptions of the United States by European intellectuals, especially German and French, are some indication of how it was feared. Ignoring the snobbery of such arguments, there was a danger: American movies did depict a society that was emphatically egalitarian in outlook, even if not in outcomes, democratic to a populist T, and manifestly multicultural. Through all the distortions of American films, no audience could imagine that the Wild West, the southern plantations, the urban jungles and the idyllic small towns, all depicted so deftly, amounted to a single culture. One reason, perhaps, why the United States was so often denounced as a 'mongrel' society. In other words, the actual nation-building project under way in many recipient countries was not consonant with the national and cultural model of the United States. The American model de-naturalizes purificatory nationalisms and tends therefore to undermine them."

--Ian Jarvie, "National Cinema: A theoretical assessment," in Cinema & Nation (eds. Hjort & MacKenzie, 2000)

Coming across the claptrap at the top recently, I knew it sounded familiar--I read the other Jarvie article some months back. Whatever else Jarvie (a student & advocate of Karl Popper, and probably emeritus by now) has put out, these two articles despite their presumed subject matter ultimately function as little more than mindless rah-rah encomia to Hollywood cinema. He takes certain sound premises and half-truths and situates them just so. Then the blanket assertions he makes that seem downright ridiculous to anyone with eyes are just how decently open, egalitarian, democratic, and multicultural American cinema is and has been for years. The more devious thing he sneaks into the articles is the notion that Hollywood product = popular culture (no complications, no nuances, no ifs/ands/buts--H'wood "just" makes great fun movies for affordable prices), therefore resistance to that product (on the market and in economistic terms, in terms of indigenous cultural traditions, even in terms of aesthetics) is necessarily to embrace fearful elitism of good fashioned fun for all regular folks everywhere.

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