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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Why do most Americans tune out the rest of the world’s pop culture?

A.O. Scott in The New York Times wonders at “the peculiar and growing irrelevance of world cinema in American movie culture.” In a piece about how the Oscars — up to and including the new batch of nominations — miss recognizing the complexity and breadth of film outside Hollywood, Scott writes that he see this as:

the continuation of a 30-year trend. As fashion, gaming, pop music, social media and just about everything else have combined to shrink the world and bridge gaps of culture and taste, American movie audiences seem to cling to a cautious, isolationist approach to entertainment.

This is one of the things I’ve found very frustrating about the United States, and one reason why I wanted to come to London for a while, to escape what Scott calls America’s “cultural protectionism”:

In the past (notably in France in the 1980s and early ’90s) there were protests against American cultural imperialism, but those seem to have waned lately. Whether this is because our imperial hegemony has overwhelmed the possibility of even rhetorical resistance or because, on the contrary, the empire is not as mighty as it used to be, is a topic for another day. My concern here is more with cultural protectionism — the impulse not to conquer the rest of the world but rather to tune it out.

I do not want to not scold American audiences for failing to buy tickets to subtitled movies. Not today, anyway. Public indifference to (or ignorance of) films from beyond Hollywood or its “indie” provinces is routinely invoked as a reason that such films are not more widely available. And so the movies vanish into a vicious circle in which their marginal status is at once assumed and assured.

I’ve been astonished when I’ve traveled outside the U.S. — and I’m not even that well traveled — how easily ordinary, mainstream, comparatively unadventurous consumers of media are able to digest the output of cultures beyond their own. (I remember listening to a pop radio station in Paris and being astonished to realize that maybe only one song in three was actually in French; there were lots of English-language, German, and Swedish songs mixed in there.) The majority Americans seem unable or unwilling to do that, however, to the point that American TV networks feel they have to remake even TV shows that are in the English language for American viewers, as if even the slightest bit of cultural dislocation would be so off-putting that no one would watch… and that may not be an incorrect assumption. But why?

Why do most Americans tune out the rest of the world’s pop culture?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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