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<eyebeam><blast> MAI '98

On February 18, Stephen Linhardt replied to my post about French 
response to the proposed Multilateral Agreement on Investment:

"It's nice for government to encourage originality (linguistic or 
otherwise) but if other expression must be stopped in order to 
accomplish that goal... that's censorship."

The notion that the French would engage in censorship is amusing. Paris 
is a city where public theaters show movies from all over the globe, 
which means Africa, Russia and the former Eastern bloc, Latin America, 
Asia, and the Middle East, in addition to the usual Continental and 
American suspects. That is so because lots of people are curious about 
how other people live and make meaning out of their lives. Truly 
uncensored cinema is, as Raoul Ruiz puts it, a machine for traveling in 
space and time.

That little utopia, however, is rejoining its dying breed, for reasons 
involving economies of scale and the facts of a competitive system, 
which hold sway here as they do elsewhere - except when the national or 
European government intervenes. The problem is this: big-budget American 
movies and TV programs already make a profit on the large American 
internal market. These already paid-for products can then be sold 
cheaply abroad. They are also increasingly geared to simplistic types of 
sensorial-psychological stimulation that operate on infra-cultural, 
infra-linguistic levels. So they "work" everywhere. American films 
presently account for 80% of sales in the European community. In 1995 
they held 90% of the Eastern European market, as compared to 30% in 
1989. No one in Europe wants to stop creative American films from being 
seen by the public. On the contrary, there is great interest in such 
films. There is also great interest in legislation to ensure that 80 to 
90% won't become 100%. Most of this legislation simply involves giving a 
financial advantage (an "unfair" advantage, in MAI logic) to small 
producers and distributors. That's not exactly censorship.

Culture is a domain to which people are extremely sensitive, because it 
provides a way of understanding oneself, a kind of shared name for 
oneself, a reason to live together: and when the symbolic environment 
becomes so oppressively laden with a dominant type of content in a 
single language, one begins to wonder if one's obscure and different 
self even exists. On this account you can hardly weep for a powerful 
country like France, when there are so many smaller countries and 
language groups suffering proportionately greater problems. But French 
intellectuals sometimes feel the responsibility of occasionally speaking 
in solidarity with their less powerful neighbors. Many are now trying to 
force their government to speak up too.

I'm not terribly optimistic about the government ("socialist" is often 
considered a synonym of "sellout" here). But I still have high hopes 
that things could get interesting. Especially since cinema is far from 
the only thing at stake in the globalization game.

Brian Holmes

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