Competing with Hollywood

LONDON: Just over one hundred years ago, one of the nineteenth century's greatest novelists said: "It was wonderful to find America, but it would have been more wonderful to miss it." So wrote Mark Twain - a man whose work is almost synonymous with America itself.

When Twain wrote those words it must have seemed possible to live life unaffected by America. Movies, jazz, advertising - all the modern American icons had yet to be born. Today, American culture feels all-pervasive. "Globalization" of our societies, development of the internet, the spread of liberal economics; all shrink boundaries to a point where it is impossible to avoid the American way of life, however devoutly some might wish to do so.

Given the seemingly ubiquitous nature of American culture, how should we respond? There seem to be two ingrained ways of contemplating the spread of American influence. The first sees American culture solely as a threat, with thousands of years of European history about to be swept away by a flood of crass images, cheap soundbites and mental junk food.

No country feels more threatened than France, where one intemperate intellectual went so far as to describe EuroDisney as a "cultural Chernobyl... a construction of hardened chewing gum and idiotic folklore taken straight out of comic books written for obese Americans." Less stridently, such fears also manifest themselves from time to time in Germany, the UK and just about every other country in Western Europe -and, for different reasons, in Eastern Europe too.