Taking a Back Seat on the World Stage

The glitz and the glamour of Hollywood. Where anything is possible. Where a normal day constitutes a visit to a café frequented by Will ATS%20Hollywood%20signSmith, a stroll down a promenade side by side with Blake Lively, and the discovery that Paris Hilton’s pet chihuahua has mistaken your handbag for its home.  ‘Hollywood’ evokes more than just a film label. It encapsulates an important crossroad for international film with a rich history, a prosperous past and an uncertain future. While Hollywood remains a central character on the world stage of transnational film production, its current decline represents to many a changing global dynamic as cultural “contra flows” emerge (Shaefer, Karan 2010) and “boundaries between…the national and the global culture” begin to blur (Thussu, 2006).

Hollywood developed in the early 1900s in an active effort by the US to combat the rising global popularity of the French film industry, dominated by the company Pathé. By the 1930s Hollywood was responsible for 80% of films screened around the world. Filmmakers gravitated to the area, attracted by its mild climate and consistent sunlight that allowed outdoor filming all year round.  Innovative technologies saw technicolour and stereophonic sound adopted on the big screen, and cinema became a “one stop” shop for entertainment and a national pastime.

The paradigm shift that has accompanied the decline of Hollywood since the 1960s cannot be solely attributed to any one factor, but has certainly been facilitated by the emergence of contra-flows and the rise of alternate film industries around the globe. While Hollywood continues to dominate the market share of box office hits around the world, other countries such as India, Nigeria, China and Japan are beginning to make their presence known on the world stage (Evans, 2013).

What most people don’t know is that it is Bollywood, not Hollywood that is the “world’s most prolific cinema factory”. Growing in revenue at a rate of 10% per year, the Indian based industry has tripled its gross profits since 2004. Both marketing and production costs are significantly lower in India, transforming the global film industry from an elitist specialty into a common undertaking throughout the world.

The importance of major geographical locations as ‘hubs’ for communication and cultural flows is diminishing in an era of global interconnectedness. Today’s films are the definition of multicultural. American crime drama film Drive was directed by a Dane, led by a Canadian and displayed influences from Italian and Japanese culture. The Matrix was filmed in Australia with a producer from Hollywood and a stunt coordinator from Hong Kong.

Drive and That Matrix-Transnational Productions under the 'Hollywood' façade.

Drive and That Matrix-Transnational Productions under the ‘Hollywood’ façade.

All of this begs the question raised by Curtin- “Is the modern Hollywood any more than simply a meeting place for important personnel?” (2003). Perhaps the glitz and glamour of Hollywood is losing its shine as the once extraordinary is now being relegated to the back seat faced with an age where anything is possible, anywhere, and at a lower price.

Pictures sourced from:

http://teaser-trailer.com/drive-film-poster/ 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Matrix

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Self Preservation in an Age of Amalgamation

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In days gone by, the world was conceived as a giant jigsaw puzzle. Each piece represented a country. Although all the pieces could be placed together to form the one picture, the final image remained fractured, with each segment isolated within its own boundaries.

While countries may be still separated by geographical and political barriers, in a way the world’s population behaves as a singular organism in which invisible products in the form of information, ideas and commentary flow fluidly around the globe.  Within this interconnected environment, ‘media capitals’ have emerged as centres of media activity, locations where complex information paths and products interact, and where cultural boundaries dissolve. Today, the frontrunners of the media landscape are cities that act as hubs for finance, production, and the distribution of media, including Bombay, Cairo, Hollywood and Hong Kong (Curtin, 2003).

However within this unified media ecology, it has become clear that the concept of “cultural essentialism” holds true, the idea that certain cultural traits and characteristics do not change over time. In particular, this concept can be embodied in the orientalist opposition between the east and the west.

The Australian reporting of a number of attacks on Indian students in Australia in 2009 caused international controversy, representing to many the begrudging acceptance of the west to shifts in media power to those media capitals in the east (Khorana, 2012). Australian newspapers, such as the Age, responded to the attacks by blaming Indian TV as creating ‘hysteria’, lacking in balance and reporting sensational and exaggerated facts. This scenario followed a string of controversial interactions between the two countries, including an alleged racist comment made by an Indian cricketer to an Australian player in 2008. Following on from the attacks, India proclaimed that Australia was an inherently racist country.

Such an incident reveals that, despite the cultural flows facilitated through media capitals and by globalisation, countries remain firm in defending their self-interests and cultural characteristics against external challengers.

Another clear example of countries asserting their cultural independence over the world stage is the controversy surrounding supposed weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. In 2003, the UN and the Bush government of the US declared that Saddam Hussein was in the possession of large stockpiles of WMD. The media itself became a weapon of “mass hysteria that created tremendous fear in the population”, before it was exposed in 2008 by the Senate Intellgience Committee that the Bush administration had misrepresented the intelligence in an attempt to justify the war. In this scenario, the paranoia of the US post 9/11 saw America take all possible measures to protect itself and its self-interests against international threats at the same time ignoring the facts.

As can be seen, while it is true in many respects that the world has become one entity through which products, ideas and cultures flow, it is clear that the concept of “cultural essentialism” holds true. Embodied in cultural differences and expressions of countries’ self-interests, perhaps the world really is still a giant jigsaw puzzle.

The Mixing Bowl of Modern Culture

Is MacDonalds contributing to the homogenisation of cultures around the world?

Travelling around Europe last year I was fascinated to discover that several of my friends differentiated capital cities not by their defining landmarks or historical monuments, but rather by the fond memories of the ‘golden arches’ they had visited. Rome’s colosseum was overshadowed by the stuffed ‘Pizzarotto’, The Eiffel Tower melted into the background of Paris when budgeting Australian tourists caught wind of ‘le Croque McDo’. McDonalds: the one stop fast food shop for apprehensive travellers. A universal icon, global corporation and prime example of globalisation in action.

However, while on the surface McDonalds may reflect standardised international tastes in a global mixing bowl of cultures, national menus containing products and flavours specific to each country display that societal traditions continue to defy cultural homogenisation. Cultures have merely embodied the concept of hybridisation-the mixing of the old and new, the traditional and the modern, in an attempt to make imported products relatively unique to a local place.

This cultural hybridisation extends beyond a culinary lens to encompass all aspects of popular culture; from films, to sport, music and lifestyle. Dr April Henderson’s article Dancing Between Islands: Hip Hop and the Samoan Diaspora explores the “cross-fertilisation” of hip hop from its origins in urban California to many locations where Samoans have settled. Following their original involvement in street dance and rap in California in the 80s, Henderson explains that Samoan dancers developed a calibre of “popping” equal to that of the US form. Bonnie Tamati, a young Samoan woman who took part in the female popping competition at the 2000 Aotearoa Hip Hop Summit in Christchurch, reinterpreted Samoan dance moves to the beat of a heavy bass funk.  Her performance received enthusiastic praise and recognition from the audience who appreciated how Tamati had tied both traditional and modern art forms together, breaking down cultural barriers in the process (Henderson 2006, p 189). As is the case with the global transmission of McDonalds, the hybridisation of two seemingly opposing cultures in this scenario demonstrates the coexistence of both traditional and modern culture and the intrinsic formation of new identities.

Closer to home, The Warrumpi Band were the first Indigenous musicians to release a rock song in the Luritja dialect of the Aboriginal language, marking an important step in hybridising Indigenous and modern Australian culture.

Today we all know Gurrumul as a prominent figure in Australian music. While his highly emotive songs are sung in the traditional Aboriginal languages of Galpu, Djambarrpuynu and Gumatj, they also contain an “extraordinary combination of traditional Aboriginal culture, modern and gospel church music and other musical influences” in a style that has journalist Tony Cornwell has described as having the ability to “transcend cultural barriers”.

From these examples, it is clear that globalisation is leading, not to the extinction or homogenisation of traditional cultures; but rather, just as with any process of evolution, a unique combination and mutation of both the new and old in a move that is redefining cultures and identities around the globe. I wouldn’t be surprised if the next time I visited my local McDonalds, kangaroo kebabs were at the top of the menu.

 

Chasing the Roos From the Backyard

From the sunburnt centre scarred by the walk of time to pristine beaches that embrace the coastal fringes, Australia seems like a ‘bloody’ great place to live. While our country may lack documented relics of ancient civilisations, the unique and varied natural beauty of Australia is consistently employed by tourism campaigns in a beckoning call to foreigners.

Such stereotypical advertisements demonstrate how we identify ourselves on an international front. And not just as a country, but also as a people. From an outsider’s perspective, this ad suggests that the typical ‘Ostrayan’ is a surfing, beer drinking, camel-riding, laid back larrikin, unfazed by the casual kangaroo in the backyard or a sneaky shark in the pool. We are an open, friendly and accepting people. It is little wonder that many international students are attracted by the idea of an education in Australia in exchange for the promise of permanent residency in the land of the fair dinkum.

And yet, a recent SBS documentary, A Convenient Education, reveals that life in Australia for international students is a “far cry from the perceived wonderland” promoted in tourism campaigns. Exploitation in the workplace and housing sectors, safety and security concerns and visa issues are highlighted as common difficulties faced by foreign students. As if the language barrier wasn’t enough. Furthermore, findings from a transnational project designed to enhance the Australian experience for international students demonstrated that despite “images of the bushman and Crocodile Dundee…dominating impressions of who Australians are”, many students felt as if Australians did not want to know them and made little effort to understand their culture and countries of origin (Kell, Vogl 2007).

Exacerbated by the racial controversy following a series of attacks on Indian students in 2009, the image of Australia as the ‘lucky country’ is no longer in sync with reality, at least not in relation to international education. Resounding consequences of such crises continue to affect tourism, education and trade, and have cost Australia billions of dollars and thousands of jobs, according to the Beyond the Lost Decade report.

For a country which endeavours to present a picturesque view of diversity and multiculturalism coupled with a relaxed lifestyle, it seems as if the way in which we are perceived by the rest of the world has strayed from the true ‘Straya. In a world of interconnectedness and interdependence promoted by globalisation, we need to seriously consider how we both identify and present ourselves as a country and a people. We are, after all, pitching to a global audience. We need to ensure that our promises align with reality, and that international students and in fact any foreigners, feel as if they are getting a fair shake of the sauce bottle.

Globalisation: The Intolerant Truth

A visionary’s utopia created by globalisation promises a world of equality and understanding across cultures. However, this wistful dream has proven to be a great distance from the truth.

Marshall McLuhan envisaged a “global village”, an international community characterised by the empowerment of its citizens in which all people, cultures and beliefs co-exist in harmony. A place where diversity is encouraged and multiculturalism celebrated.  Where global citizens unite to address universal issues.  A fantasy, no more.

It cannot be denied that we, as citizens of the world, have benefited greatly from many facets of globalisation. Rapid advancements in technology have bridged traditional notions of distance and subsequently dissolved cultural and national borders around the globe. Every day we find ourselves connected to, and immersed in a melange of sights, sounds and experiences of a variety of cultures.

While this may be convincing evidence of the positive impacts of globalisation, harmony remains an intangible notion borne away by the slightest hint of dissatisfaction. If truth be told, the economic gap continues to widen and topical issues of race and culture remain prevalent in the ‘global village’ of democracy and equality.

For example, recent controversy surrounding Adam Goodes’ ordeal on the football field sparked the Australian Human Rights Commission to launch an anti-racism campaign throughout the country.

Furthermore, outrage has exploded over the recent American design of The Sapphire’s latest DVD cover. The cover has relegated the four soul singers, who overcame the adversity of sexism and race in Australia during the 1970s to lead a successful career, to the

The Sapphires DVD Cover in question

The Sapphires DVD Cover in question

background of the image in a whitewashed hue. Meanwhile Irish actor Chris O’Dowd, who plays the manager of the Sapphires, features as the salient point of the cover, in full colour in the foreground.  Naomi Meyers, chief executive of the Redfern Aboriginal Medical Service where two of the Sapphire’s work, echoes the global outrage generated by the image, describing it as “disrespectful to women of colour everywhere who have stood up against this sort of thing all their lives”.  While it seems odd to diminish the importance of the key characters of the film in what has been construed as a racist move, many argue that this design is simply a clever marketing tool for commercial purposes. Rising to fame following his starring role in Brides Maids, Chris O’Dowd featuring in the foreground may merely be a smart move to sell the movie to a global audience. While many may not have heard of the Sapphires, Christopher O’Dowd is perhaps “the best shot Anchor Bay has of finding an audience for The Sapphires”.

It appears that in a world of globalisation, the hard truth is that fame and the promise of money triumph over the desire to inspire real change. And while we may all wish for the harmonious utopia that could be offered by globalisation, it is clear that a lot more action is needed to make this dream a reality.