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Will Hollywood soft pedal messages to win China’s business?

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 By Danny Bloom

Danny Bloom

CHIAYI CITY, TAIWAN — Media mavens both East and West are locking horns in global discussions about the effects of Hollywood’s attempts to appeal to the ”Chollywood” market. Will China’s ”soft opening” (scare quotes mine) to the West create more opportunities for Hollywood studios to market their wares inside the communist behemoth, or will it merely make it easier for American directors and screenwriters to self-censor themselves and make movies for the China market that do not probe social or political issues at all?

When interviewed by the Los Angeles Times a few years back, Stanley Rosen, director of the East Asian Studies Center at the University of Southern California, said he was concerned that “a generation of moviegoers could emerge with a skewed, sanitized view of China in which human-rights abuses and even the grittiness of everyday
life are swept under the rug.”

He more or less said the same thing the other day when interviewed live on CNN International by Hong Kong anchor Anna Coren. Using Skype, the two had a five minute discussion about the topic, with Coren’s questions informed and to the point and Cohen’s answers unflinching and direct.

At a one-hour presentation at the Josef Korbel School for International Studies this past March, Rosen pretty much said the same thing, dishing the dirt on how China can promote both nationalism and
internationalism, and if it’s possible for both Confucian values and modern-day materialism to go hand in hand there?

Sterling Wong asked a pertinent question about these issues in June, noting: “Hollywood’s looking to exploit the growing Chinese market, but some worry about the undue influence China will have on American movies.”

Remember that old saw? “China produces, America consumes”? In the movie industry, it’s the other way around, with movies made in communist China mostly treated as oddities or as art films in the West. But all this could change if China gets the upper hand and dominates the movie business worldwide, too.

Rosen, however, told me he sees both positive and negative aspects to Chinese policies, domestically as well as internationally.

“I think China’s opening to the West and the goal of promoting it ‘soft power’ is definitely real, but I don’t really see it as a  threat,” Rosen told me in a recent email after his CNN appearance. “Every country tries to promote its views using ‘soft power’ and it’s not surprising that China would try to do it as its power increases. But as I meant to say in my recent comments via Skype to CNN International’s Anna Coren, promoting ‘soft power’, even with Hollywood’s cooperation, is difficult if a country’s policies are too far out of step with prevailing global norms.”

“The real issue may be whether long-prevailing global norms — associated primarily with the West — change and become closer to the ‘Chinese model’ of growth and international relations, along with a
rather different set of values than Western values.  We like to associate our values with universal values, but China is questioning much of that,” Rosen added.

So will Beijing’s ”soft opening” (scare quotes still mine) to the West create more opportunities for Hollywood studios to market their wares inside China, or will it merely make it easier for American and British directors and screenwriters to self-censor themselves and make ”China-friendly” movies for the China market that do not probe social or political issues at all?

Sure, Beijing is using ”soft power” to seduce with the West, but remember this is one of the most brutal regimes the world has ever seen, ”hard power” and all. Just ask the
Tibetans, or Ai Wei Wei.

So, Hollywood players, be careful what you wish for.

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Bloom is Taiwan bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World and an inveterate web-surfer.   He may be contacted at [email protected]

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