When America is no longer the world

On this week’s Slate Money the author of The Big Picture: The Fight for the Future of Movies, was a guest. I’m not going to be reading this book, but it seemed interesting. Basically, he suggested that the reason franchise movies, and in particular comic book films, were taking over is that television has taken over niches such as period dramas. The comparative advantage of the movie theater is in big-budget action & special effects spectacles, and audiences enjoy revisiting “shared universes” so much that they’re far less risky than singletons.

This shouldn’t be surprising, there’s a reason that standalone fantasy books are not notable.

An issue that is discussed on the podcast is the fact that international blockbusters tend to be American. China tried to produce something that would be exportable to the USA with The Great Wall, but it was a bust.

It strikes me that when American movies no longer dominate internationally, that’ll be a good sign that true dusk is coming to our time as the global hegemon.

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6 thoughts on “When America is no longer the world

  1. “It strikes me that when American movies no longer dominate internationally, that’ll be a good sign that true dusk is coming to our time as the global hegemon.”

    America could still dominate movies even after being eclipsed as hegemon: We have the industry; the lingua franca is the native language here; there’s a lot of know-how that isn’t easily exportable. Rather, we would see just more of what we’re already seeing: the Chinese Communist Party controlling content in American films, and increasingly inserting pro-PRC propaganda.

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  2. I’m waiting on this book at the library (not convinced yet I should buy it). I love just about any books that really get into the “business” side of making movies, such as the now-dated Hollywood Economist. It might be interesting to get a more recent account.

    Maddeningly enough, there was a book I found at the library years ago that went into some very interesting detail about why studios opt for a smaller number of big-budget releases rather than more films (“economies-of-scale” in advertising and the very high returns were the answer). But I can not find it again, despite looking hard.

    An issue that is discussed on the podcast is the fact that international blockbusters tend to be American. China tried to produce something that would be exportable to the USA with The Great Wall, but it was a bust.

    I don’t think that will change, either, as long as the existing censorship regime is in place in China. What they can’t make is absurdly broad IIRC, which is why they have so many films and TV shows set either centuries past or in World War 2.

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  3. @Harold Kerr:

    I had a similar thought but quickly realized that our host had stated a condition that was sufficient but not necessary. Long after France was no longer the international hegemon (say Waterloo if not the fall of Quebec), its language and culture continued to have international caché. I don’t believe that that is any longer the case, which we can take as definitive evidence that France is no longer the hegemon.

    Similarly, when Latin was no longer the language of the educated elite (I imagine following the Reformation, so let us say the late 16th C.) we could safely say that Rome had lost its hegemonic status.

    I can probably come up with other examples, if pressed (e.g., English pop-music groups).

    The only modification I would make to RK’s statement would be to change “is coming” to “has come”.

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  4. China tried to produce something that would be exportable to the USA with The Great Wall, but it was a bust.

    I find most mainland Chinese movies nowadays bombastic and inane. Usually films made by ethnic Chinese filmmakers in the West are more reflective and interesting. The last good “Chinese” film I saw was “Lust, Caution” by Ang Lee (the ending of which was distorted for the mainland Chinese market).

    Hollywood stuff is getting ever more derivative (it’s all remake, remake, remake or comic book films), with completely predictable and uninteresting plots and characters.

    Nowadays I mostly watch Scandinavian, German, Japanese, and Korean films.

    By the way, I enjoyed “Babylon Berlin” and “The Same Sky” (both German TV shows) on Netflix. “Babylon Berlin,” in particular has wonderful set designs (Weimar Germany) and well-developed characters. Volker Bruch has the whole brooding German thing down pat (he was also good in “Generation War,” also on Netflix).

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  5. I’ve long thought that the U.S. should craft a broad national security exception to copyright laws that allows cultural works (e.g. movies, books, etc.) to be exempt from copyright in authoritarian regimes, so that exposure to American media and the power of the ideas that come with them is enhanced and undermines those regimes, rather than trying to get an extra buck for American copyright owners in a manner that strengthens the hand of authoritarian regimes. This would cut slightly into short term profits but would enhance U.S. “soft power” and make our ideas and worldview more influential in the medium to long term.

    It is hard for China, e.g., to generate grass roots hate against the U.S. in a population that spends lots of time watching free, bootleg American movies and TV and reading American books. This could prevent war in the future, or, at least, increase the likelihood that U.S. prisoners of war would be treated more humanly because we would be more humanized in their eyes.

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  6. There were two things in which America was still #1 in soft power.

    1) Movies (as opposed to “cinema or “film.”)

    2) Doctorate-level STEM reasearch and training/R&D.

    Now #2 is being kiboshed for visa reasons and funding shifts away from disinterested inquiry.

    Americans are still the most cross-genetically beautiful and culturally mutable populace worldwide. Add to that certain specific movie-making technical prowesses and financial flows, and a remaining soupcon of freethinking creativity, plus that good ol’American capsicum dash of sexual libertinism, and you’ve got pan-global appeal and reach that’ll be hard to beat for quite a while. Fifteen years, anyway. Okay, ten… Okay, five. But that’s my final offer!

    And then comee computer-generated 100% idealized VR forms. International.

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