“Trade without frontiers”—when the European Economic Community talks about barrier-free trade, the wall begins at Spain and the US is left on the wrong side of it, as the Bush administration, which has supported the coming federation of Europe, is beginning to discover. In October the EEC voted 10 to 2 to adopt a set of as-yet nonbinding rules that recommend to European television stations that they spend a majority of their airtime running European shows. Hollywood’s billion-dollar business in European rights is threatened. In some parts of Europe 70 percent of the entertainment shows come from the outside—many, many from the US. What tourist in Rome hasn’t tuned into Dallas?
“Local content,” said Carla Hills, the US trade representative, in complaining about the rules, “is the enemy of free trade.” She is quite correct. But the issues are, at least ostensibly, wider here: it is not just American profits that anger France, the most militant EEC country on the television question. It. is that old bugbear of cultural imperialism and franglais. “Culture is not a piece of merchandise, like other things,” says Jacques Delors, president of the European Commission, the EEC’s executive branch. “I say to the United States: Have we the right to exist, to perpetuate our traditions?”
As a regionalist, I sympathize. One of the downsides of your free market/open borders/devil-take-the-lowest-paid hardy garden variety of American capitalism is that it tends to do to regional tradition what Sherman did to Charleston.
Unfortunately, European state socialism’s answer to American cultural imperialism is a cure that looks to be a lot worse than the disease. The EEC’s idea is not just to promote the French film industry for the French, but—while excluding the US and the rest of the world—to create within the Community a single market of 320 million captive viewers: a French film industry for Europe. And what that means, as the Germans are already admitting, is films, drama, and situation comedies—in English. For English is the language of cultural diplomacy today. It must have been bad enough, for a good French patriot, to watch his local breadmaker abandon Godard for Clint Eastwood. Yet surely it will be a thousand times more painful to watch Godard abandon French.
Nationalism has its uses, and its abuses. The European film schools, which have been targeted as beneficiaries of EEC largesse in a typically misapplied social-democratic attempt to beef up the local product, will profit. Barring a trade war, so will some European filmmakers and distributors, probably largely at Hollywood’s expense. But that is all. For all the noise the EEC is making about revivified culture, its eye is only on the money. Its plan cannot work, because what is being hailed as nationalistic in fact is not—France is not only distinct from America, but from its friends in the EEC, and heaven help that country if its proverbial chauvinism has withered to the point that France has forgotten what German or Italian cultural imperialism is like.
Judged even on the basis of its own plans, the EEC protectionism that is supposed to preserve the creative culture of these individual states of Europe clearly will not work. Whether it is today or ten years from today, Europe is going to soon discover that the great cultural bugbear is not America, but itself. (KD)