This is an article I recently wrote, I thought I would share it here too!:
A couple of months ago it was announced that the United States was to enter into a trade deal with the European Union, with the onus being very much on the free market capitalism that has allowed the superpower nation and the colonial dictatorship, to become the largest, and the second largest trading 'blocs' in the world respectively. Business elites, as well as leaders like Mr Cameron and Mrs Merkel were quick to hail these momentous talks that would “bring Europe and North America closer together”.
However one issue that did garner some attention amongst the boring technical discussions was France’s use of a veto for audio-visual policies. The French government (supported by socialists and conservatives) cited the principle that culture can’t be treated as a normal commercial item. The French are known in the UK certainly, for perhaps being heavy-handed when it comes to that view. There are laws that cinemas must promote French films, 70% of daytime radio music must be in the French language, and philosophy and French history is taught rigorously in schools. But why exactly is this wrong? There is no doubt a fear since the 1990s that French culture will succumb to American hegemony, but France has been left with much to gloat about. The birthplace of cinema produced a whopping 261 films in 2010 (in the same year that the British Film Institute was axed Britain produced 79 films, many made for American markets). France is one of the few countries in the world where American films do not make up the majority of viewings. French music similarly is very strong in terms of both influence and merit. The French language is still holding its own worldwide, being taught in all corners of the globe (Alliance Francaise), France has kept its strong links with fashion and design, the country is the most visited in the world and if I am to believe my Chinese friend, has in Asia, a “cool mystical aura about it”. Most importantly this link between culture and identity, which no doubt provides the thrust of the French government’s argument of not being commercial, transfers into community from the Bastille Day celebrations to the La Fête Des Voisins where approximately 15 million took part in 2013.
^ Connecting neighbours, on a mass scale, through French culture and fun.
How far can this be taken though? There is no doubt wide support for preserving historical culture in most Western countries, which fizzes out when you get to modern culture. But yet in France there is still strong and certainly stable resistance to commercial interests in things too, such as food shopping. In France supermarkets still have just 68% of food retail (falling to 45% for fruit and vegetables), whilst in Britain 54p in every £1 is now spent in the six or so supermarkets. There are many small towns in France with boulangerie and poissonerie still intact. Britain’s high street is not looking in the best of shapes.
^ Queuing outside for a baguette, Paris, 2011. Is this culture?
^ In Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. Surely if the previous photo is culture, then this must be culture too?!
Conservatives, no no actually 'economic liberals' (as I feel true conservatism has become tainted since the 1980s), will no doubt say that culture is synonymous with capitalism and that it must follow the exact same rules. It is interesting to note though that, for example, the French film industry is the most self-sufficient in Europe with most films achieving 85%+ of revenue costs in the domestic market alone and thus nearly always making good profit. The 2011 film Intouchables was watched by 19 million people in the first four months in France and was even voted cultural event of the year by the public.
To move away from France now, if we were to take the maxim that money does indeed trump all, then will we not just be left with mass Americanisation? That actually true difference in many aspects of our lives across nations will not actually be present? The sheer size of ‘megacorporations’ is quite alarming. It is apparently true according to Forbes and a Zurich-based research institute that there are 147 companies that control “everything” of the global economy, including 40% of wealth, with 737 companies controlling 80% of it.* Many of these are either banks (Barclays, Deutsche Bank) or what are called ‘multicompanies’ that don’t specialise in anything in particular. In 2009, of the world’s 100 largest economic entities 44 of them were companies, and 56 were countries.** Wal-Mart has revenues larger than 176 countries, Shell’s are larger than Pakistan and Bangladesh together (350m+ people). These 44 companies own 11% of all wealth, despite the fact they employ just 13.5 million people. Many would no doubt claim that our economic and environmental problems are a cause of this, in a decades time could cultural practices and individual artistic expressions not go the same way? And here I am talking about all forms of cultures and geographic individuality, not just French cinema and not “modern” forms of art.
^ The National Eisteddfont has been championing Welsh culture since 1861. 160,000 now attend annually. Whilst the language and music are being revived in day-to-day life, some aspects are only kept alive through the festival. Is there any point to doing this?
The United States eventually accepted defeat to France on this particular issue. It is ironic because despite the countries libertarian tendencies it does have a very ingrained “Buy America” ethos that has caused some commentators this side of the channel to suggest that actually it may help the US more than Europe. Whilst it is of course debatable to say that globalised capitalism destroys culture directly, there was no doubt amongst all commentators that the recent trade deals were once again going to help the already big companies expand, to the detriment of smaller and national companies. I am sceptical enough having witnessed in my opinion an era, a nation and a politics that is solely concerned with business, money, globalisation and bumping up the GDP; to think that perhaps culture, community and nation will eventually succumb to the same machine.
^ Is the world really becoming like this?