The American Image - Role of Films in International Diplomacy

The American Image - Film's Role As International Diplomat
For years, Hollywood has more effect on the world's perspective of us than any other medium or political movement we've undertaken. Through images and fictional stories, America has shown the world its excesses, but where are the stories of its people?
The film industry is a crazy business. It's been around for so many years now, that it's almost impossible to imagine it not being a part of daily life. We wake up to movie posters on our walls, turn on the TV to news about movies and movie stars, and spend our evenings watching DVDs or going to the theater.
Movies are what make us a cohesive culture in this country. There is no age-old folklore or historical context in which to situate our society. No, we're stuck within the confines of the Silver Screen and the allure of Tinseltown as our cultural signifiers, all 100 years of movie history that we've managed to hitch under our belts.
And it's that visual media that has become the international face of the American way. No matter which country on earth you visit, the most recognizable American names and faces will probably be our actors and actresses, our major films, and their characters. It is through our films that nations on the far side of the world form their opinions of us and discern how we live our lives. So, it is more than just a simple matter of our own devotion to the Hollywood culture, but how we want the rest of the world to see us.
Our films have become something of a joke then, displaying ridiculous excess, while at the same time, often reflecting the manner in which society reacts at any given time. Meaning, when things are good in America, our films are frivolous displays of excess and monetary freedom, while wartime and recession often lead to the more contemplative, deeper films that show a political and social consciousness beyond Animal House and Old School.
But, with an industry so incredibly dependent on the willingness of its audience to forget about the worries of the world, and give in to the selfishness and gluttony of consumerism the socially conscious, films are never fully prevalent and the frat boy humor is always around. Will Ferrell will continue to release a major comedy at least once per year that relies almost completely upon the legions of fans he built through his stint on SNL and in Old School.
I'll be honest. I'm a bit biased. I'm a fan of films like Little Miss Sunshine and Garden State. I enjoy work by Jim Jarmusch, and watch Sundance and Cannes every year eagerly for the next big little film to eke its way onto the market. I enjoy good movies with well-developed plots and solid writing. That's not to say that the Will Ferrell goof-off comedies are not entertaining, but I wouldn't put down $9.50 on opening day for one of his goof-offs, and don't necessarily respect those that do. Good late night rentals yes, but not Friday night outings.
And so, it's no wonder that countries across the world see America as an icon of gluttony and excess. We gladly shill out more money than some people make in an entire day to sit through a bad comedy with the same jokes from every other movie made in the last five years. And mostly, the result is that nations around the world watch these films, see a millionaire making a fool of himself and think that he's a good representative of the American way.
It's not the decently written comedies with a true slice of Americana that make it through the filter of international scrutiny, but the broken, frat boy toilet humor we export alongside our slew of explosive special effects laden machinations don't do the country any justice.
We're looking at yet another summer of record-breaking receipts, attendance, and a worldwide market unlike any other, but do we see anything worth exporting these days? It's not a matter of making better films to better display what American life is all about. It's a matter of the American public not becoming so enamored with the frivolous fluff that Hollywood thinks we're in love with, that they don't give decent, explorative shots to films that could do so much better.
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