Saturday, July 23, 2011

Implementing Blatant "America-centrism" Abroad

The existence of Hollywood as a global cultural product is nothing new. With ample use of special effects, combat scenes, explosions, beautiful people, they seek to bombard people with adrenaline rush at every turn. They are saturated with universal values: the good triumphs over evil, true love survives all adversities, and that general perverted craving (among people of every background) for seeing unending violence unfolding before their eyes at a safe distance away. Combining all those elements, plus all of cash for marketing, Hollywood has tapped into the consumer market of people around the globe.

And as far as cravings for simple violence and romance goes, the recently released Transformers 3 could not have been more perfect. Shown with the complementary motion chairs and 3-D glasses in the most high-tech rendition of motion picture technology to date, the movie promised to wow all the senses of the audience. And after watching the midnight show in Seoul, I have absolutely nothing to criticize in terms of the overall "sensual" experience. By cutting out the boring details of a coherent story-line and focusing on the collapsing buildings and explosions, the movie left all of us dazzled with excitement.

Yet, the issue with the movie was whatever that was left of the story-line that they did not bother to cut out. The premise of the story was that the "bad guys" has returned and threatened to milk Earth for its 6 billion "slave laborers." Human beings, along with their robotic allies, have to fight back to save the planet from complete destruction. And guess who represents the "whole world of human beings"...yes, America does. The movie was essentially Americans vs robots, taking place in a bombed out Chicago.

The rest of world, well, only show up vaguely. There are scenes of American intelligence officers heading to the Ukraine for investigations and collecting secret Soviet documents. And there was a largely symbolic scene of the bad guys' message being broadcast in front of a full-house UN General Assembly. Yet, at the end, it was the doing of America (perhaps on behalf of the entire world) that pushed the story along. They were the ones hosting the good robots in a so-called military alliance, and they were the ones talking and fighting the bad guys when things went wrong.

All this in Korea, a country with a history of love-hate relationship with America. The presence of American military and cultural influence is in no way deniable here, and the country certainly in many ways owes her very existence to the American presence. Yet at the same time, a determined and vocal anti-American sentiment permeates the society, not the least due to the supposed destruction of traditional Korean values because of American presence. A movie that exaggerates American heroism has to leave a very bitter taste in the mouth of such people (if they bother to go see it).

And because Americans are involved at every turn of the movie, pieces of American culture had to flair up. There were just too many American-style jokes throughout the movie, and they were, unfortunately, given complete silence treatment by the Korean audience while the Americans in the audience laughed away. Without understanding the occasionally sarcastic and cynical comic relief, the movie would be just another completely coldhearted shoot-em-up that foreign audience generally associate American films with.

To become more American (i.e. more "cool," "beautiful," "heroic" like the characters in the movie), the local youth will come out of the movie trying even harder to learn English and American culture so they can understand all those "funny" jokes intertwined with the movie's story-line. After all, in many ways, what Hollywood is to America is what Korean Wave is to Korea. It is the physical illustration of "I want to be just like them because they are so cool." America's image, at least for some, is once again boosted, and all of us Americans (at least nominally) are benefited.

Yet, at the same time, we have to wonder just how sustainable such image-boosting effects really are. Looking the movie a little deeper would show us that because America represents ll human beings, her imprudence in policy-making and military actions did bring devastation to the entire world. And looking in real life, the negative consequences of American leadership across the globe has certainly seen its lion's share of negative consequences for many an innocent people in otherwise stable (if not "free" by American definition) parts of the world.

Beating outer space robots bent on destroying our planets can surely unite all of us Earthlings and make everyone appreciate American heroism and leadership. But real life is just too far from that dreamy world. As Americans continue to go around the world making their sarcastic jokes and touting their global leadership, the reaction could be as likely to be one of irritation and irksomeness as one of appreciation and hope for imitation. A few Hollywood blockbusters like Transformers may not be enough to halt such increase in negative reactions.

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