Americans are notoriously chauvinistic; we think that our culture is the culture and do not really learn to appreciate what exists outside of our country-bubble.In fact, we are actively exporting our culture but are hesitant to import other cultures.
When other countries have sought to limit the percentage of U.S. films and music imported, the United States has been quick to object. It’s not fair to put that kind of restrictions on capitalism, Hollywood filmmakers cry.
Yet America has created a cultural monopoly.
While other countries such as Italy and Russia have made an entire industry of dubbing, U.S. film imports are extremely limited.
From 1990 to ’93, the average country in the world imported 79 percent of its films, the UN Web site reads, but the United States only imported 22 percent of films shown, or 118 films. And most of these, based on my viewing experience, have not made it to the local theater, but would require a trip to New York, Chicago, or perhaps the Angelica.
The United Nations Web site www.unesco.org says that in 1997, only 53 million North Americans watched a European film in the theater, while 388 million Europeans watched 480 American films in the theater that year.
Americans just aren’t watching foreign films.
But is this because they do not want to or do not have access to them? Both. If there were foreign films available regularly at my local Cinema 10, I would probably watch them more regularly, but that’s not going to happen until I and enough other people create a demand for them.
If I want to watch something foreign, what are my choices in a place like Fort Worth?
Blockbuster contains the occasional foreign film and I’ve seen subtitled films on the Independent Film Channel and Turner Classic Movies, but they are few and far between.
And if I try to order a film from, say, amazon.fr, I won’t be able to play it on my DVD player because it is from Zone 2 (the United States is in Zone 1); I would need a special player that could switch back and forth between zones if I wanted to do this. I have to go out of my way to view a film from another part of the world. How many Americans are willing to do this?
Ironically, the pinnacle of a foreign film’s success in the United States is when it’s remade into an American film. Then it can be repackaged and sold again, even in its country of origin.
But while I understand that it is easier to watch a film in English than strain yourself reading subtitles, so much is lost in translation.
The Hollywood version of a film rarely captures the essence of a film made in other parts of the world. The setting is changed, the characters are different, and the films are frequently Hollywood-ized, meaning they are tweaked to conform to cookie-cutter forms, often with cheesier acting and happier endings.
Even anime, my friends tell me, is better in the original (with subtitles rather than dubbing) because you can hear the expressions of the voices and it is the way the makers envisioned it.
It’s time to wrap up this column and I don’t know what to tell you. Go out and watch more films? But where? It’s not like there are that many choices. America should import more films and play them where we can see them? Naturally. But what if the theater sits empty?
I think the moral here is that Americans should be open to new ideas and experiences. We should not be so lazy that we avoid watching a subtitled film because it’s too tiring to follow the subtitles. And we should not be so greedy that we keep films from being imported on the basis of keeping American money in Hollywood films.
Maybe the next time you see something interesting on the shelf, you shouldn’t just pass it by when you realize it’s in another language. Give it a chance. If you’re going to hate it, hate it on the basis of the film itself, not on its language.
Opinion editor Stephanie Weaver is an English, philosophy and French major from Westwood, Kan.