Charles Paul Freund concludes in Reason that reports of American cultural imperialism are greatly exaggerated:
- mounting evidence suggests that all this fulmination has been entirely pointless, and that cultural pessimists have been as clueless about the processes shaping the world as were their social, economic, and political forebears.
In January, for example, The New York Times ran a front-page story reporting that exported American TV programs had largely lost their appeal for overseas audiences. According to the Times, these shows “increasingly occupy fringe time slots on foreign networks,” leaving the prime-time hours to locally made shows.
“Given the choice,” wrote London-based reporter Suzanne Kapner, “foreign viewers often prefer homegrown shows that better reflect local tastes, cultures and historical events.” The problem, it turns out, is that many foreign broadcasters had not been giving their viewers much choice.
Why not? Many foreign networks had been created in a wave of 1980s privatization and lacked the financial and creative resources to produce their own programming. For a while, the most effective way to fill their schedules was by purchasing shows, especially American-made series. But as U.S. producers continued to drive up the price of their products, the now more-experienced broadcasters opted to make their own programs.
In brief, the foreign broadcasters chose neither to whine about nor to spin theories about American culture but rather to compete with it. As of 2001, more than 70 percent of the most popular shows in 60 different countries were produced locally. There are still popular American shows on foreign TV sets (especially movies), but as one European broadcaster told the Times, “You cannot win a prime-time slot with an American show anymore.”
An even more dramatic shift may be going on with theatrical films. In 2001 “business for American films overseas fell by 16 percent against local product,” according to Indian filmmaker Shekhar Kapur.