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Tussle over tinsel tyranny

Peter Doughton,
Cambridge
For the motion

I don’t know how many of you have seen Sex And The City, Transformers or even a classic like Zulu. On my money, there is a special circle of hell for whoever it was that commissioned these movies. I have never seen such sexist, racist, homophobic and capitalist trash ever come out in a single hour. While I don’t hold anything necessarily against America as a whole, the representation that you see from Hollywood is exactly that and is exactly the kind of imperialism that Hollywood represents. I think probably that should be enough to win the debate, just telling you that those movies exist!

Joshua Zoffer,
Harvard
Against the motion

Cultural tyranny means two things. It means the forced imposition of ideas from one group onto another in a way that goes against their will and second, it means that this flow of ideas only goes in one direction. Not everyone is watching Transformers and Sex And The City.

The way that Hollywood functions is not a form of cultural tyranny, rather a form of cultural co-operation.

We believe that the ideas embodied in the film industry are not ones that belong to just one culture, that Hollywood itself is not a single culture, a single set of ideas. Rather Hollywood is an industry that itself is representative of a multitude of cultures, that directors like Ang Lee for example bring ideas from Asia into the Hollywood context and allow Hollywood to be influenced by the outside world.

Ananya Chakraborti,
college teacher
For the motion

It’s not just in terms of the plot that the cultural tyranny of Hollywood happens. It happens also with the idea of the body. If you look at Hollywood films, you will find everybody is very slim, very handsome, very perfect…. However, I am sure many of you have been to the US and know that actually a very large population of the US is obese. But you don’t get to see them on screen. You get to see India’s poverty in Hollywood films, but you don’t get to see what is bad in the US in Hollywood films. That they hide very carefully. And what we get to see is what they want us to see, what they want us to believe.

They want us to believe they are a nation of very good-looking people, that everything is fine there, that for any injustice that happens there is an American who comes forth and saves the nation. And the nation is the world. Anytime there’s an alien attack on the US, the catchline is ‘the world is under threat’.

Jawhar Sircar,
veteran bureaucrat,
Against the motion

There is nothing that can really be codified and pinned down as culture. It’s a series of beliefs, expressions, faiths, practices…. Even American culture is an amorphous idea and a cloud cannot dominate. Now had it been tyrannical, would it be able to attract those who stood against tyranny?

One example: Charlie Chaplin — the guy who stood against Hitler, went to the States, went to Hollywood. Charles Chaplin decided that the place where he could put forth his ideas against tyranny was Hollywood.

Next, tyranny is something from which you can’t escape. Here, if you don’t like a Hollywood movie, don’t see it. If you don’t like it and you’re still buying a ticket, you are a fool, you can’t blame others for it.

Alfred Hinchliffe,
Oxford
For the motion

Hollywood... is only prepared to accept Indian influences or the influences by other cultures in sanitised ways. We were told that... Slumdog Millionaire is an American film, notionally set in India. I am sorry but that’s not an example of Indian influence in American films.

If the only Indian influence the Americans are prepared to accept is when Indian films are made by Hollywood studios, where they produce a Slumdog Millionaire with a white man telling what’s it like to be brought up as a poor person in India… that’s not acceptance or a cross-fertilisation of ideas, that is a hegemonic cultural sanitisation of other influences. America will only accept Indian influences if it comes out of Hollywood, and it’s made by white people and just happens to feature Indian actors.

Andrew Connery,
Yale
Against the motion

Hollywood is a collection of addresses where movie studios are headquartered but these movie studios represent far more than just that. They are an amalgamation of worldwide ideas and worldwide people. There is a reason some of the most influential filmmakers in the world are, in fact, not from Hollywood. Ingmar Bergman, a Scandinavian film producer, was one of the most influential people for not only world cinema but Hollywood cinema. The same is true for Roberto Rossellini, an Italian filmmaker whose film Rome, Open City completely revolutionised the entirety of Hollywood cinema and much of worldwide cinema.

There’s a reason films like Transformers... are never nominated for the Academy Awards except maybe in special effects. The films nominated for Academy Awards are those like Life of Pi or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon…. oftentimes foreign films that present the best ideas, or the most revolutionary performances from foreign actors and actresses. This indicates that Hollywood is indeed capable of taking in cultures from the rest of the world.

Daniel Berman,
Cambridge
For the motion

Hollywood not only dominates the production of massive blockbusters, not only does it drive imitation in other markets but when people are successful in the British film industry or the European film industry or even in the Indian film industry their ambition is to go to Hollywood and they are co-opted into the system. The opposition came here and said that they want to spread values... but values are fundamentally something of a perception and many people would find some of these values odd. This means that this is fundamentally culturally tyrannical. It might be culturally tyrannical for their own good… but it doesn’t change the fact that it is tyrannical.

Pradeep Gooptu,
ex-journalist
Against the motion

Cultural tyranny is the nomenclature, the label they have used to run down the popularity and the mass acceptance of a genre of movie-making that Hollywood represents. Hollywood is essentially a business and films represent a high fixed cost asset. It is an extremely expensive proposition which you try to market to the world and like with any other high fixed cost asset there is one problem — you must put in an extra effort to market it.

If you see this marketing effort to sell a multimillion dollar movie as tyranny I have nothing but pity for you.

Kunal Sarkar,
cardiac surgeon
For the motion

If you glance through the mix of the cars in the car park here, at a rough count there are 15 Volkswagens parked in there; a car that was designed by Adolf Hitler, a man long dead and gone. But just as Volkswagens’ technical gift to the world did not condone or legitimise his tyranny, Life of Pi and Gone with the Wind do not legitimise the tyranny of Hollywood.

One of the biggest objections has been to the stereotypes of Hollywood. The great Walt Disney played with the stereotypes of the bumbling black man; that was passed on to the malapropism of the Asians; that was passed down to the inevitable terrorists of the Middle East…. Stereotypes is a dangerous business and with every decade, with every passage of time Hollywood seems to have gifted one malignant stereotype after the other.

Ben Kornfeld,
Yale
Against the motion

Cultural tyranny is when Mao Tse-Tung says you may no longer be Chinese and belong to any organised religion, cultural tyranny is when the Australian government takes Aboriginal children away from their parents at birth to indoctrinate them in an English way of life.... Tyranny is not something that allows you to stand up and walk away whenever you like. Tyranny is not something you can choose not to buy a ticket to and tyranny is not something that needs your help to make a profit in a way that Hollywood needs every single one of its audience’s help to make any money whatsoever.

To claim that Hollywood is tyranny is an insult to victims of all these real instances of cultural tyranny that happened over the years.

Gregory Farquhar,
Oxford,
For the motion

Hamburgers may add a couple of pounds or add an inch to the waistline, it doesn’t change you like watching a movie or experiencing a TV show or being surrounded by an advertising culture founded in the institution of Hollywood affects the very way that you see yourself and the way that you see other people around you. It is something far more insidious and far more dangerous.

Say you are watching TV and Sex and the City comes on, you change the channel and now it is a Hollywood star advertising Coco Cola... change the channel and it is a TV show you like. Maybe it is How I Met Your Mother, but it still has the same cultural oppression.... It changes the way people look at success, at wealth, at power, at good and at bad.

Benjamin Sprung-Keyser,
Harvard
Against the motion

They (proposition) assume that the only form of tyranny is international, but that is absurd. In any movie industry in any country, some people decide to make movies and some watch those movies. In a world in which that is true, isn’t it better to have many countries exporting movies so that we can see other international context? They assume that reinterpretation of any other culture to make it relatable is tyranny, no it is a way of telling a story so that other people can understand and therefore take a message from it…. They need to prove that the flow of ideas is in one direction and that they don’t engage with the audience and that is a lie.

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