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Wiser than diplomacy

SPOT THE IMMUNITY DIFFERENCE : Helen LaFave, US consul-general, kicks off Team USA’s argument at the Calcutta Club The Telegraph International Debate 2013, held in association with Calcutta Debating Circle and sponsored by Ashok Hall Group of Schools, on Saturday evening. Her team won as the motion — ‘Hollywood represents cultural tyranny’ — was defeated
But the quip of the day belonged to her British counterpart, Scott Furssedonn-Wood. When moderator Sandip Chatterjee told Scott “the time-keeper is inactivated as part of your diplomatic immunity”, the British deputy high commissioner in Calcutta replied: “It’s good to clarify that I actually DO have diplomatic immunity!”
Pictures by Rashbehari Das

So I hear about this international debate being organised by the Calcutta Club and The Telegraph, in association with the Calcutta Debating Circle, and I feel I have to go. I, like most Bengalis, take an immense pride in our innate knack for “torko kora” (arguing) over any given subject on any given Sunday. Or Saturday.

The topic being Hollywood it was a discussion I would not want to miss. I walked in with nothing less than tremendous curiosity and a wry sense of maliciousness in expecting to take a front row seat for the war of the greatest institutions from two sides of the globe — Yale and Harvard vs Oxford and Cambridge — each of whom have their own sense of ownership of the English language.

The debate kicked off with a humorous introduction to the topic of the day — Hollywood represents cultural tyranny. Oxford and Cambridge were for the motion and Yale and Harvard stood against.

Moderator Sandip Chatterjee was followed by the kick-off speakers, starting with Scott Furssedon-Wood, the British deputy high commissioner in Calcutta, who represented the English team and gave the packed audience an inside peek into the never-ending war between Cambridge and Oxford as rival universities. He was followed by Helen LaFave, the US consul-general in Calcutta, who introduced the Americans and the opposition’s point of view.

Peter Doughton, from Cambridge, didn’t take a breath before he began to cite examples of movies like Transformers and Sex and the City to bring out how Hollywood spreads its view on sexism and stereotypes.

Joshua Zoffer from Harvard, on his birthday, felt that far from being tyrannical, Hollywood had rather shown signs of globalisation in its attempt to exchange ideas and imbibe them within its own system.

Ananya Chakraborti lashed out from the other end with her view of Hollywood’s slow poisoning and subconscious spiritual, economic and cultural tyranny.

Jawhar Sircar felt that even if Hollywood was a predominant film-producing nation, its economic dominance could not be confused with cultural tyranny.

Alfred Hinchliffe from Oxford felt that Hollywood had a habit of cultural sanitisation. He was carrying today’s Metro to quote from an article (on Dhoom:3 vs Chander Pahar) and show how films like Dhoom:3 are mere cut-paste versions of major Hollywood films.

Andrew Connery from Yale cited filmmakers like Federico Fellini and Ingmar Bergman as major influences in Hollywood. Films like Transformers cannot be the only definition of Hollywood, he argued, referring to the likes of Life of Pi and Crash.

Daniel Berman from Cambridge said that even when Hollywood attempted to represent the rest of the world, say a film on the Apartheid movement, it felt the need to add a white American journalist to save the country.

Pradeep Gooptu jumped in against the motion with the line that any business that has high fixed costs wants to expand to other countries for business purposes. That’s strategy, not tyranny.

Kunal Sarkar brought up Hollywood photocopies all over the world, which show no signs of cultural exchange.

Ben Kornfeld from Yale discussed the basic definition of tyranny — think Mao Tse Tung — and comparing that to Hollywood’s influence would be an insult to the victims of real tyranny. It was clearly defined that one is never forced to watch a movie. It is merely a choice. If these two get confused, then pizza shops all over the US would represent cultural tyranny.

Gregory Farquhar from Oxford, the only science student on either side, said eating a hamburger doesn’t have an influence on people the way advertising does, the way films do. It is not an option to shut ourselves from the world that has embraced the influence of Hollywood.

Benjamin Sprung-Keyser from Harvard, the last speaker, stressed that watching films was a personal choice.

At the end of the gripping evening, the Americans managed to defend Hollywood.

Personally being a product of global culture myself, perhaps the word “tyranny”, whether it applies to western or eastern cultural influences, might be a little extreme because for me a film, like anything else, including food or religion, is a matter of personal choice.

But on the other hand, with all forms of advertising blinding us from all sides from the moment we wake up, I question the very definition of the word “choice” itself.

Mainak Bhaumik is the maker of fun urban films like Maach Mishti & More and Ami Aar Amar Girlfriends. He studied in the US and is a Hollywood addict

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