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Cultural isolationism- who's on the right side?

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Monday, Nov 7, 2005

When it comes to cavalier stances that set it apart from the rest of the world, you won’t find many adminstrations more stubborn or xenophobic than the Bushies.  As a result, a knee-jerk reaction to any of their positions on global treaties are usually dripping with suspicion.  But their stance on the cultural protectionism does raise some important questions that haven’t been seriously thought out or discussed otherwise.
  
That’s a shame because it is a pertinent issue that’s going to effect not just Yanks but also all cultures worldwide.  The crux of this is a UNESCO treaty approved a few weeks ago where countries would apply a cultural quota of foreign art (including movies and TV programs for the participating nations: U.S. Stands Alone on Unesco Cultural Issue.  Such a quota had already been implemented by Canada long ago, said to help promote more local, homegrown acts, including musicians.  Not surprisingly, they supported this measure:  Cultural diversity policy voted in.  Even the UK supported the measure but as the Times article notes, there’s nothing there to really enforce it globally.  Furthermore, both supporters and detractors have said that such a measure is just a slap in the face of U.S.‘s cultural dominance: Global plan to protect film culture.


Interesting to see though that it’s not just the Bushies that cry out against the UNESCO measure.  Sensing that their small, fragile turf might also be threatened, small-scale directors has their reservations about this too: UN Accord Sparks Concern Among Indie Filmmakers.  And it’s not that some countries need any encouragement to do this as Iran has already taken measures to keep foreign influences at bay: Iran strikes up the ban vs. foreign flicks.  Surely, totalitarian regimes have already long implemented this kind of thinking, lest any off-script idea creeps into their countries.


So the unanswered question remains, are cultural quotas a good idea or not?  No easy answers but something thoughts.  On the pro side, the argument is that this is a way to preserving local, national cultural and keep at bay a huge overwhelming influence like the U.S..  On the con side, this is seen as reactionary isolationism, crippling the free flow of ideas that enrich people.  So far, the Canada model has indeed helped to promote local acts, which is a much better way to argue for such restrictions that a blanket ban (i.e. Iran).  I also wonder about all the howls of indignation if the U.S. did actually implement a similar model- surely, the rest of the world would become even madder that the U.S. only cares about itself if that would happen. Also, how practical is it to try to erect barriers in the Net age where info goes everywhere and anywhere?  And if the Bushies are trying to make their anti-Unesco argument based on laissez-faire politics, they don’t do themselves any favors by also attacking and trying to defund the very art in this country that they’re supposed to be defending: GOP group aims at arts, PBS to offset Katrina aid


Is it possible to support both the idea of promoting local art AND the flow of ideas around the world?  Of course it is but it’s a complicated balance and obviously, not one that’s being thought out by both sides in this debate.

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