On Independence Day, we celebrate the very things Hollywood has always
been able to sell to the world—American values, history and aspirations. So
good is American television at doing this that it even contributed to the end
of the Cold War.
Not by tanks or armies did the Berlin Wall fall. It was brought down by
the people themselves, demanding their share of The Dream, the one wafting in
on the airwaves from the West. The comrades knew all about
Dallas and Dynasty. They were singing David Hasselhoff's tune,
“Looking for Freedom,” a pop song they knew because it was sung by the star
of Knight Rider, which played overseas even
before Baywatch did. The song became an
anthem for the giant crowds gathered to protest the grim life behind the Iron
On New Year's Eve, less than two months after the Wall was breached,
Hasselhoff himself stood atop its concrete ruins. “Close to a million East
and West German fans stood together in the freezing cold at midnight watching
me perform,” he told the BBC later. “I was overcome with emotion.”
That was then. Now they hate us, right? Flag-burning mobs are basic
B-roll for TV news.
But the world out there is filled with younger demos. And those young
people often wear the T-shirts, baseball caps and Nike sneakers they've seen
on American TV and that have been exported to them. While a sizeable part of
the world abhors the Western “culture” they see on TV, many, many others
love it: They like to eat at Mickey D's, too.
The America they see on TV is part of the reason Mexican kids are
fording the Rio Grande at night and Cubans in makeshift boats are crossing
shark-infested waters. To them, this is still the land of opportunity—and the
land of bling. They know this because they've seen it on TV.
What about the need to protect exalted high Euro-culture from crass
American low culture? That isn't new. European protectionism against American
popular culture began even before the movies learned to talk. Consider the
alternative to messy freedom and competition. Crassness enforced with a
seductive advertising campaign is not the same as a fatwa enforced at the point
of a gun. The world's striving people still love America and all the goodies
and possibilities for which it stands. For some foreigners, it is only the
current administration and its policies they dislike.
So we give 'em Tony Soprano. We give 'em The
O.C. and American Idol (which, of
course, the Brits gave to us first). If the old men in Washington would get out
of the way, Hollywood and commercialism might conquer the world all over again.
Consider this: Saddam loves Doritos.