Rob Brown's column
Monday 03 November 1997
All over the UK, in the aftershock of the Louise Woodward trial, there are teenage girls tearfully abandoning their dream of spending a stint as a nanny in the US. I cannot offer them much consolation this morning, but I do have a few words of comfort. Listen girls, you don't really need to cross the Atlantic to experience life in the US of A. Just hang around here, for America is coming to you.
It hasn't dawned on many people yet just how much the world's only surviving superpower is in the vanguard of the communications revolution. The era of dishes and digits now fast unfolding will be dominated almost completely by US-based conglomerates. America is set to dominate the emerging global infosphere as much as Britannia once ruled the waves.
Douglas Rothkopf, managing director of Kissinger Associates and an adjunct professor of international affairs at Columbia University in New York, summed up the prospect in the summer issue of Foreign Policy, where he wrote: "American music, American movies, American television and American software are so dominant, so sought after and so visible that they are now literally available everywhere on earth. They influence the tastes, lives, and aspirations of virtually every nation."
The German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel expressed the same point more graphically on a recent front cover. The picture showed a giant pair of cowboy boots, embossed with the stars-and-stripes, propped up against a shrunken globe. The headline: "USA: Die Herren der Welt" - "USA: Masters of the World".
Back on these shores the Voice of the Listener and Viewer is also starting to fret about what this could mean for future generations. At a conference hosted by that body last month Diane Abbott startled the audience by recalling a recent visit to a school in her constituency where the kids had spent so much time watching American cartoons that they thought the number to call for emergency services was 911 rather than 999.
The European has also been getting into a bit of a lather recently lamenting the fact that Europe is lagging far behind America in all the important industries of the future, notably information technology, telecommunications and audio-visual industries such as film and television. "PLUNDER!" was the banner headline on one especially dramatic cover, which seized upon the release of the movie Hercules to accuse the Disney corporation of stealing and distorting classic works of European literature.
Perusing that damning critique of US cultural imperialism, one had to pinch oneself to remember that The European is now overseen by Andrew Neil, a man who adores America. But his adoration of America is now clearly outstripped by his contempt for the European Commission (which he seems to hold responsible for every lamentable event or trend on this continent).
A pro-European publication would have re-published the aforementioned article by Douglas Rothkopf, which was headlined "In Praise of Cultural Imperialism?" That question mark is out of place, for Rothkopf (who also served as a senior official in the US Commerce Department during the first Clinton administration) is immensely proud of the American Imperium. He urges his fellow Americans to seize the opportunities presented by the global information revolution not just to boost America's economy but to promote American culture over others.
"The United States should not hesitate to promote its values," he asserts. "In an effort to be polite or politic, Americans should not deny the fact that, of all the nations in the history of the world, theirs is the most tolerant, the most willing to constantly reassess and improve itself, and the best model for the future."
Let's hope the parents of Louise Woodward don't read those words in their current trauma. Rothkopf's arrogant and ignorant assertion of American superiority might make them throw up.
In their joint reflections on the Woodward trial in yesterday's Independent on Sunday, John Carlin and David Usborne wrote: "America, all callow visitors should be warned, is not a gentle and forgiving place. It is a profoundly violent, institutionally vengeful country."
Those words should be pinned up on the bedroom walls of young British teenage girls who dream about spending some time as a nanny in the US. They should also be cut out and kept by every politician on this side of the Atlantic who is failing to mobilise a proper and adequate resistance to American cultural imperialism.
Sadly, in the case of Britain, that would mean every elected figure in the land with the sole exception of the MEP for London East. Carol Tongue has mounted a lone crusade to protect and develop the European audio-visual industry. She was a prime mover behind the "Television Without Frontiers" directive that obliges all TV channels in the European Union to show a majority of European programmes. Margaret Thatcher created a gaping escape clause for satellite and cable companies (predominantly US-owned) by insisting that the words "wherever practicable" were tacked on.
But Ms Tongue has many powerful and influential allies on the continent, as she demonstrated by attracting Italy's Minister for Culture, Walter Veltroni, and France's former culture minister Jack Lang to Brighton for a packed fringe meeting, which she chaired.
To be fair, Britain's Minister for Culture, Media and Sport was also there and echoed Carol Tongue's central conviction that Europe's politicians have a duty to ensure that Europeans can watch more of their own stories on their own screens.
But the "Minister for Fun" is a lowly - and, according to some accounts, increasingly vulnerable - member of a fledgling Labour government that is displaying scarcely more enthusiasm for European integration than their Conservative predecessor. Tony Blair, one suspects, would rather see Britain become a cultural colony of America than a committed member of European Union.
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