By Alex Pnevmatikos, Institute for Cultural Diplomacy.
The former State Department Cultural Diplomacy practitioner, Richard T. Arndt, stated that “cultural relations grow naturally and organically, without government intervention – the transactions of trade and tourism, student flows, communications, book circulation, migration, media access, inter-marriage – millions of daily cross-cultural encounters”. A good example of a particular culture’s ability to forge global cultural opinion is the American film industry and Hollywood: actors and directors as well as characters and innovative plot scenarios create of new role models and idols in our contemporary globalized society. Films are definitely a pathway through which Cultural Diplomacy and international relations can be conducted. For example, the girls of ‘’Sex and the City’’ have managed not only to offer stylish clothing advice and promote classy western clothing brands, but have also established the archetypal figure of the beautiful and attractive woman among the female population of the 21st century. According to Joseph Nye, this attraction is one aspect that can prove the superiority of a dominant culture and consequently the power of a country’s Cultural Diplomacy. Furthermore, the importance of such issues can be demonstrated by the ‘cultural’ security policies that countries like Iran and China have already established. The fact that the Chinese or Iranian populations have no access to the same ‘youtube’ database as the rest of the globe – particularly that of the U.S. and Europe – highlights the manner in which these two countries are attempting to defend themselves against ‘Western’ soft power.
However, it seems that Cultural Diplomacy as a means of soft power (or smart power) is not only a weapon for superpowers such as the U.S. and the UK, but also for smaller, less powerful states. Even though most scholars argue that smaller states are mostly investing in nation branding in order to promote cultural attraction, the film industry and its relation to significant cultural aspects of countries around the world might be able to prove the opposite. The famous American director, Woody Allen, has already established a series of movies depicting the most historic cities of Europe. From ‘Vicky, Christina, Barcelona’, to ‘Midnight in Paris’ and ‘From Rome with Love’, the legendary director is now moving to the South East of Europe with the intention of completing this cycle of these films with a movie about Athens and the Greek financial crisis. Woody Allen’s idea focuses on the humanitarian crisis caused by the memorandum and bankruptcy of the local economy. According to information, the film’s provisional title is ‘Athens by Night’, and will narrate the life of a young American writer who lives under the Acropolis, and writes an epic novel during the period of the Greek crisis. Film industry reports state that Brad Pitt and Penelope Cruz will be playing the lead roles, while a team of Woody Allen’s partners as well as the man himself are expected to start scouting the Athenian neighbourhoods in May 2013.
A Hollywood movie directed by Woody Allen and involving the likes of Brad Pitt and Penelope Cruz is definitely a subject of massive cultural attraction. Regardless of whether the production firm and Woody Allen are aware of Cultural Diplomacy and soft power or have an actual interest in supporting the country, the national brand of Greece and the country’s reputation will be spread abroad during a time of real need. As the Greek film industry seems unable to support the public/Cultural Diplomacy sector and evolve in this direction, it is again Hollywood that comes to fill the gap, and of course present the whole ‘story’ through its own perspective. No matter which perspective is used, however, Greek ethics, traditions and arts in general, as well as the country’s strengths such as the paradisiacal landscapes, the climate, and the well known hospitality will be promoted, aiming to replace the negative reputation caused by the crisis. As a result, Greek tourism will regain its popularity, foreign investments will again cross the Greek borders, and Greece will manage to partly recover on a socio-political and financial level.
In the case of the arts, and particularly in the case of ‘films as Cultural Diplomacy’, it seems that soft power can contribute to the relations between countries and benefit both the private and public sector of a country’s economy.
Joseph S. Nye, Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics (Cambridge: Perseus Books, 2004)