A big topic this week has been whether different cultures share the frame of reference needed to make soft power or PD effective. In addition to that more existential question, Andrew's post below about the logistics and security involved in making cultural exchanges effective raises a good point.
I found a couple of articles regarding cultural exchanges, both of which popped up when I googled "orientalism" after our discussion about culture on Tuesday. The first is by an Indian filmmaker, K. Hariharan, who hated "Slumdog Millionaire" (I haven't seen it, by the way). He complains that the movie has done so well in the West because it appeals to our preconceptions about third-world squalor and presents this ridiculously optimistic fairytale story that doesn't resonate much with Indians, let alone Indians in the slums. He also says that this projection goes both ways:
"This reflects in the way Indian audiences choose to watch only those films from Hollywood which show crashing cars and sizzling pyrotechnics when the reality of the average American city is far from it. . . The real ‘American’ films by Woody Allen and the Coen brothers would make no sense to Indian viewers while the typical Bollywood melodrama would make no sense to the west."
We've talked a little about PD via "market-forces," which is one way to look at the international film industry. Films get shown overseas if they sell, and Hariharan suggests, rather in line with Janice Mattern's take on the lack of shared frames of reference, that this is not an effective way to influence people or build real ties, as what sells often reinforces stereotypes.
I also found an article about a British Council art exhibit touring the Middle East, from the UAE's The National. The exhibit, called "Lure of the East," consists of the exact kind of colonial travel painting that inspired Edward Said's original Orientalism. The exhibit, when it opened in the UK at the Tate Gallery, prompted critical and popular reaction full of post-colonial discomfort and liberal guilt (largely based off of Said's ideas about how stuff like this justified colonialism), and yet:
"The Tate has taken Britain’s uneasy conscience on tour, first to Turkey and now, as of today, to the Sharjah [UAE] Art Museum. In the process, the pat polarity of East and West has been complicated in interesting ways – not least by emphasising the point that art-buyers in the Muslim world seem to like some of the stuff."
Up to a thousand people a day went to see the exhibit in Istanbul, and the curators in Sharjah were eager to acquire the exhibit. The British Council is also staging a public debate about the artwork at the museum in Sharjah in a couple of weeks. That I think is particularly interesting in terms of PD, you'd think the colonial era, cultural domination and all that would be something British PD would avoid at all costs. But at first glance at least, it seems like a very interesting way to bring up some of the important questions in the countries' long-term relationship in a fairly non-threatening atmosphere (it also, as per Andrew's post, makes the artwork accessable, unlike the American strategy of letting Hollywood handle it).
I think the difference between these two versions of cultural exchange (granted one is planned and one is spontaneous) is especially interesting in light of the debate about cultural frames of reference. The Hollywood/Bollywood interaction assumes similarity but reinforces stereotypes, while the British Council effort sends over something deliberately meant to spark debate about subjectivity, bias, domination, and all of that stuff. By acknowledging the difference and making it something interesting to look at and talk about, the British Council takes some of the political sting out of the issue, which may be a valuable PD objective in and of itself.