Anna Luisa Del Mar, special for InfoRel –
Cultural industry as a country’s soft power tool is a key topic in any International Relations class. Introduced for the first time in 2004 by Joseph Nye (Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics), the concept of soft power refers to a country’s ability to influence international community by cultural or ideological means. According to Nye, a country’s soft power success depends on the admiration that its culture, values, language and institutions are capable of arousing. Hollywood is often used as – US cinema industry is capable of transposing geographical barriers, carrying on the “American way of life” to several countries.
As economic power grows for countries like China and India, it is also possible to observe a compatible investment increase on means to improve the effectiveness of their soft power. Over the past few years, Chinese government has founded several Confucius Institutes around the world, to teach Chinese and share values of its ancient culture – in Brazil alone, there are Confucius Institutes installed in public and private higher education institutions spread all over the country. The Nobel Prizes for Literature awarded to Chinese authors Gao Xingjian (2000) and Mo Ya (2012) are a good example of the rising popularity of Chinese culture. In the same way, the spread of Buddhism and Hinduism has been luring a large number of visitors to India. Bollywood, the largest Indian film industry – named after the combination of Bombay and Hollywood – produces thousands of films per year and its rich sensory experiences play a strong role in the construction of their national identity.
That is why Netflix’s multicultural production efforts, although based on financial interests, deserve to be analysed in the arena of International Relations. Contrary to what have been suggested in past analyses on power relations between countries, Netflix is betting on diversity and invested to decentralize the production of series and films, producing a significant part of its content outside US borders and proving itself as a relevant platform for cultural exchange. This is evident when one observes that two of the most popular series in Brazil over the last few months were Dark (Germany) and La Casa de Papel (Spain). Brazilian 3% was the foreign most watched series in the US in 2017, being later surpassed by La Casa De Papel; while The Crown renewed the public interest towards the apathetic British royal family. The company also confirmed the upcoming production of Danish, French and Polish series.
Netflix’s inclusive and multicultural approach has a direct repercussion on the number of its subscribers, which has already reached 118.9 million. It is important to note that of the 8.2 million new sign ups in the first quarter of 2018, nearly 6 million came from outside the United States. In this sense, would it be possible to affirm that Netflix is giving a new boost to the already discredited values of globalization, promoting a positive vision of cultural diversity?
It is worth remembering that the concept of globalization became popular between the late 1980s and mid-1990s with the introduction of the first commercial Internet providers. It was expected that the advent would contribute to foster the exchange of views and ideas among different cultures. In 2000, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) highlighted the main aspects of globalization as being: trade and financial transactions, capital and investment movements, migration and the exchange of knowledge. What happened, however, was a culture crash that end up fuelling the rise of conservatism across Europe and America.
Throughout history it is possible to observe that every political and social movement paradoxically provokes a contrary reaction. One can only hope that multiculturalist initiatives as such will contribute to build a more pluralistic society, with respect for differences and in favour of international cooperation.
Anna Luisa Del Mar is a journalist: E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org