2019年11月16日 星期六

Race/Related: Why Bollywood, K-Pop and Turkish TV Are Surging

And America’s soft power dominance is waning.
In a new book, Fatima Bhutto writes about the values and stories conveyed in Bollywood films, Turkish soap operas and South Korean pop music, and examines how they are eclipsing American soft power.Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images for Spirit Forward

“The Bold and the Beautiful,” a staple of American daytime television for more than 30 years, peaked in its worldwide viewership at 26.2 million in 2008. A few years later, “Magnificent Century,” a Turkish drama, was broadcast to 200 million people. That wide gulf in audience is one of the focuses of the book “New Kings of the World,” about how American soft power is being eclipsed around the globe.

The author, Fatima Bhutto, was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, raised in Damascus, Syria, and educated in New York and London. She now works as a novelist and journalist in Karachi, Pakistan. Ms. Bhutto racked up tens of thousands of frequent-flier miles while exploring popular culture emerging from the East.

During a recent visit to The New York Times newsroom, she gave us a different perspective on race and culture, one that we want to share with you. I spoke with her, and these are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Share with us what your cultural diet was like.

Growing up in Damascus in the 1980s, my father would get James Bond films on VHS, we’d have Motown music playing in the car, and I’d watch half an hour of nonverbal Soviet cartoons that state TV would show in the evenings.

I am very much a child of American culture but at the same time, I also had access to plenty of non-American cultural products. As a teenager in Pakistan, I listed to Snoop Dogg and American hip-hop, but also to the Pakistani bands Junoon and Strings, as well as Rai music from Algeria and Egyptian pop.

American culture was always the glitziest, but it wasn’t always the most thoughtful.

The lure of American soft power — Coca-Cola, jazz, jeans, rock ’n’ roll and, of course, Hollywood — has historically been strong and backed by the government. How did American military supremacy help export this cultural power?

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The American military is the most widely deployed army in history, and it maintains a massive infrastructure outside its borders with bases across all continents and an enormous machinery to support its presence.

At its height, in 1968, more than one million American troops were deployed in 54 countries. They brought their cultures with them, their films, their music, their tastes and their products. And they also were a huge presence that required entertainment, so they became places where musicians and artists would find welcome ground.

Today, just under 200,000 personnel are overseas, marking the lowest American troop deployment in six decades. One might argue that as troop numbers decrease, so too does American cultural dominance.

Ms. Bhutto at the London launch of her book, which celebrates pop culture emerging from the East.David M. Benett/Getty Images for LDV Hospitality

When did the pivot away from Hollywood begin to occur? Why was there a backlash?

There isn’t one moment we can point to, rather it’s a perfect storm of factors including plummeting American prestige, the belated rediscovery that local cultures are valuable in and of themselves, and the rise of classes with different tastes and backgrounds emerging out of the turbulence of globalization, migration and urbanization.

Describe the effect of those trends.

In 2015, over one billion people left their homes in search of a better life. Only a small percentage, 244 million, migrated abroad. The majority, some 763 million, moved from rural to urban areas within their own countries. Between 1.5 million and 3 million people move to cities every week. The psychological disorientation caused by these shifts is profound.

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People leaving their families and villages are unmoored in the big, soulless city. It is a geography without anchors, full of sexual and material deprivations, injustices and inequalities. Add to that the betrayal of globalization’s promise: that the world would be lifted on a tide of wealth, opportunity and access.

But hundreds of millions of people who uprooted their life in order to become captains of this new world have found no wealth, no opportunity and no access. Rather, the opposite.

How does Hollywood speak to the world’s unmoored and displaced? What does “Hustlers” say to a woman who has left her family’s village in El Salvador to move to the turbulent, violent city? What does “Avengers: Endgame” say to Afghan refugees, fighting to survive, in this new world? Nothing. It doesn’t speak to them at all.

Abrams

This is 18 — through girls’ eyes.

A year ago, The New York Times set out to document the lives of 18-year-old girls across six continents, with one requirement: Girls needed to be in front of and behind the camera.

The result was This Is 18, a project to showcase the lives of teenage girls across oceans and cultures.

Now that project is a book — an immersive look at what it means to be on the cusp of adulthood around the world.

For a limited time, Race/Related readers will receive a 15 percent discount when they use the code THISIS18 and order from The New York Times store. (Unfortunately, this code does not apply to shipping outside the United States.)

EDITOR’S PICKS

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