Ask yourself this question: Does the image of America you see portrayed in television shows and movies look like the same place in which you live and work?
What if your only glimpse of U.S. culture was obtained through a Britney Spears, Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan looking glass?
In nations across the globe, there are people who may never get the chance to visit the United States or have contact with a single American. Yet their impressions of this country are in great part formed by the TV shows and motion pictures that are routinely dispatched by America's entertainment industry.
Once upon a time, Hollywood delivered, in awe-inspiring fashion, iconic images of Henry Fonda, Clark Gable, John Wayne and others. The world fell in love with distinctly American heroes who never failed to project optimism, courage, loyalty and unshakable belief in freedom, fairness and justice.
Director John Ford established Wayne as the embodiment of the nation -- the cowboy -- rugged, independent, courageous, gallant and true.
In a disturbing revision of that time-honored image, the 1969 Oscar for best picture went to "Midnight Cowboy," the only X-rated feature ever to win in the category. The film relegated the cowboy's occupation to that of a male prostitute. Unfortunately, for Hollywood productions, things have in large part continued in this vein.
Since the late 1960s, U.S. entertainment exports have painted for the world a picture of America as a place of extreme violence, rampant crime, unapologetic narcissism, licentious exhibitionism and extraordinary self-loathing. It is a misshapen and seriously flawed America, a place in which no reasonable person would want to live.
America's recent film exports include a brutal set of films that have no apparent purpose other than to display senseless, sickening and sadistic visuals. "Hostel" took in $33 million abroad, which represented 41 percent of its total revenue. In the film, young people are sold to wealthy businessmen, tormented and killed for entertainment purposes. Three "Saw" films, which spotlight torture and degradation, have taken in almost $160 million in foreign box-office receipts, which represents about 44 percent of the films' total revenues.
James Hirsen is a best-selling author, commentator and law professor. For more information on this debate series, go to www.iq2us.org. These films and similar ones lead our neighbors abroad to believe that America and its people are devious, depraved and extremely dangerous.
One aspect of Hollywood's American projection has been particularly corrosive. As purveyors of the narrative, one might expect Hollywood filmmakers would vary their presentations, depicting representatives of the free market and those engaged in business sometimes as heroes and sometimes as villains.
But on television and in movies, Hollywood, for the most part, has presented the American corporation as a repository of evil. Always the villain, never the hero is the overriding corporate theme of modern cinema. Along with it, a secondary theme has emerged in which a reluctant hero character who invariably takes the form of a journalist, crusading worker or single mother, ends up saving the day.
In Oliver Stone's "Wall Street," Gordon Gekko, a caricature of a businessman, places greed on a pedestal.