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Cultural Resilience in the Age of Globalization: Telling Your Own Stories, Your Own Way

THE NOTION THAT GLOBALIZATION RESULTS IN CULTURAL HOMOGENIZATION ONLY SEEMS TRUE DURING ITS INITIAL "INVASION," BUT, OVER TIME, REGIONAL AND NATIONAL PILLARS INVARIABLY RECLAIM THEIR HISTORIC CULTURAL INFLUENCE AND MARKET TURF. We in America tend to view this as a "reversal" of globalization's tide, when it is nothing of the sort. It's simply local populations accepting globalization's connectivity while repopulating its content, and, in doing so, rendering it more applicable, tolerable, and entertaining. I've made this point for many years in my writing: virtually everyone in the world welcomes globalization's connectivity, but many - if not most - have a problem with its content (particularly when it emanates from culturally free-wheeling America). A few nations deal with this content mismatch by censorship, bans, and the like. But the smarter cultures adopt the media/connectivity models and then fill them up with their own unique content - eventually exporting that content abroad.

That is most definitely the case with Nigeria, per a NYT story:

The stories told by Nigeria’s booming film industry, known as Nollywood, have emerged as a cultural phenomenon across Africa, the vanguard of the country’s growing influence across the continent in music, comedy, fashion and even religion.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, overtook its rival, South Africa, as the continent’s largest economy two years ago, thanks in part to the film industry’s explosive growth.

Notice how, when it's a regional pillar doing the "cultural imperialism," no one uses that term:

“The Nigerian movies are very, very popular in Tanzania, and, culturally, they’ve affected a lot of people,” said Songa wa Songa, a Tanzanian journalist. “A lot of people now speak with a Nigerian accent here very well thanks to Nollywood. Nigerians have succeeded through Nollywood to export who they are, their culture, their lifestyle, everything.”

But the key dynamic here, as noted above, is the repopulating of media networks previously dominated by outsiders with local content.

Nollywood generates about 2,500 movies a year, making it the second-biggest producer after Bollywood in India, and its films have displaced American, Indian and Chinese ones on the televisions that are ubiquitous in bars, hair salons, airport lounges and homes across Africa.

Nollywood succeeds by telling stories about the vast socio-economic transitions Africans are experiencing thanks to globalization's embrace:

Nollywood resonates across Africa with its stories of a precolonial past and of a present caught between village life and urban modernity. The movies explore the tensions between the individual and extended families, between the draw of urban life and the pull of the village, between Christianity and traditional beliefs. For countless people, in a place long shaped by outsiders, Nollywood is redefining the African experience.

In short, Nollywood's content represents a cultural coping-mechanism - a source of civilizational resilience amidst tumultuous change.

“I doubt that a white person, a European or American, can appreciate Nollywood movies the way an African can,” said Katsuva Ngoloma, a linguist at the University of Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of Congo who has written about Nollywood’s significance. “But Africans — the rich, the poor, everyone — will see themselves in those movies in one way or another.”

Best yet, Nollywood-as-Hollywood-cum-Bollywood knock-off is already replicating itself across the continent, resulting in even more localized and culturally rich content generation.

Nollywood has also created a model for movie production in other African nations, said Matthias Krings, a German expert on African popular culture at Johannes Gutenberg University.

In Kitwe, Zambia, local filmmakers were recently making their latest movie in true Nollywood style: a family melodrama shot over 10 days, in a private home, on a $7,000 budget. Burned onto DVD, the movie will be sold in Zambia and neighboring countries.

Acknowledging the influence of Nigerian cinema, the movie’s producer, Morgan Mbulo, 36, said, “We can tell our own stories now.”

And that's how globalization should work: global connectivity spreading capabilities and those expanding capabilities allowing for local developments that suit local tastes, cultural requirements, and the social issues of the day.


Let a million muckrakers bloom!

Nice NYT story on Chinese blogger who "thrives as muckracker."  Odd choice of wording there.  Self-professed citizen journalist in early 40s is being tolerated for now, as his "freelance campaign against graft has earned him pop-star acclaim and send a chill through Chinese officialdom."

Sounds like a fine line.  I mean, once you start going on the BBC with your stories, you take your life into your hands.

One of his latest tricks is posting sex videos of high bureaucrats having at it with young prostitutes.  He also says things like, "I'm fighting a war.  Even if they beat me to death, I won't give up my sources or the videos."

A local Beijing journalism academic says, "Here on Chinese soil, it's almost impossible for citizen journalists like him to survive long term."

But if you want the self-regenerative progressivism to take hold, you have to tolerate these types.  Otherwise bad stuff continues to be swept under rugs.  Problem is, of course, showing the crimes of the single party leads to that single party's legitimacy being further diminished.

The CCP in China has typically operated along the lines of, it's okay to unmask mid-level officials but not truly high ones (like the NYT did recently, triggering the Chinese hacking attacks).  But people know that, if mid-level types are routinely engaging in mischief, it's because the higher-ups tolerate it as lesser versions of their own evil.

So the fine line continues.  The blogger recently got a flattering Xinhua treatment, and yet gov censors constantly remove his micro-blog pieces almost the minute they appear.

Again, ultimately Beijing needs to allow this sort of positive self-renewal. It's a sign of the maturation of Chinese society in response to all the positive socio-economic churn.

You either trust the people or you don't, and the CCP's problem is that, it most definitely does not trust its own people.

No question where things are headed.  Anyone who thinks the future is less transparency and less public accountability is kidding themselves.


South Korea follows Japan's path to soft-power exports

WAPO story on how South Korean directors are experiencing a sort of explosion in Hollywood.  I've long been a big fan of SouKo's horror films, but now it appears that we're getting a broader flow - post-Gangnam Style:

South Korea’s film directors, like its pop stars, have been trying for years to break out of their country’s competitive but small market and into the West. Just as Korean music finally broke through last year with Psy’s “Gangnam Style,” this might be the year that Korean directors take over Hollywood.

Three of South Korea’s top directors are this year releasing, and in one case already have released, their first English-language films, often featuring top-name American actors (or Anglophones who pose as Americans), the New York Times noted in a story this weekend. The directors have long had “fan bases” in Hollywood eager to pull them into the U.S. market, the Times says, explaining that American producers appreciate that Korean directors’ “style and restraint go hand in hand with a taste for visceral, often bloody stories in popular categories like horror and crime.”

South Korea seems poised to follow the path of Japan.  It had its democratization moment back in the 1990s, and its big firms have gone from knock-offs to high-end offerings.  Now, it's time to start exporting the culture.

It's a journey worth watching.  China invariably follows this path, and the Chinese spend a lot of time watching South Korea and how it navigates from middle-income to higher realms.  South Korea is, last time I checked, just about the biggest regional investor in China and you see Koreans all over the place in major cities - especially in universities.  It seems like a positive "lead goose" effect, wherein the Chinese are more ready to follow the South Korean example than admit to doing the same with Japan.

Then again, it's natural to focus more on the country making the journey is closest historical proximity to your own.  Japan modeled itself significantly on the US, South Korea watched and copied Japan's example.  China will eventually copy South Korea in many ways, and Seoul is an excellent example of how you do it.



You rediscover your past when you plan on making some near-term history

It's that old Winston Churchill bit about how you can't think ahead into the future any further than you can reach back and remember your past.  It's a balancing act.

Neat NYT article on how Turkey is rediscovering its history via film ("As if the Ottoman period never ended.") Nothing says, "growing regional/global ambitions" quite like that.

The Ottoman period, particularly during the 16th and 17th centuries, was marked by geopolitical dominance and cultural prowess, during which the sultans claimed the spiritual leadership of the Muslim world, before the empire’s slow decline culminated in World War I. For years the period was underplayed in the history taught to schoolchildren, as the new Turkish Republic created by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923 sought to break with a decadent past.

Now, as Turkey is emerging as a leader in the Middle East, buoyed by strong economic growth, a new fascination with history is being reflected in everything from foreign policy to facial hair. In the arts, framed examples of Ottoman-era designs, known as Ebru and associated with the geometric Islamic motifs adorning mosques, have gained in popularity among the country’s growing Islamic bourgeoisie, adorning walls of homes and offices, jewelry and even business cards.

I know a lot of people harbor a lot of fears about Turkey, but I think it's the best thing that's happened to the Middle East in a long time.  If we didn't have a Turkey to play lead goose on the Arab Spring, we'd have to invent one.

Bring on the Gallipoli films (all four of them)!


India: a nice signpost of the - necessarily - coming progressive era

Nice WSJ weekend piece that chronicles the recent media rise of a sort of muckraking Phil Donahue (the original US avatar of the wave of "truth" exposing shows that blossomed in his wake - Sally Jesse, Oprah, and so on) in India:

The format of "Truth Alone Prevails" is simple. (The show airs on the Star network, which, like The Wall Street Journal, is owned by News Corp.) Mr. Khan introduces the issue of the day to a live studio audience; a short video is shown, featuring a real-world case of hardship or injustice; and then, with only a modest amount of television wizardry, the lights come up and the person from the video is on stage, seated opposite Mr. Khan. And they begin to talk. Mr. Khan does not dazzle the audience with his star power; for the most part, he just listens. It is his guests, often heartbreakingly ordinary, who do the talking.

What emerges from their stories is a creeping horror, a vision of modern India that is stark and deeply unsettling: the family whose mother's life is snatched away, they say, in a botched and unauthorized organ transplant; the 12-year-old girl who accuses a 55-year-old family friend of sexual abuse; the call-center worker who tells of the forced abortion of her female fetuses—six times in eight years—at the hands of her husband's family. Mr. Khan's style is wry and laid back, but occasionally the stories are too much for him, and his eyes well with tears.

Though all manner of cruelty and casual violence are on display, the show is essentially uplifting.

India has not always been comfortable looking this hard at itself. Mr. Khan's show indicates a new candor and boldness, and the response has been staggering. As he told me, "We used to sit back, my team and I, and discuss how people would react, what they would feel. And the kind of response we dreamed of, and hoped for, that is exactly what we're getting." He admits to being emotionally drained by the show at times: "There's a lot of trauma, a lot of distress, a lot of injustice" out there, he said, and he has yet to commit to a second season. But he also says that he encountered an "equal number of examples of courage, high levels of integrity and deeply honed values."

Critics have accused Mr. Khan of being far less reliable on scientific issues than he is on social ones. Some also say that the show is preachy, even messianic, and that its research is not always up to scratch. 

This, and the rise of "bureacratic lit" (obliquely critical books on Chinese officialdom), are signposts - in my mind - of the inevitable progressive wave (lasting decades in length) that both India and China are doomed to "suffer." It's just what comes next . . . after such tumultuous rises where so much of society is exposed to opportunity in which many succeed, some take cruel advantage (nothing succeeds like excess), and plenty feel screwed over (the populist anger impulse).

The end of the WSJ says it all:

What gives "Truth Alone Prevails" its optimism is the voice of India's new middle class, which is increasingly politically and socially aware, though still unsure of itself and its newfound wealth and security. If the old India of my childhood [writer is an Indian part-time expat] - which was a far bleaker place - is to be superseded, it will depend on this new class' ability to understand and defend the freedoms that have enriched it.

Beautifully written and very perceptive piece, and a genuine signpost for analysts who track strategic trends.


One Kindle per child

Interesting WSJ piece on how aid projects are working to spread Kindles around Africa much in the same manner as the recent "one laptop per child."  Many of the same problems, many of the same good intentions, but a number of deltas worth mentioning.

The laptop per kid thing always struck me as overkill amidst a cellphone revolution.  The problem I still have with cellphones is one of their great tricks: you can be illiterate and use one quite well - thus the cellphone's reputation (deserved) as the greatest economic development tool of all time.  If you could read, my God the things you could suddenly do!  And if you couldn't, my God the things you could suddenly do anyway!

But just as a lot of people worry about the poor literacy of young people in developed societies - thanks to all these devices, I worried about the same in developing.  The writing skills of Millennials is - by generational standards - simply awful.  That's why I encourage so much reading and - more importantly - writing among my kids (all of which I personally edit whenever they give me the chance, so I can impart the same basic lessons my sister Cathie gave to me when she edited all my papers in college before I turned them in).  Good writing is becoming a lost art, and good writing starts with good reading of good writers - followed by application.

That's why this article caught my eye.  I still learn a lot about writing all the time - and always will, because I still read a lot (more and more fiction).  My fear with one-laptop was that we'd short-circuit a lot of useful learning, but with Kindles, which give you access to endless books and can go for a week on a good charge, you're filling young people's time and space with material that will ultimately advance them by developing their minds. 

Plus, as the article points out, with built-in Internet, Kindles are basically big mobiles, and everyone knows where those technologies can take people in otherwise "hostile infrastructure" environments.

Having just turned 50 and thinking about what I want to do with the next five-decade tranche, I do find myself drawn to efforts that will have catalytic impact in developing/emerging economies.  I have spent a great deal of my life fretting over the have/have-not thing, which is why - as a young man - I fell in love with globalization and its capacity to fuel the "Great Convergence" that progressively heals the Great Divergence of 1800-2000 (in income globally).

No, I don't see myself in aid efforts per se (although I have grand hopes for a philanthropic career at some point), but rather in the sort of infrastructure breakthroughs (still in that Development-in-a-Box mode) that are supremely catalytic.  There's just so much to work with right now, what with all the South-South transactions taking off.

I honestly cannot understand anyone pining for a past age.  We live in the best of worlds any human has yet enjoyed.  The problems we face are the best we've ever had, and there are so many good tracks of human progress to pursue.

I feel lucky to be 50 right now - at this point in time.


Globalization and the need for a "second life"

An old friend Hans Suter sends me the link to the New York Review of Books piece by Tim Parks.  In the piece, he argues that globalization is favoring English-language literature in the reading lives of elites within countries (here, I am defining "elites" just as urbanites with access to bookstores and a strong desire to read). That description is probably a disservice to the piece, which presents the usual sort of density of a NYRoB effort (and I use that term in a flattering fashion).  You really just need to read it yourself to enjoy and take from it what you will.  I personally enjoyed it immensely in the way I enjoy such things: not being terribly all that interested in the subject itself but immensely interested in the thoughts the piece triggered in my head (which, when you think of it, is exactly how a literary piece - even analysis - should make you feel).

It reminded me of how much I like the English remake of foreign films (think of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo") but how I still always prefer the originals in every instance.  I don't want a foreign experience translated for me any more than necessary (namely, the subtitles), because I like to immerse myself in the way they present themselves to themselves.  It's like eaves-dropping.  I mean, I've learned more about Iran in two movies, "Children of Heaven" and "Persepolis," than I have in all the non-fiction writing on Iran (to include serious political analysis) that I've ever come across.

So, where the Parks piece took me is this:


  • I really think non-fiction will predominate over fiction as globalization advances. I feel like non-fiction will do "more good," if you will.  
  • For now, I think English-language novels enjoy a dominance much like Hollywood does, and I think we're seeing now in novels the same things we've long seen in movies: increasingly, the purposeful structuring of literature for both a domestic and overseas audience. 
  • Much like in the movie industry, you see the same conclusion reached in literature:  tent-pole products seemingly "conquer" the world while subtly being productized in such a way as to exploit inherent advantages afforded by globalization's advance, and yet, there still will always be a highly heterogenous local supply of "smaller" versions (smaller books, smaller movies).  The local "language," if you will, survives in its own way, while bridging languages (especially English) connect publics across borders.
  • I think the more non-fiction and movies link up societies, we see the death of expertise on those societies within our own culture.  Notice, for example, how there really aren't any important Russian experts anymore - now that the Cold War is dead and buried.  Once the connections are made to the point where fiction and movies offer true connections (not a cause, but a characteristic of the connectivity I'm describing), you reach that point where the best experts are from the country itself - thus killing the local variety and relegating them to academia (e.g., we're so close to most of Europe now that you rarely see European experts on US news programs, because why not just ask experts on the subject from Europe simply to appear?).  Right now we're still dominated by experts on China and much of Asia and much of the Middle East and most of Africa, but in a couple of decades, those entire mini-industries will be erased from the public discourse - replaced by direct comms with the cultures in question.  And let me say that, in all instances, I can't wait!
  • I could say, as a former regional expert on the former Soviet Union, that this is a bad development, but, in truth, I think regional experts mostly misinform and mislead rather than create genuine understanding (primarily because there is such an odd mix of orthodoxy and arrogance in such communities). So I'm happy to see the novelists win out in the end, along with the filmmakers, because I see them doing far less harm and far more good.
  • Having said all that, I can still make a selfish argument regarding Wikistrat and its ability to amass expertise from the countries themselves versus relying (as we still do) too heavily on Western experts on the same.  Which is to say, I don't think Wikistrat is yet there, and yet I see it as a perfect vessel to increasingly "get there" over time - as in, diversity and numbers beat all.
  • I would also argue that translation skills increasingly trump traditional expertise on foreign culture.  I think we'll need oodles of translators amidst this shift, and that that will be a very good thing.  So when I advise young students going into International Relations today, I tell them to focus on their skills as translators (not so much in the mechanics of language itself but in taking that direct-conduit role and applying it to what is traditionallyt known as expertise - so seeing themselves more as translators than experts) and eschew the achievement of deep insight for personal professional achievement.  You might think that request too self-sacrificing and self-effacing for young people entering a field, but it's not for most Millennials.  They already think that way.
  • Personally, having just turned 50, I find myself thinking that my future ultimately lies in fiction, for all the logic cited here.  Part of me says it's like the old bit about necessarily being a liberal when you're young and a conservative when you're old: I feel like you write non-fiction until you can move on to a level of wisdom that allows more creative expressions. [As for those who start in fiction, God bless 'em because that ain't me.]


Anyway, a very interesting read that took my mind to a lot of places.  I think it might do the same for you.


Here comes Chinese FDI in a very public way

This NYT story today really jumped out at me, and the Chinese just bought, in a signature Foreign Direct Investment move, the second-biggest movie chain in the US:  

The Wanda Group, a Chinese conglomerate with extensive interests in the entertainment business, has agreed to acquire AMC Entertainment, North America’s second-largest movie theater owner, in a deal that is valued at $2.6 billion, including roughly $2 billion in assumed debt, the companies said Sunday.

David Gray/Reuters

Gerardo I. Lopez, AMC’s chief executive, left, exchanged documents with Zhang Lin, vice president of the Wanda Group, during a ceremony in Beijing on Monday.

The acquisition creates the world’s largest theater group, the companies said. It also represents a significant expansion of Chinese influence in the American film industry. The industry has been looking to China for a vast new reservoir of ticket buyers for Hollywood movies, while joining Chinese investors to produce films like the planned “Iron Man 3” and teaming up to build studio facilities and a new Disney theme park in China.

The usual motives apply:  Chinese firm looking for know-how in an industry that's booming across China but isn't being as monetized as it could be - by Western standards.  For the US company, a crucial sub-plot emerges a few paras down the story:

In addition to the $2.6 billion value assigned to AMC’s debt and equity in the deal, Wanda is expected to invest $500 million for what the companies called “strategic and operating initiatives.” Mr. Wang said that the money would generally be used for renovation and other needs, but that specifics were up to Mr. Lopez and his team. Mr. Lopez said there was no plan in place for the money. But, he said, it might be used to retire debt, acquire new theaters or fix up old ones.

To me, this is a very positive development, and it's one we're going to read about countless times over the next decade. And yes, it will look and feel like Japanese money "buying up everything!" across America in the late 1980s/early 1990s.

But, of course, America has "suffered" these invading waves of FDI throughout our long history as a multinational economic union.  Chinese money will be just as good and useful as those of the other countries that preceeded it, and the further intertwinning of our economies will mitigate the craziness out of the Beltway crowd as they pine for a "near peer" competitor to justify the dropping floor of the defense budget.

You know, the Chinese were going to be the featured villain in the remake of "Red Dawn," but then Hollywood realized they'd be shutting themselves out of the Chinese box office, so they subbed in the North Koreans, which - of course - makes the film a complete and utter fantasy.  But it just goes to show you what all this financial connectivity leads too - cooler heads prevailing everywhere save among those fiercely dedicated fear-mongers in DC.


Hollywood gets itself some Chinese

Old Jack Welch bit: you can't succeed in global economy without succeeding in China.

My addendum: you can't succeed in China unless you're Chinese.

Solution: Get yourself some Chinese.

Hollywood has seen overseas B.O. rise from a tiny share to well over half in recent years. More specifically, while the US market is flat, burgeoning middle class China's is booming.

WSJ sees two different markets, but I already see a Chinese market that, with incredible restrictions on the number of US imports, is already half-synched to our blockbuster mode.

You know about Spielberg already turning toward China for future financing.  This piece talks about Disney doing the same.  Co-productions will become the norm, connecting talent with bucks (literally).  Yes, nothing will change the flops-v-tentpoles ratio. Indeed, it is likely to rise in the short-run, but Hollywood is very adept at figuring these things out, much like Japan does in its very clever global marketing of anime.

In the meantime, we be treated to the glorious hysterics of the "Red Dawn" remake. [The Chinese dodged a movie bullet there, as the original script had them invading, but now we get the fantastically implausible depiction of North Korea doing the same - much like a recent (pretty good) video game "Homefront."  The kicker: MGM rebooted the script so as to not lose out on the growing Chinese box office.] But, over time, this will be a good collaboration and a bilateral image reshaper that benefits the planet.


Chart of the day: Cinema B.O. reflects globalization of mass media

Per my many past posts on the subject, a great chart showing how flat domestic US box office is (hovering around $10B mark), while DVD sales have come and gone and Blu-Rays aren't filling the gap as Internet- and cable-delivered (virtually indistinguishable when it comes to the home) take over with their much-thinner margins (none of that being shown on this Economist chart).

Thus, why it's so crucial to Hollywood that foreign B.O. has more than doubled in last decade, and shows all signs of taking off even more.

Why?  As with most things, it's the emergence of the global middle class.  Think to when movies took off in America (1920s) and then realize how sustaining they were even during the Great Depression (escapism), thus all bottom-of-the-pyramid logic plays here too.


Amidst the ugly piracy and the just plain bad censorship, there is the sheer good of numbers

FT full-page "analysis" and Economist story.

FT is about rise of microblog sites in China and how the government throws ever more censors at the problem. As always, it's a strange mix of shaping and monitoring public opinion on the government's part, but what always impresses me is the sheer amount of expression going on.

Naturally, the piece leads with the latest example of a netizen mob gone wild over some official's nastiness -- or more specifically, some high official's son's nastiness (the infamous son of Li Gang, who, after hitting a student with his car while drunk, drove off shouting from his car window, "Make a report if you dare, my dad is Li Gang!").  Well, the report was made and Li Gang paid the price.  "My dad is Li Gang" became the Chinese web equivalent of "I'm Spactacus!" symbolizing everything that the public finds wrong about official abuse. 

But as the piece makes clear, the evolution of China's web defies traditional Western expectations.  More and more Chinese log on, and more and more government effort is launched to keep track of it all.  Instead of some glorious montage scene where everybody expresses their clear desire for free elections and then we cut to the movie's uplifting climax, we see a lot of virulent nationalism being expressed.  And instead of hapless government censors throwing up their hands at the insane flow of words, the Party is getting fairly sophisticated at managing the whole mess, even publishing its annual list of Li-Gang-like events.  So, for now, the web just seems like another place where the Party is subtly polling the public, cracking down only in the those rare instances where somebody truly steps out of line.  

We in the West are disappointed with this, but I don't think we should be.  Expecting China to morph into the U.S. overnight is wrong, but so is assuming that the line between Party control and public expression isn't moving, because it is.  It's just that the public is happy enough, for now, exploring a lot of personal and mundane, simply entertaining stuff, not being all that different from anybody else in the West.

And when the political is expressed, it's often frighteningly out of control and over the top -- immature.  That too is not all that different from the West, if you go back to an equivalent time in our political evolution.

And that's the trick.  Rapid modernization can speed up all sorts of evolutions, but a rapid modernization of the political system is something entirely different.  Those sorts of rules, when they change abruptly, can be very destabilizing, and the more you let the connectivity revolutionize everything else in the economy and society, the more you, the leadership and even the public, should fear commensurate possibilities of change in the political sphere. 

We can assume that everything would work out to our liking if the Party just let it all hang out at once, but we'd likely be wrong.  People need time to get used to all that change, and we consistently underestimate the amount of time traveling that the average 50-something Chinese has undergone over the past three decades. We took a couple centuries to travel similar political ground, and we forget the journey, so we say, "All right already, you've had the web now for a while, so why doesn't everything resemble our way of life?"

I say, be patient and give them time to get used to the all the economic and social change before moving on to the political.  And then expect that journey to likewise be entirely Chinese, understanding that how they kept things together over time has never been our way, because our way was to escape all that back home, run here, and build something entirely different. 

Over time, the Party commands less and less of the public's attention, and for this thing to evolve in a more free direction, that's all we need. 

The Economist story makes this point.  Not only is the government's main channel, CCTV, losing viewers to less controlled provincial stations, it's really losing the young to Internet video, most of which is pirated immediately from the West.  Interesting example of a show I know and love: "Prison Break" is huge in China and its star, Wentworth Miller is not only mobbed everywhere he goes in China, he's the frickin' face of GM on TV commercials!

The show has never been aired on any Chinese TV network.

Now, the temptation is to read meaning into Wentworth's original TV subject matter, but go easy on that.  Point is, the young get used to choosing on their own and, over time, that changes things.

So, go easy on the pessimism, I say.  We expect too much out of the original, time-traveling generations here.  Xi Jinping (China's next president and in his late 50s), for example, still remembers vividly being thrown in jail as a kid as a political prisoner on his dad's behalf during the Cultural Revolution.  He's China's leader for the next decade, and his "Sixties' were a bit different from the Boomers.  

Conservatives in the West keep saying, Nixon went to China 40 years ago and look how the Party still rules! They say that because that's all they want to see.  But we need to go back and read our history here.  The Cultural Revolution was a "long national nightmare" that trumps our Vietnam and Watergate by . . .  more than just a bit.  It was a national insanity and the bite it took out of the national psyche was closer to our Civil War than anything we've experienced since

So rather than expecting that much more time traveling by the 50-something crowd, think of this more in terms of post-Cultural Revolution generations.  The first truly post-CR leadership generation comes online in 2022 and China hits the half-century-mark post Deng's reforms another decade after that.  Realistically, this is always where I've been positing this sort of political change -- when the bulk of China's population has had all its formative experiences post the Cultural Revolution, or when their definition of normal truly normalizes, and their willingness to start some of the political time-traveling builds to the point of acting on those impulses. 

For now and for a while, China's population will remain mostly filled up by people for whom all the change to date is more than enough for them.  We can be disappointed in that most human of realities, or we can just be happy for them and all the changes they've been able to enjoy in their collective lives to date.


What does mass blogging in China tell us?


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Thomas Friedman column on blogging in China becoming the true voice of the people at 70 million strong.

Positive or negative trend?  Because you're talking relatively successful people in a fast rising country, the overall voice is going to be one of nationalistic pride--even hubris, leading Friedman to hypothesize that aggressive bloggers are already becoming yet another source of populism that Beijing is both scared and mindful of in its decision-making.

Already, notes Freidman, the US ambassador is hosting big-time bloggers in an effort to get out America's message to the people with less official filtering.

Key point and a cool bit from Friedman:

“China for the first time has a public sphere to discuss everything affecting Chinese citizens,” explained Hu Yong, a blogosphere expert at Peking University. “Under traditional media, only elite people had a voice, but the Internet changed that.” He added, “We now have a transnational media. It is the whole society talking, so people from various regions of China can discuss now when something happens in a remote village — and the news spreads everywhere.” But this Internet world “is more populist and nationalistic,” he continued. “Many years of education that our enemies are trying to keep us down has produced a whole generation of young people whose thinking is like this, and they now have a whole Internet to express it.”

Watch this space. The days when Nixon and Mao could manage this relationship in secret are long gone. There are a lot of unstable chemicals at work out here today, and so many more players with the power to inflame or calm U.S.-China relations. Or to paraphrase Princess Diana, there are three of us in this marriage.

I see an advantage for us in all of these developments: our system is much more comfortable processing such popular pressures than China's is--and a lot more experienced to boot.

A lot of strategists on our side salivate at the notion that China will be forced into military confrontations with the West by all this rising nationalistic spirit, but the truth is just the opposite: fear of enraging the population by accepting any form of defeat keeps the Chinese leadership very keen to avoid any scuffle with the U.S. that it cannot control.


Why Hollywood loves sequels

Variety story on summer box office 2010, up nearly a billion from just a decade earlier.

But what caught my eye was that divot in 2005.  It made me wonder, what caused that?  Not an economic downturn or some military calamity, and the summer itself was pretty normal.

Then I found a follow-on set of slides that seemed to explain it:  only one fewer major release that summer (36 vice 37), but a huge drop in sequels with their guaranteed audiences (from 15 sequels in 2003 to 9 in 2004 to a mere 3 in 2005.

And that's why Hollywood needs sequels.  In terms of BO, they attract the summer baseload demand.  Track that V from 2003 through 2007 and you see that the reduced flow of sequels certainly seems to have caused it.  Would seem to indicate that, if Hollywood had its druthers, it would always tee up 9-10 sequels every summer.


The sheer discovery that is simply analyzing all this new connectivity

Cool Economist piece on the social web in its Technology Quarterly, but it's really about business intelligence, a field that is skyrocketing in its ability to monitor, analyze and create new marketing strategies from the wealth of info that is naturally captured by online behavior.  Similar thing is coming down the pike in the healthcare industry with the advent of electronic medical records--huge bonanza.

In the first instance, a lot of biz intell used to simply keep existing customers by making them happier.  The most sophisticated stuff will be used to sniff our fraud and criminal behavior.

A classic example of an old concept of mine--actually the heart and soul of the "new map":  with connectivity comes circumscribed behavior because each connection reveals you to others, but in return you are offered fabulous access and efficiencies and the more tailored meeting of your desires.  It is a transaction: the more you reveal, the more respondents can predict your needs and wants and behaviors--both good and bad.

And the mapping technology (like my wonderful Google maps on my Motorola Droid) only kicks that process into high gear.

An amazing amount of new rules to work out on all of this--a fascinating process to witness in coming years.


Rapid connectivity creates more suspicions than understanding

Old strawman given another good beating:  connectivity doesn't instantly heal all wounds!

Economist story on how social media doesn't change people over night by exposing them to different people and creating instant wisdom.


It turns out, research shows, that "people are online what they are offline: divided, and slow to build bridges."

I'm actually more pessimistic than that:  I believe that rapid connectivity gains generally create more unrest than peace at first.   That's why I called it the "Pentagon's new map."

Piece concludes that the Internet is just a tool, and as such, does nothing on its own.

My take:  sheer connectivity on its own does not trump real-world experience or generational weight, so expect the change to be gradual versus instant.  The Millennials will not be the Boomers, but they will not replace them overnight thanks to social media, and each country's version of the first-all-digital-generation will make its influence and thinking felt on a different timescale.

In other words, even in this connected age, change typically arrives no faster than we can handle it, because if it comes too fast, we simply ignore it and render its impact meaningless.


The internet as trade pact

Great line from Economist "Leaders" bit on the web's "new walls":

 The internet is as much a trade pact as an invention.

Actually, until it became a trade pact, it was an interesting bit of technology and not much else--a fantasy of a back-up comms net once the bombs started dropping ("Can you read this?  Oh my God!  At least the two of us survived!  Now what?").

So the web really only works when people see commercial value, and when that commerce rears its beautiful head, barriers naturally arise.  Governments want to fence off its value proposition for national firms (far more than they care to keep out "bad" content).  Companies want to create "walled gardens" for their proprietary offerings.  Some net providers want sites to pay for premier promotion.

These are all unremarkable developments.  The web is certainly a generation or two beyond the telephone, but why it was supposed to be some everything-is-free nirvana is beyond me, any more than phones were going to change everything before and the telegraph before that.

These are the three types of walls cited by the Economist: national, company, and the possible downfall of the net-neutrality vision.  So Wired says the net is dead--that goes too far says The Economist.

It has been my proposition going back to the mid-1990s, that everybody wants the connectivity, but everyone also wants to control the content--to their tastes, to their fears, and--most definitely--to their advantage.

The fencing off of the web is not all that different from the fencing off of the American West.  If you want something to be truly tended, and not suffer the fate of the commons, people will need to own it and care about it.

But the free trade point made by the mag is equally valid; it just won't be the commons we imagined it to be.

And so it will need to go through the same negotiations--bilateral, multilateral, global, that regular trade goes through.

I'm not worried about the web.  I see this as a natural evolution.


Netflix as a brick thrown through Hollywood's window

Netflix's real plan is to ditch the mailing biz and go full-fore on internet streaming.  The blu-ray in our home theater is connected up via the Web to YouTube, Netflix, etc., and when we first got it, we held a subscription for a while.  But three things turned us off: with all the portable DVD players and other options for using discs (like in the van), we still like to have a physical item that can be used over and over again in a variety of locations.  Second, the streaming quality is only so-so, and even the alleged hi-def struck us as un-special compared to cable and blu-ray discs. Third, Netflix only has so many films.

Well, the technology will always get better, but the key for Netflix is to get access to much larger libraries, which apparently it is doing now with its war chest, cutting all sorts of deals with major studios "in a way that makes Netflix akin to a cable or satellite operator."

So when you see that chart below that shows the web will be most about video, this is a big reason why.

What would interest me:  Netflix delivering movies in my home theater the day they come out in theaters. 

Because once that happens, I never go to a movie theater again.


Chart of the Day (3): Internet video will be king

Economist piece on the web's evolution.

When the web was mostly text, you could understand that "information must be free" thing.

But as the web becomes mostly video (my kids watch as much on the web as on the TV, and watch much TV on the web), you can understand companies' desire to charge for content.


The middle class loves movies--3D or not!


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Trio of FT stories.

First one laments future of 3D in Hollywood after recent string of flops that prove only that bad films, when presented in 3D, still suck!  Avatar?  Alice?  Great flicks.  But the rest of the recent crop?  Complete crap--unsave-able by 3D, big surprise.

With roughly 2/3rds of Hollywood's take now from foreign markets, you wonder about the need to push 3D so extensively, especially given the theater costs involved and the higher ticket prices. Neither go well with an emerging global middle class, which is easier to please than that and doesn't necessarily want to shell out more money for fewer viewings.

Second story cites rising impact of India's middle class on theater-going there, as luxury cinemas (basically, a version of the modern US cinema but a big improvement over standard national fare) are going up all over India's big cities.  And even with Bollywood's immense draw there, the article says that the full force of the market is far from being felt to date.  Some chains are reporting 80% growth in attendance over the last year, as more people with more disposable income are flocking to films both native and foreign (Inception, for example, is doing very well in India).

Still, the numbers can only go up.  A blockbuster in the US will get 70m viewers out of a total population of 300m.  In India, a blockbuster gets maybe 50m out of 1.2B.  And we're talking an Indian demo that's half under 25 (or 600m in youth alone!).

Already, according to the third cite, we see Universal planning a big movie-theme park in Mumbai, one that would blend the best of Bolly and Holly.

A trend to watch.


Policing the web: brain burnout for the cops

Interesting NYT story on the mental health toll suffered by people who work for screening companies and monitor the web for depraved content.

Reminds me of that old University of Wisconsin study that my brother participated in when he was a student:  shown loads of graphic and nasty stuff over a lengthy period, he increasingly expressed more ambivalence about it—the toll deadening his normal sense of revulsion.

That profound desensitizing exacts its pound of mental flesh.  In one company, 50 workers review 20m photos a week!  The effect is compared to battle fatigue.