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Globalization and French Cultural Identity
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  protests that took place at the November 1999 WTO meeting in Seattleshowed that even in the United States many are apprehensive. Yet given thewidespread public support for Bové in France (after his court trial 45 percentof the French said they supported or felt sympathy for him, compared to just4 percent who were opposed or hostile), the countless number of articles,books, and TV programs denouncing globalization, and the rhetoric of Frenchpoliticians about the need to maîtriser la mondialisation , it is easy to understandwhy there has been far more focus on France’s resistance to globalization thanon its adaptation. 2 Globalization poses a particular challenge for France for three main rea-sons. First is France’s statist, dirigiste political and economic tradition.Because globalization implies that the market, and not the state, determineseconomic relationships, it is particularly difficult to accept for a society thatis used to looking to the state to provide jobs, redistribute incomes, protectagainst unwanted imports, and promote prestigious industrial sectors andperceived national interests. Prompted in part by European integration, theFrench economy has evolved significantly away from dirigisme over the pasttwenty years, but the process has been slow and painful, and it is far fromcomplete. Today France still has one of the largest state sectors in Europe (thegovernment spends 54 percent of GDP, and nearly 25 percent of Frenchworkers get their paychecks from the state) and the French still look to thestate, rather than the market, to ensure their well-being. All this makes it par-ticularly difficult for the French to accept that their economic, social, andcultural fate is controlled less and less by Paris, and more and more by therest of the world.Second, globalization is a particular challenge for France because it is seento threaten the global stature of a country that has long prided itself on itsinternational prominence. Whereas smaller European countries largely gotout of the global diplomatic game after World War II (and larger ones likeGreat Britain felt they could best maintain theirs by working closely with theUnited States), France has never given up its desire for global influence in thename of its universal values. Globalization threatens this influence, however,by reinforcing the dominance of the country that most stands in France’s wayin its quest for diplomatic influence, the United States. To the extent thatglobalization means ceding world leadership to the United States—or evenlimiting France’s traditional diplomatic role by ceding more power to collec-tive organizations like the European Union (EU) or the United Nations (UN)—it is particularly difficult for France to accept. 3 Finally, and most importantly, the French are particularly proud of theirculture and identity, which many feel is now threatened by a globalizationoften equated with Americanization. This is of course a recurring theme inFrance, but it has re-emerged and taken on particular momentum today,because of the way in which new technologies and the growing ideology of free trade have helped to make societies more susceptible than ever to foreign Globalization and French Cultural Identity  23 G LOBALIZATIONAND F RENCH C ULTURAL I DENTITY  Philip H. Gordon The Brookings Institution Sophie Meunier  Princeton University T he nature of the French economy has changed radically in recent years.Breaking with its mercantilist and dirigiste past, France has since the early1980s converted to market liberalization, both as the necessary by-product of European integration and globalization and as a deliberate effort by policy-makers. Whereas the French state used to own large sectors of the economy,partly to keep them from foreign control, now even a Socialist-led governmentproceeds with privatization, with scant regard for the nationality of the buyer.French companies themselves have also been adapting to globalization, largelythrough a wave of international mergers and acquisitions over which the onceall-powerful state has had little influence. France’s adaptation to the globalworld economy is finally paying off in terms of performance, which is nowarguably better than it has been since the 1960s. It seems that for many inFrance, the loss of state control and growing inequalities that result from glob-alization may be a price worth paying for increased prosperity and jobs.Indeed, it is fair to say that where the economy is concerned, France has beenquietly, steadily, and highly effectively adapting to globalization. 1 Yet this is not the image that one usually associates with the French reac-tion to globalization. Instead of France’s remarkable adaptation, most observershave focused on France’s resistance to globalization—above all symbolized bythe actions of the sheep farmer José Bové, who in August 1999 dismantled aMcDonald’s restaurant to protest against US sanctions, the World Trade Orga-nization (WTO), and globalization in general. France, of course, is hardly theonly country worried about the consequences of globalization, and the street  French Politics, Culture & Society, Vol. 19, No. 1, Spring 2001  politicians have been queuing up to support the right to cultural protection-ism.” 8 This interventionist urge might itself result, in part, from the retreat of the French state from its dirigiste economic role. Since global economic liber-alism means that the French state has less and less control over the economicoutcomes that it used to manage, French leaders must rely increasingly onsocial and cultural policies to tame the worst excesses of a globalization thatthey realize they cannot stop.  Trade and the Challenge to Cultural Identity Globalization in its current incarnation may be causing the latest phase of French concerns about cultural identity, but such concerns have a long his-tory. Throughout the 20th century, and in particular during the postwarperiod, France has worried that its distinct culture and way of life was underthreat and that it was gradually losing its capacity for cultural rayonnement  —often to the new global cultural power, the United States. 9 French concernsabout culture and identity have appeared in cycles of greater or lesser intensitythroughout the entire postwar period—from the 1946 Blum-Byrnes negotia-tions on protection for the movie industry, to the fear of Coca-Colonization inthe 1950s, the threat of the “American challenge” in the 1960s, and the “Dis-neyfication” of Europe in the 1980s. 10 The latest wave of concern stems from the new extent of openness to out-side cultural influences associated with globalization. Globalization is seen asa new threat to culture and identity because it breaks down both the natural barriers to external cultural influences via technology (such as the Internetand falling communication and transportation costs) and the artificial barriers(such as trade and investment restrictions) via increasingly open trade thatextends deeper and deeper into the national economy and society.When trade liberalization was limited to certain types of goods and ser-vices and was primarily about tariffs and quotas, trade politics revolved essen-tially around economic  arguments about jobs and prices. Trade policy could bemanipulated to protect special interests, and when governments decided toopen up certain economic sectors to international competition, these specialinterests could be compensated. With each round of multilateral trade negoti-ations under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), however,traditional trade barriers have been further reduced and new types of non-tar-iff barriers tackled. During the 1987-93 “Uruguay Round,” the “new issues” of services and intellectual property were added to the traditional trade agenda.By touching on domestically sensitive sectors, trade was starting to impingeon national prerogatives and, at the same time, affecting directly definitions of national identity. Subsuming these new issues under the reach of “trade” nat-urally led to the inclusion of even more sensitive issues, such as food safetyand labor laws, for subsequent discussion in international trade forums. Globalization and French Cultural Identity  25 cultural influences, and in particular to that of the United States. The spread of the Internet and other communications technologies; trade liberalization inagricultural goods, intellectual property, and services; and the dominant role of the United States (and thus the English language) in global business all com-bine to make the French worry about their cultural, linguistic, and culinary tra-ditions—in short, their national identity—in a globalizing world. It was nocoincidence that the publicity-conscious Bové chose McDonald’s—the verysymbol of the American threat to French culture and identity—as the target forhis protests against the US sanctions on French cheese and other products.The real threat to France from globalization is thus not economic but cul-tural: it is not so much the disappearance of dirigisme that worries the French,but the disappearance of France itself. The desire to maintain a culture of uni-versal radiance and concomitant fear of cultural domination are hardly newissues in France. Throughout the postwar period, France has periodicallyundergone “identity crises,” often, but not always, focused on a concern aboutthe cultural domination of the United States. What is new is the way in whichFrench identity and culture today seem increasingly threatened by globaliza-tion. Uncontrolled globalization, many French worry, will oblige France toabandon some of the most distinctive, and best loved, aspects of its entertain-ment, art, culinary traditions, and language—in short those things that mostmake France identifiable as France.Such concerns are evident in public opinion surveys, which reveal that amajority of the French believe that globalization threatens their national iden-tity. 4 The polls also show a particular concern that globalization will come inthe form of Americanization: 65 percent of the French see “excessive” USinfluence on French television, 57 percent on French cinema, 37 percent onFrench music, 34 percent on the French language, and 34 percent on Frenchfood. 5 Public opinion research also suggests that the French are more worriedthan their neighbors: 33 percent of the French said that US popular culturewas a “serious or very serious threat” to their own culture, compared to 27 per-cent in the United Kingdom, 24 percent in Germany and 19 percent in Italy. 6 Perhaps surprisingly, given the penetration of American culture (such as musicand clothing) among the younger generation, even younger French peopleseem to share these concerns, with no less than 74 percent of French peoplefrom ages 15-24 expressing the view that the influence of American culture inFrance is “excessive.” 7 In this context, it is perhaps not surprising that almost all French politi-cians support efforts to limit globalization when it comes to issues that affectculture and identity—a policy often referred to as the “cultural exception.”Indeed, whereas in the economic area there is at least some debate across thepolitical spectrum about whether to embrace or contain globalization (even if the “embracers” are few and quiet), there is a broad and strong consensus inFrance on the need to defend France’s identity, way of life, and cultural her-itage. As globalization proceeds, as The Economist  put it in late 1999, “French  Philip H. Gordon and Sophie Meunier  24  Preserving Diversity in the Entertainment Sector  Some of the greatest debates about the cultural influences of globalization arein the entertainment sector, primarily cinema and television. Looking at theextent of the domination of those American industries in France, and inEurope more widely, it is easy to understand the French concern. According tothe Observatoire européen de l’audiovisuel , the EU market for US audiovisualgoods broadly defined (including box-office receipts, video cassette rentals,and television rights) was $7.4 billion in 1998, compared with a US market forEuropeans of just $706 million. 13 The deficit, moreover, has been growingsince the end of 1980s, when it was only around $2 billion (in 1988). Between1985 and 1999, the US share of the average EU market went from 56 percentto 70 percent of ticket sales. 14 By contrast, the US market continues to appearlargely impenetrable: just 1-2 percent of films shown on US screens are trans-lated, and hardly any European productions appear on American television. 15 The situation for music and books is less dire from a European point of view, but both still show strong international, and particularly American,influence. As of 1996, 48 percent of the music played on French radio stationswas French (with 43 percent international and 8 percent classical), a nationalproportion slightly higher than in other European countries. 16 This is at leastan improvement from the situation before 1994-1995, when 80 percent of popular music on French radio stations was American or British. 17 As forbooks, in most of the major European countries less than a quarter of pub-lished books were translated works (14 percent for Germany, 17 percent forFrance, 25 percent for Italy, and 26 percent for Spain), though these figurestend to understate the real foreign impact since the proportion of translatedworks among best-sellers is normally higher. Of books translated into French,45 percent were of American srcin, and 30 percent British. Again, even theselower rates contrasted sharply with the situation in the United States, whereonly 3 percent of published books were translated (though of course therewere British imports that did not need to be.) 18 The area of greatest concern for France within the entertainment sector iscinema. The French cinema industry—thanks in part to large government sub-sidies and other forms of protection for French movie producers—is faringmuch better than any other in Europe. After a decline in the early 1990s,France is producing 100 to 150 full-length features annually (more if co-pro-ductions are counted), which is far more than in either Germany or Italy. 19 In1999, French movies captured about 38 percent of ticket sales in France, com-pared to 24 percent for Italian movies in Italy, 18 percent for British films inthe UK, 14 percent for German movies in Germany, and 10 percent for Span-ish films in Spain. 20 With respect to television programming—arguably moreimportant in terms of cultural influence because more people watch televi-sion—the French are also faring better in relative terms than their Europeancounterparts, but not entirely resisting American domination. Foreign films Globalization and French Cultural Identity  27 Culture was among these “new” issues discussed in the Uruguay Round.In 1993, towards the end of the round, the United States attempted to applyfree trade to “cultural goods” (primarily audiovisual, through a questioning of the legitimacy of the European directive “Television Without Borders”). Thisled to a strong reaction in France, which managed, not always easily, to winthe support of its European partners to defend the principle of “cultural excep-tion” on the premise that culture was not merchandise like any other. Despitestrong lobbying from the Hollywood entertainment industry, Europe success-fully resisted US pressure on the cultural issue. For President Mitterrand, thiswas no less than a “question of civilization,” and France managed to preservethe right to subsidize and protect its “cultural goods” with quotas. 11 Contraryto what is often assumed, the GATT accord did not explicitlyexclude culturalgoods from free trade in services, but by failing explicitly to include thosegoods, the result effectively gave the EU the right to do so.The issue of cultural exception emerged again a few years later in the con-text of the negotiations over the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI).Conceived of in 1995 and launched in 1997 in Paris, the MAI negotiationsbetween the 29 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation andDevelopment (OECD) were designed to establish rules governing investment,in the same way that the GATT, and later the WTO, established rules for freetrade. 12 One of the consequences of the draft agreement would have been torender illegal regulations protecting cultural investments in Europe (which theFrench had prevented the 1993 Uruguay Round agreement from doing). Con-sumer groups in the United States and Canada publicized the draft text andlaunched an international campaign of opposition to these negotiations.Under the impulse of Jack Lang, the French entertainment sector mobilizedagainst the MAI, which was scheduled to be signed in April 1998. Just as theyhad in the GATT negotiations, famous French directors, actors, and musiciansraised public awareness about the dangers of subjecting culture to the impera-tives of global capital. Eventually, the message got across to politicians, whopulled France out of the negotiations, triggering their collapse. The defeat of the MAI was the first real victory of the antiglobalization camp and the firstsuccessful alliance between the cultural sector and other segments of theFrench society (such as farmers and intellectuals) in the name of defendingFrance’s culture from globalization.Because of the evolving nature of trade during the 1990s, the French debateon the virtues and problems of free trade has shifted from the economic to thepolitical and cultural realms. When the United States and the EU argued overthe issue of “cultural exception” at the end of the Uruguay Round in 1993, thedebate was limited to cultural goods narrowly defined. What has changed inrecent years is the realization that the threat to French culture comes not onlyfrom trade in cultural goods, but more broadly from trade in general; a movie byEric Rohmer, after all, is no more a defining component of French cultural iden-tity than foie gras or Parisian cafés—and all seem threatened by globalization.  Philip H. Gordon and Sophie Meunier  26  ant” control by Europeans. 27 Some countries are more rigorous than others inenforcing the directive (indeed many get away with broadcasting a large pro-portion of their “European” quotas at times when few people are watching), butFrance has chosen to impose even stricter regulations—60 percent of transmis-sions must be European and 50 percent must be in the French language—andto apply narrower definitions of what constitutes a European production.The French are also much more aggressive in defending their cinemaindustry. The main tool for this is a 10-percent cinema tax (which, given theirdomination of the market, is to a large extent a tax on American films), therevenue from which is used to subsidize French productions. These subsidiesmay take any of three forms—an advance before the film, an advance for dis-tribution, or aid for script development—and are often given out based on agovernmental body’s assessment of the “quality” of the film based on an ini-tial reading of the script. 28 Films are eligible for aid, in the form of an advanceon their projected earnings, if they are shot in French with “predominantlyFrench personnel.” The average subsidy per film is currently 2 million FF, andof the 181 films produced in France in 1999, only 3 were able to cover costs atthe French box office. 29 Why are the French willing to go to such extremes—incurring clear eco-nomic costs, ruffling feathers with some of their European partners, and pro-voking major trade disputes with the United States—in order to defend theirnational audiovisual industries? To an extent, support for subsidies for Frenchcinema are based on the perception of an uneven playing field, and the viewthat market failure needs to be corrected. Foreign Minister Védrine, for exam-ple, defends the widespread view that cultural goods cannot be “treated, pro-duced, exchanged, and sold like any other,” and points to the “vast internalmarket” and “huge resources” that enable Hollywood to “flood marketsabroad.” 30 Former Culture Minister Lang adds that “the traditional market sys-tem cannot always assure the necessary financing” to keep French cinema inbusiness, and other analysts, such as Laurent Burin des Roziers, point to Amer-ican control of distribution channels, massive marketing budgets, and unwill-ingness to show subtitled films as among the reasons for the Americandomination. 31 All of these arguments are widely accepted in France, and con-tain more than an element of truth.Yet the main argument for protecting the French audiovisual industry isnot economic or commercial, but cultural. Indeed, even many who wouldagree with what  Libération’s film critic has called the “unpleasant truth”—that“the average American film [might be] better than the average French film”—believe French cinema should be defended. 32 It should be defended, theyargue, in order to preserve what is unique about French identity and culture,and to preserve cultural diversity in France and for the world. Since the mid-1990s, in fact, the French have started talking a lot less about the “culturalexception” and more about “cultural diversity,” a more positive way of look-ing at the need to defend French culture in an age of globalization. 33 Globalization and French Cultural Identity  29 take “only” a 35-39 percent share of the market on the main French televisionstations, compared with 43-85 percent for Germany; 62-77 percent for Spain;60-84 percent for Britain; and 52-71 percent for Italy. 21 Despite this relatively good performance compared to other Europeancountries, the reality is that the French movie sector continues to be domi-nated by American exports. For the year 2000, only one French film,  Harry, unami qui vous veut du bien , made it into the top-ten summer box office, andFrench movies accounted for only 7 percent of tickets sold during the summer(compared with 91 percent for US films). 22 For 1999, exceptionally, a Frenchfilm (or at least a co-production involving France),  Astérix et Obélix, was the topbox-office draw in France. But it was the exception that proved the rule, aseight of the next nine biggest successes in the same year were American films(or in two cases Anglo-American films). 23 Of the 40 most successful films inFrance in 1999, 26 were American and 7 French (plus three French co-produc-tions). Moreover, while it is true that increasing numbers of French movies arebeing made (rising from 95 in 1995 to 148 in 1998 and 181 in 1999), they arenot necessarily being seen by increasing numbers of viewers. In 1998, forexample, three French films,  Le Dîner de Cons ,  Les Visiteurs2 , and Taxi , wereamong the top four in ticket sales in France, falling behind only the American Titanic  ; but those three films accounted for no less than 45 percent of the rev-enues from all the 148 French movies made that year, meaning that the other145 did not attract large numbers of viewers. No other French film that yearmade it into the top 50.Even these figures, moreover, are exaggerated, because of the very looseinterpretation of what “French” is, since many films bend the rules to getaccess to French subsidies. Examples of this include the 1995 Milos Formanfilm Valmont  , which counted as “French” even though it was a Franco-Britishco-production, shot in English, with seven American and two British actors,and Roland Joffé’s 1999 Franco-American co-production of Vatel , which wasshot in English and starred an American actress. 24 Indeed, seeking to reach awider audience, more and more French filmmakers are also starting to film inEnglish, such as Luc Besson and his recent The Messenger: The Story of Joan of  Arc  . 25 In the face of this globalization of the film industry, it is becomingharder to attribute a nationality to a movie.To defend their domestic production, the French—pulling the Europeansalong when possible—have resorted to a variety of protectionist measures forwhat they define as cultural goods. At France’s urging, for example, the Euro-pean Union in 1989 passed a television broadcasting directive called TelevisionWithout Frontiers (ironically, since from a non-European perspective it was abouttelevision with frontiers) to help support the European industry. 26 The directiverequires that “when practicable” a majority proportion of transmission time(excluding time for news, sports, and advertisements) be of European srcin,with “European” being defined as films srcinating in Europe, mainly made byauthors and workers residing in Europe, and, for co-productions, “preponder-  Philip H. Gordon and Sophie Meunier  28  Poulain: “During my field research, I have been struck by the strange self-jus-tification discourse used by most adults, saying that they were coming toMcDonald’s for the first and last time. It was as if they were coming out of anX-rated movie.” 41 Particularly distressing for the defenders of French culinary traditions isthe enormous surge of popularity that fast food is enjoying in France. Whilethe number of traditional brasseries and cafés has fallen from some 200,000 in1960 to around 50,000 today, the number of fast-food and takeout businesseshas doubled from 6,500 in 1993 to 13,950 in 1998. 42 As of March 2000,McDonald’s alone had nearly 800 outlets in France, with a total revenue of around 10 billion FF. The culinary profession contends, not entirely withoutreason, that this popularity is in part due to domestic tax laws: meals in Frenchrestaurants are burdened with a 20.6 percent value-added tax (reduced to 19.6percent in spring 2000), whereas the tax rate for fast-food meals is only 5.5percent. 43 Clearly, however, there are other explanations for the expansion of fast food in France—including explanations based on cost, convenience, mar-keting, service, and even the fact that many people appear to like it. 44 Faced with this apparent attack on the national culinary identity, theFrench government—in ways that parallel the efforts to preserve a nationalentertainment industry—has taken steps to ensure the defense of the country’sgastronomical patrimony. In 1989 the Ministry of Culture created the ConseilNational des Arts Culinaires (National Council of Culinary Arts), with a mis-sion to protect French gastronomy. Among the Conseil’s various programs aretaste education for schoolchildren, and the “inventory” and promotion of theculinary patrimony of each French region. 45 This state intervention in the food sector raises some of the same ques-tions as does state intervention in the entertainment industry. Why does thestate feel compelled to protect its citizens from their free will? The McDonald’son the Champs-Élysées, after all, is the most frequently patronized “restau-rant” in all of France, and the crowds that gather there daily are far from allforeigners. Why do the French support, rather than resist, efforts that seem torun counter to their tastes?One reason why the French approve of a collective struggle againstMcDonald’s, even if they patronize its outlets, is the widespread French belief in the value of cultural diversity. The rationale is not to get rid of McDonald’sbut to ensure that it does not entirely displace traditional French restaurantsand culinary traditions. As is the case for movies, it seems clear today that puremarket forces have a homogenizing effect and tend to limit variety. This evo-lution is evident, for example, in the case of agricultural production. The num-ber of cultivated varieties of each fruit and vegetable has considerablydwindled over the years, not only in France but everywhere in the world, asfarmers have flocked towards the highest-yielding, most disease-resistant, andeasiest to transport varieties (in the United States, one sees a reaction to thisevolution in the movement towards restoring “heirloom” vegetables, for Globalization and French Cultural Identity  31 Ultimately, the defense of French cinema and other visual arts is largely a“public goods” argument: diversity benefits all the French and the world as awhole, so the government must step in to correct what would otherwise be amarket failure. Again in Védrine’s words, the “desire to preserve cultural diver-sity in the world is in no way a sign of anti-Americanism but of anti-hege-monism, a refusal of impoverishment. American cinema has been enchantingviewers around the world for nearly a century, and that will continue. This isno reason for others to disappear.” 34 Food, Culture, and Identity Food is another area in which the French government has stepped in toattempt to contravene market forces in the name of the preservation of cul-tural diversity. Of all the components of French cultural identity, food may beone of the most universally recognized internationally and one of the greatestsources of pride domestically. Consequently, perceived threats to that source of pride are taken very seriously. As Jean-Michel Normand argued in  Le Monde ,“McDonald’s … commercial hegemony threatens our agriculture and its cul-tural hegemony insidiously ruins alimentary behavior—both sacred reflectionsof the French identity.” 35 “Resistance to the hegemonic pretenses of ham-burgers,”  Le Monde’s Alain Rollat agreed, “is, above all, a cultural imperative.” 36 The huge success of Jean-Pierre Coffe, who has made a career—through booksand highly popular television appearances—of defending French culinary tra-ditions against la malbouffe , is another indication of how seriously the Frenchpublic takes the issue. 37 According to its critics, fast food, in particular, embodies globalization inits culinary dimension. It is a one-size-fits-all approach to food, encouraginguniformity and playing on the lowest common denominator of tastes. Assuch, it is the direct opposite of French culinary traditions. The mayor of onesmall village in southwestern France sums up how globalization is the antithe-sis of French gastronomical traditions: “Roquefort is made from the milk of only one breed of sheep, it is made in only one place in France, and it is madein only one special way. It is the opposite of globalization. Coca-Cola you canbuy anywhere in the world and it is exactly the same.” 38 Fast food has also become a symbolic target of antiglobalization protestersbecause of its American srcin. According to French sociologist Michel Crozier:“For many French people there is an association that good food is French andfast food is American and foreign and bad.” 39 The French Agriculture Minister, Jean Glavany, expressed this view by declaring to the press in June 1999 thatthe United States has “the worst food in the world” and publicly announcingin August that he had never eaten at McDonald’s and disliked hamburgers. 40 Perhaps also for this reason, even the French people who do eat at McDonald’sdo not seem prepared to admit it. According French sociologist Jean-Pierre  Philip H. Gordon and Sophie Meunier  30
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