UN Stops the One Invasion Where They Actually Do Welcome Us With Flowers

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Ryan Posly hips us to UNESCO's latest plan to stop what The New York Times' Alan Riding calls "cultural invasion" and "the homogenizing effect of cultural globalization." By a vote of 148 to 2, the UN cultural body has approved the "Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions," a proposal giving signers an unspecified authority to take steps to protect their own cultures. Israel and the United States voted against, while Australia, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Liberia abstained.

It's not clear what the convention actually means. Riding claims it will permit participants to use "subsidies and quotas" to keep out American popular culture, but the convention contains no such language. Here is the operative section:

Article 8—Measures to protect cultural expressions

1. Without prejudice to the provisions of Articles 5 and 6, a Party may determine those special situations where cultural expressions on its territory are at risk of extinction, under serious threat, or otherwise in need of urgent safeguarding.

2. Parties may take all appropriate measures to protect and preserve cultural expressions in situations referred to in paragraph 1 in a manner consistent with the provisions of this Convention.

3. Parties shall report to the Intergovernmental Committee all measures taken to meet the exigencies of the situation, and the Committee may make appropriate recommendations.

Variety calls the vote "a slap in the face to the U.S.," which recently rejoined UNESCO, but it would be more accurate to say that the vote is a slap in the face to the approving countries' own populations. Common sense dictates that there'd be no need for this convention if nobody were buying American products, and the specific case indicates there's a lot more love than hate in what The Washington Post calls "the world's love-hate relationship with Hollywood, Big Macs and Coca-Cola." The convention was sponsored by France and Canada, and French "culture czar" Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres se vante that "We are no longer the black sheep on this subject."

Hey, Renaud, while you're winning the rest of the UNESCO apparatchiks over to your side, take a gander at the movies your own countrymen chose to spend their Euros on this year. And while you're at it, tell the Canadians—who are forced by their government to pretend they know your language—that they're also doing a heck of a job showing their disapproval of American cultural products.

NEXT: All Brent Out of Shape

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  1. Surely this thread will swiftly veer into the brouhaha cause by the beer-joint owner just north of Sinincincinnati who put a sign in his establishment’s window: “For service, speak English.” Boob Taft’s state subsidized goons for PC have been on the case of this barkeep schmuck, Tom Ullum.
    So, running with my assumption, I direct your attention to the Ebonics translator which I have tried and endorse:
    http://www.joel.net/EBONICS/translator.asp

    Aaargggh!

  2. “Israel and the United States voted against, while Australia, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Liberia abstained.”
    I’ve always been semi-interested in what causes nations to vote they did in these kinds of things. I understand why Israel would vote with the U.S., and I can kind of understand why Austrailia would abstain (don’t want to insult the U.S., and they understand how lame this convention is, but they still don’t want to line up directly with the U.S.). But what are Honduras, Liberia, and Nicaragua doing? Were the ambassadors out of town? Too busy to vote? Didn’t feel well? Like Australia, did they not want to insult the U.S. but still wanted to suck up to the rest of the world and so abstained? Was there some sort of reason that caused the Liberian government to thik through this vote and decide in the end that,gosh , they just don’t know how to vote on this darn thing! Anybody know?

  3. So…what’s this U.N. thing?

  4. Swede – My guess is that that either they were taking the Australia option, or they’re in treaty negotiations with the US about something else and don’t want to queer their pitch. Sort of like the “Coalition of the Willing”.

  5. Reminds me of the South Park episode where the town folk agree not to shop at the Wal-Martesque store but just couldn’t stop themselves from buying high quality goods at low low prices.

  6. This strikes me as typical UN stuff. Pure trumpery and no substance. Does this mean that the UN will help them battle against Wal-Marts and McDonalds because they have US ties? When countries are willing to lose employment opportunities because they are afraid of being “tainted” it suggests to me that governments there are again working against the right of the individual to choose where to work and where to purchase. It’s a pretty dumb way “to take care of the people,” as these governments like to say they do.

  7. …American cultural products.

    I think this assumes that the majority of U.S. movies are truly American in creation. From what I can tell, the making of movies is more and more of an international affair these days and Hollywood is gearing very more of its movies for an international audience due to the weight of overseas box office revenues in the “bottom line.”

  8. More to the point, is The Professional a French film because the director is French and the main male actor is French, or is it American because it was shot in NYC and most of the other actors in the film are Americans? Indeed, is A Very Long Engagement a French film because it was shot in France and concerns French history (WWI), or an American one because it was financed by an American studio? Is the LOTR trilogy a New Zealand film, an American one or a British one?

    Globalization means proponents of American exceptionalism and dominance, as well as those who claim they are allied against such, are both wrong. 🙂

  9. This might be called the “Coercive culture act”. It’s a proposal to give governments the authority to limit their populations from choosing foreign influences. Culture can be a product of voluntary interaction or of coercion. Part of the appeal of this measure is the potential protectionism.

    The UN is a threat to individual liberty and sovereignty.

  10. The UN is a threat to individual liberty and sovereignty.

    I don’t think they understand what it is we’re payin’ them to do, and I don’t think the Bush Administration understands what they’re good for.

  11. You know who isn’t bitching and moaning? The millions if not billions the UN has saved from genocide, starvation, opression and tyranny.

    Bunch of stuck up asses you guys are.

  12. It’s a pretty dumb way “to take care of the people,” as these governments like to say they do.

    Actually, it’s entirely consistent with government “taking care of the people.” As opposed to “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

  13. The UN saved someone from tyranny?

  14. The UN saved someone from tyranny?

  15. Yeah. If the UN hears about egregious taxes or burdensome, unnecessary laws, they are all over it.

  16. Hey, Renaud, while you’re winning the rest of the UNESCO apparatchiks over to your side, take a gander at the movies your own countrymen chose to spend their Euros on this year. And while you’re at it, tell the Canadians?who are forced by their government to pretend they know your language?

    The movie list, rather than proving your point, will simply be presented as evidence that protection is more needed than ever.

    I had the most frustrating argument with a Anglo-Canadian friend. When I argued that while it might be advantageous to be bi-lingual and that it would be passed on in families if it were important to them, laws forcing it were silly, he couldn’t muster any better response than “But… without laws French will die out!.” He never did explain why laws trump family tradition and why this means the end of the world to anyone other than Quebecois Tevyes who can’t process a changing world.

  17. “Canadians?who are forced by their government to pretend they know your language”

    Utter nonsense. There’s a fine line between hyperbole and fabrication, and you just crossed it at Mach 2.

  18. Well, I don’t think that quotas or something like that will help to protect a nation’s culture. Only the people of a nation are able to keep it alive. Of course they can be backed up by the government (for example, by supporting local music groups etc.), which is a legitime way imho, but not by repressing foreign culture.
    In France, these quotas led to the absurd situation, that (because 40% of the played titles in radio hat to be french) most of the french songs were played only for 30 seconds or so just to fulfill the quota.

  19. “Canadians?who are forced by their government to pretend they know your language”

    Utter nonsense. There’s a fine line between hyperbole and fabrication, and you just crossed it at Mach 2.

    Let it hereby be noted that, when one is attempting humor on H&R, under no circumstances shall the line between hyperbole and fabrication or utter nonsense be crossed!

    The penalty for violation: You must cut down the mightiest tree in the forest wiiiiiiiiiiiith …. a herring!

  20. It’s ironic that Canadians are generally more accepting of free trade than the US, yet our cultural sector is one of the most protected industries. This includes mandatory Canadian content quotas on radio, to generous subsidies for locally filmed production, even for Hollywood produced pablum. In a conference on the local film, one Canadian director went so far as to propose that movie theatres be forced to show a quota of Canadian films.

  21. Well, I hope, there will be no such regulation in Germany. I am a free citizen, and I want to be able to watch any film or listen to any music I want – be it German, USAmerican, French, Canadian, Russion or anything else.

  22. Ironically enough, Happy United Nations Day everyone. May all your failures be multilateral ones.

  23. Swede & JD

    It’s interesting that we almost automatically try to understand the votes from Australia, Liberia, Nicaragua, and Honduras in terms of their relationship with the US. I did so as well. However, it’s quite possible that they weren’t thinking about US preferences at all. Each of these countries has, or has had, a politically-charged situation involving “indigenous” populations. Perhaps their votes reflect a desire not to give added cultural ammunition to these groups within their borders.

  24. By the way, we’d still like control of the Internet. Now, please.

  25. I, for one, am glad to see that the U.N. has achieved its mandate of cultivating peace and good will among men, and now has the time to deal with the particularities of commerce and culture.

  26. Its just protectionism with a liberal arts face. We see this already with Franken Food laws in the EU.

  27. Shem, isn’t United Nations Day the holiday with the airing of grievances and the feats of strength?

    Huh. I just glanced at the official United Nations Day web site. Frankly, if I were secretary general (not that I ever could be as an Evil American(TM)), I’d commemorate the event with the Rolling Stones, not with the Royal Stockholm
    Philharmonic Orchestra.

  28. This might be called the “Coercive culture act”. It’s a proposal to give governments the authority to limit their populations from choosing foreign influences.

    Why do governments need the UN to obtain this authority? Don’t they already have the authority (aka soverneighty)? If not, shouldn’t they?

  29. You know who isn’t bitching and moaning?

    Oh, this should be rich.

    The millions if not billions the UN has saved from genocide…

    Like they did in Rwanda?

    “Please stop, or… or… or we’ll say “stop” again!”

    starvation…

    Ask the millions if not billions who are still dying of starvation about the bang up job the UN is doing to get them food.

    …opression and tyranny.

    Yeah, then why do we let oppressive and tyrannical states join. It’s ironic that the supporters of the UN toute democracy by giving a voice and political clout to some of the most anti-democractic regimes on Earth. Until I see the UN lead a multi-national effort to shut down the People’s Republic of China, I’m not taking them seriously.

  30. Oooh, on the United Nations Day page, there’s also a PDF entitled, “60 Ways the United Nations Makes a Difference.” The first way is “Promoting Development” and the last is “Improving the Plight of Indigenous Peoples.” My copy is blurry, but I think way number 30 is “All Your Base are Belong to Us.” What the hell does that mean?

  31. “Hey, Renaud, while you’re winning the rest of the UNESCO apparatchiks over to your side, take a gander at the movies your own countrymen chose to spend their Euros on this year. And while you’re at it, tell the Canadians?who are forced by their government to pretend they know your language?that they’re also doing a heck of a job showing their disapproval of American cultural products.”

    I suppose we’ll be seeing the popular opposition to these efforts showing its face any time now. Yep, any minute now, an anti-cultural preservation laws movement will start gaining steam in Canada, France, and everywhere else that these laws exist.

    Or maybe the lazy $=Public Sentiment theory will fall on its face.

    Anyway, one or the other is bound to happen. I guess we’ll know soon enough.

  32. Jared,

    You said

    “You know who isn’t bitching and moaning? The millions if not billions the UN has saved from genocide, starvation, opression and tyranny.”

    Got cite?

    Or are you thinking of the ones the UN saved in Rwanda (800,000 + dead) the Sudan (hundreds of thousands dead and in a sick bit of irony the Sudanese government that is responsible for the genocide sits on the UN human rights commission), Mozambique (incipient genocide by starvation, stern UN warnings have been issued) and Srebrenica (thousands of Muslim men killed in an episode of ethnic cleansing while they were under UN “protection”), or perhaps you were thinking of those under aged kids and others “helped” with the sex for food assistance routine by UN workers in refugee camps.

    If you think this is a good job on human rights I’d hate to see what qualifies as a bad one.

  33. Yep, any minute now, an anti-cultural preservation laws movement will start gaining steam in Canada, France, and everywhere else that these laws exist.

    They already have one. It’s called “television ratings,” “record sales” and “box-office receipts.” It’s easy to be dismissive about the “lazy $=Public Sentiment” theory, but do you have a better explanation?

  34. anti-cultural preservation laws movement will start gaining steam in Canada

    A fair number of ppl up here do complain about the TV laws. I mean, I like SCTV (never saw it prir to ’03), but, yeah, the tv laws can go too far sometimes. And don’t get me started on that candid camera prank show from Montreal — its the TV equivalent of reading Ferd’nand comics.

  35. You know who isn’t bitching and moaning? The millions if not billions the UN has saved from genocide, starvation, opression and tyranny.

    See, I figured this was just more of that humor that had veered over the line into fabrication.

  36. ‘They already have one. It’s called “television ratings,” “record sales” and “box-office receipts.”‘

    And yet, no actual opposition to these laws raises its head, which would be the expected outcome if those record sales, television ratings, and box-office receipts actually were reflections of anti-cultural-protectionism sentiment.

    Dave W, I know that there is some such grumbling, but it never seems to rise to the level of a significant political force. There seem to be far more people who buy American cultural products than who oppose the restrictions, and I’m not sure how to account for the difference. Maybe the laws aren’t intrusive enough to motivate people, and a politically-significant opposition would arise if they become more strict. But the fact that we’ve yet to see such a thing makes me suspect the lazy explanation doesn’t explain reality.

  37. “Maybe the laws aren’t intrusive enough to motivate people, and a politically-significant opposition would arise if they become more strict. But the fact that we’ve yet to see such a thing makes me suspect the lazy explanation doesn’t explain reality.”

    My read is that protectionism always sells. The obvious, but incorrect, zero sum argument always gets traction. It is part economic ignorance and part xenophobia, and it works here, too.

  38. Does this mean we can throw a 100% tariff on plastic geegaws made in China? Yippee!

  39. its the TV equivalent of reading Ferd’nand comics.

    That allusion alone proves Canadians are better at comedy than Americans.

  40. “And yet, no actual opposition to these laws raises its head, which would be the expected outcome if those record sales, television ratings, and box-office receipts actually were reflections of anti-cultural-protectionism sentiment.”

    Once again, the public choice theorists have the answer. The harm done to the public at large is diffuse and minimal to each individual, in an individual capacity. The benefits are highly concentrated in a much smaller demographic. So, you have a VERY involved minority, with a large incentive to organize and lobby, against a mostly disinterested majority, who understand that they’re being screwed, but aren’t willing to give up their afternoon picnic for such a minor affront.

    That’s how unlimited democratic government works. Case in point – we all know that the bridges to nowhere are nothing but pork, but do you see people organizing a major campaign against them? Will there be a mass revolt when the funding goes through untouched? Does the fact that nothing will happen change the fact that the majority of U.S. citizens, if asked about them, would say “no, don’t build them”?

  41. But the fact that we’ve yet to see such a thing makes me suspect the lazy explanation doesn’t explain reality.

    Actually, I think the real answer is that the “forbidden” shows do come up here and that “lobbying” “required” to negotiate the terms and restrictions under which a popular US show will air is just a dog and pony show that serves both sides of the “debate” well. For example, if I recall correctly, I think I have seen a Fox news up here, but I am constantly hearing that this show is (or was?) somehow restricted. More lately, the controversy was the Martha Stewart show. In the train station, I read te newspaper articles that say she can’t get on the air, but the train station is filled with gigantic ads for her show.

    Which is a long way of saying: you are probably correct ultimately about Canada TV restrictions not being an important issue. Although ppl seem to be fired up (for CDNs anyway), it is hard to see what the problem is.

    On a more substantive note: there was a controversy this summer (or last?) about Al-Jazeera trying to get on CDN tv. If I recall, they were allowed to come on Canada TV, but with restriction written to prevent that outcome from actually happening. Of course, this particularr piece of the debate has implications beyond an SNL-vs-SCTV type decision.

  42. And yet, no actual opposition to these laws raises its head, which would be the expected outcome if those record sales,….

    Or, more probably, most people don’t care, I mean, really, really don’t fucking care about their fabulous “cultural heritage”. Though if they actually had any ability to do anything about it they might derail the gravy trains of the cultural elitists.

  43. I think you got things backwards, Isaac. Go over that again.

  44. And yet, no actual opposition to these laws raises its head, which would be the expected outcome if those record sales, television ratings, and box-office receipts actually were reflections of anti-cultural-protectionism sentiment.

    In the form of organized, lobbying opposition? Generally, no. In the form of finding ways to see the content that one wants to — downloads, bootlegs, what have you? — definitely, yes. You’re going awfully binary here: The only two options you’re offering are organized opposition or tacit — or vocal — support. There are other possibilities.

    And it’s awfully easy to snarkily dismiss the revealed preferences/dollars spent argument, but if you don’t have an alternate explanation — which you admit you don’t — then where does that get us?

  45. “In the form of organized, lobbying opposition?”

    No, in the form of public sentiment. Has any Canadian politician ever won office by promising to undo cultural preservation laws? Has anyone ever lost an election because his constituents were angry about too many Canadian titles on the radio, or too few opportunities to buy American movies? If opposition to these efforts was as widespread as the “every dollar is a vote for…” arguments presumes, there would be actual, visible opposition to them. And I’m not seeing any.

    “…but if you don’t have an alternate explanation — which you admit you don’t — then where does that get us?” In the position of trying to understand reality before ginning up an ideological explanation for it. I’m actually rather proud of the fact that my mind works this way, rather than vice versa, like yours.

  46. The millions if not billions the UN has saved from genocide, starvation, opression and tyranny.

    You breaka my bawz, Hans. You breaka my bawz!

  47. Hans Brix, I mean.

    Unreash the panthers!

  48. Has any Canadian politician ever won office by promising to undo cultural preservation laws?

    No, and none has been elected on the basis of such a promise, either. It does not in fact ever enter into most political campaigns. “Cultural” protection is a small bone thrown to a vocal busybody minority (hell the group is to small to even qualify as a minority). Like I said, joe, nobody fucking cares.

    Frankly, you have way too much faith in “democracy”.

  49. …as the Frenchman said “Stop me before I eat at McDonalds again!”

    The great thing about UNESCO is that it provides these useless twerps a harmless way to expend their energies.

  50. Give me Audrey Tautou or give me death.

  51. I wish *America* would keep out most American popular culture.

  52. France is banning imports of The Disorderly Orderly? After all I’ve done for them, and this is the thanks I get?

  53. So we get to keep the death penalty as an expression of American judicial culture?

  54. Shem, isn’t United Nations Day the holiday with the airing of grievances and the feats of strength?

    It is, as a matter of fact. And, since you mention it, I’m sick of you lording your “Official UN Day website” over my head. It’s totally uncalled for.

    Glad I got that off my chest. Now, until you pin me, United Nations Day will not end.

  55. Has any Canadian politician ever won office by promising to undo cultural preservation laws? Has anyone ever lost an election because his constituents were angry about too many Canadian titles on the radio, or too few opportunities to buy American movies?

    Has any Canadian politician ever won office solely, or largely, on a cultural-preservation platform? Has anyone ever lost an election because his (or her) constituents were angry about too many American titles on the radio, or too few opportunities to buy Canadian movies?

    If opposition to these efforts was as widespread as the “every dollar is a vote for…” arguments presumes, there would be actual, visible opposition to them. And I’m not seeing any.

    This is an argument that you would mock unmercifully if a libertarian made it: “If there were really a market for X, you’d see a lot more Xes. And I’m not seeing any, so there must not be such a market.”

    In the position of trying to understand reality before ginning up an ideological explanation for it. I’m actually rather proud of the fact that my mind works this way, rather than vice versa, like yours.

    Ah. You’re back to the “telling me what I think and insulting me” mode of argument instead of actually asking questions and having a dialogue, which means you’ve . . . wait for it . . . got nothin’, so I’m done with you. Buh-bye.

  56. Shem, no offense, but this holiday is a little (makes a series of noises) out there.

  57. This is the best United Nations Day ever!

  58. Pro Libertate- I couldn’t agree more. Actually, I remember it because it’s my mother’s birthday, and so when I flip the calendar to October I remember that I have to get my mother’s present. It goes hand in hand with the lesson my father always taught me, which was:

    Son, one day you’ll find yourself a nice girl, and when that happens I want you to remember the secret of a successful marriage; always make sure every anniversary falls on a holiday. It’s like bribing a calendar maker into calling you the week before the event.

    Not only have my parents been married for 25 years this Valentine’s Day, he’s never once even come close to forgeting an anniversary. My father is my hero.

  59. Note to self: Don’t leave the damned joke sig from the other thread on.

    joe, why don’t you actually try to construct an argument that the level of spending on/consumption of American music, movies and television shows does not reflect actual public sentiment and desire for those cultural products, and opposition to cultural protectionism laws?

    That is your thesis, right? So, defend it. The Argument from Incredulity is, unsurprisingly, not an actual argument. Just voicing it doesn’t actually suffice as an argument strong enough to simply dismiss me, or Isaac, or Cavanaugh, or whomever.

    If you’re certain that there’s really such strong support for cultural protectionism laws, surely you can come up with a) examples of such support among the general populations of these countries rather than just among diplomats and a few politicos, and b) an explanation which simultaneously accounts for the popularity of American products, but which c) completely eliminates the “dollars spent” argument as a factor.

  60. Hey! I just remembered that my former employer, McDonnell Douglas, was the first organization in the world to make United Nations Day a paid day off for its employees (in 1958).

    Co-founder James S. McDonnell was actually pretty idealistic, almost to the point of being pink. To this day (or at least the early 1990s), per his direction, employees are supposed to be officially refer to each other as “teammates,” not employees. Originally Old Mac was going to use the term “comrades,” but it turned out the Russkis were already using that.

    Of course, by the time I worked there, Old Mac was long gone, and the UN had been well exposed as a den of liars and thieves and hypocrites. So we got NATO Day off instead.

    This is my heartwarming tale for United Nations Day.

    Now comes the tradition where I dress up as “Father UN” and all the little girls (from barely 18 up to 45 or so) reach into my UNderwear to find the chocolates I’ve hidden there. Quickly, they’re melting!

  61. Ah Stevo. The Glen Quagmire of Reason:Hit and Run.

  62. Giggity, giggity, giggity, giggity!

  63. You know who isn’t bitching and moaning? The millions if not billions the UN has saved from genocide, starvation, opression and tyranny.

    Some folks have a lot – a lot – of imaginary friends.

    Sadly, the UN’s focus on saving those imaginary friends has reduced its credibility in the eyes of narrow-minded people around the world who can’t stop obsessing over “real people”.

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