Social Trends Institute

Cultures - Like Languages - Can Be Translated

What do Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and John Sturges’ Magnificent Seven have to with globalization? Pablo Quiñonero Pertusa has an answer.

Quiñonero, who studied audiovisual communication in college, has focused his Master’s in Social Science Research on the hermeneutic analysis of globalization’s effect on audiovisual narratives. His Master’s research was financed by a Social trends Institute grant.

From the perspective of audiovisual narrative, is globalization the sharing of values or the imposition of certain values over others?

As I see it, globalization is not a process of cultural violence. Rather, the various points of view and characteristic elements of different cultures are translatable. Just as we translate languages, we can translate culture. It must be nuanced, but it can be done.

Is the assimilation of cultures easier in this globalized era than it was when the films you studied were made?

Yes; media has made the world smaller in this respect. An example from the 50s is illustrative: Kurosawa presented Seven Samurai in 1954 and the American adaptation came out in 1960. Six years passed between them. Today, that process might take only a year or two. Yet what is important isn’t the speed but rather the fact that it was done at all. Cultures can be communicated.

When cultures are communicated, does one always lose out to the other? Can a stronger culture dilute a weaker culture’s values?

One culture can “invade” another, and in fact there are historical examples of attempts by some cultures to “suppress” or conquer others. But these aren’t precisely examples of communication of culture. 

Explain what it does mean, then.

It refers to communication as a way of sharing, as mutual comprehension. Communication “is” when it “constructs.” Alfred Schultz treats communication from a phenomenological perspective and a recurring idea in his concept of communication is that of “growing older together.” This is my understanding of communication.

Has globalization favored the communication between cultures?

I think so. Of course there are some obvious cases in which it seems to lead to some loss (examples such as McDonalds or Coca Cola). But globalization is being in some sense reformulated. We are witnessing as well strong efforts to preserve local cultures, and protecting these requires communicating them. Some are calling this “glocalization.”

What role can audiovisual narrative play in this effort to preserve what is local?

The role of narrative is fundamental to the configuration of culture. The stories we tell and the way in which we tell them are an interpretation of our world view. A culture is defined by its myths. These myths are more than legendary stories of gods and heroes; they are the stories we tell each other and the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and about others.

Is the current audiovisual narrative emphasizing those more local visions or contributing to the uniformity of values and myths?

That depends in large part on who produced it. We often focus on the problem of Hollywood films, which makes sense because they have far greater reach than any other.  There is no doubt that American cinema tends to promote American cultural values. I am trying to show that while there is no ‘homogenization’ as such, there can be a common undercurrent, or a series of values that have mythological translation between cultures.

And is that common ground something that exists on its own, or is it formed by the contributions of some cultures and then assimilated by others?

It’s similar to language. To speak is natural to human beings. Yet there are many ways of doing it. There are different languages that express the same thing in different ways that are constructed. The same thing happens with myth. 

So in balance has globalization been bad or good for audiovisual narrative?

It’s hard to say, precisely because the ‘market’ is unbalanced. Cinema was born in the West – in France – and the US made it its calling card. Hollywood’s voice is loud, which can sometimes have a negative effect, especially because the quality of the narrative is so often lacking. But I think from the point of view of my analysis, the effects are positive. Narrative, and in particular audiovisual narrative, puts us in contact with others and often allows us to experience that “growing older together.” I’m interested in the idea of a sort of ‘global myth,’ in knowing whether there are some ideas or values that can be translated from one culture to another. I’m interested in investigating if we can identify a group of global mythological lines or types that establish a solid interpretive base for understanding.