Reel Power


Albums before armies? Movies before men? The best measure of a society’s power is not military might or economic dominance. Real power is best found in cultural resonance. Though both are launched with the common goal of “influence”, the weapon and the film achieve their goals by different means and varied ways.

A society uses its weapons to remove undesirable entities and, ideally, create opportunities for growth. In essence, the weapon is a source of destruction whose existence is merely to eliminate a boundary to one’s intentions. Destruction is the basis of the weapon’s existence.

Compare the weapon’s “basis of existence” with that of the cultural entity. Both are presented to a foreign audience with a goal of influence, but herein lies the distinction of means. Unlike the weapon, the film achieves more profound goals by implanting an image of the culture from which it stems.

Cultural entities present notions of the creator’s culture. A filmsuggestsways of life that need not be accurate. Wealth and success, happiness and perfection are complicated abstract forms easily communicated in the narrative domain. A society’s successful film extends beyond simple entertainment and becomes a beacon to what life is actually like in the creator’s world. An audience that subscribes to the film’s message becomes captive to its wealth of messages.

The cultural entities ability to embrace audience perspective renders it the most powerful tool for social influence. Societies that aim to broadcast on a global level are better served by a rich cultural cadre that extends to all corners of the globe. Likewise one can measure power by the reach of a society’s culture. The best measure of social domination is not in counts of weapon systems or the ability to reduce X number of countries to dust; instead, one need only look at popular culture to measure strength. Today’s best bullets no longer contain lead: look instead for “dot mp3” or the scrolling line of credits to mark the tail end of strength. When the audience applauds the battle has been one.

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