David R. Henderson  

America Takes Over the World--Peacefully

Who Really Cares About the Poo... Is Europe becoming more like t...

I had promised to post more about the first book I read on my vacation. But in the tradeoff between swimming and posting, I leaned strongly to the former. Now I'm catching up.

In One Summer, Bill Bryson, discussing the advent of talking in movies, writes:

Though the significance of this [foreigners with accents suddenly losing their jobs] wasn't much noticed in America, globally the effect was profound. Moviegoers around the world suddenly found themselves exposed, often for the first time, to American voices, American vocabulary, American cadence and pronunciation and word order. Spanish conquistadors, Elizabeth courtiers, figures from the Bible were suddenly speaking in American voices--and not just occasionally but in film after film after film. The psychological effect of this, particularly on the young, can hardly be overstated. With American speech came American thoughts, American attitudes, American humor and sensibilities. Peacefully, by accident, and almost unnoticed, America had just taken over the world.

Actually, I had promised to post on eugenics and I will. But I'll also post about other parts of the book.

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COMMENTS (12 to date)
Shane L writes:

This sounds like another great book from Bryson, and it's doubtless an important point. A few thoughts:

Some Westerners pessimistically predict the end of Western civilisation due to its lowish fertility rates and mass-immigration. However this misses the extent to which non-Westerners are exposed to American culture through tv, cinema, music and so on. The average American is not likely to know much about Malaysian or Brazilian cinema, but the latest box office results for both Malaysia and Brazil have "Avengers: Age of Ultron" as the biggest movie. Hundreds of millions of non-Westerners grow up exposed to Anglo-American culture. I presume this does have an impact on their perspectives.

Another thing that strikes me relates to complaints among some ethnic minority Americans that they are under-represented in a white-centric American media. I don't know how true that is so I don't wish to challenge it, but my guess is that ethnic minority Americans are grossly over-represented in the global media market. I in Europe often see black or Hispanic American cultures depicted in tv, cinema and music. I'm guessing on average non-Americans know more about black struggles for civil rights in the US than most Americans (and indeed most people everywhere) know about the myriad struggles in other parts of the world.

khodge writes:

David, Excellent point.
I have studied (as in "attended class") several languages. When studying languages, while being educated in philosophy, one sees the correlation of language with thought.

One example: the structure of German language is rather complex with words being strung together and nouns piled on nouns until, at the very end, you get a verb. German philosophy, consequently, comes across as deep, weighty, and opaque.

One can look, for instance, in the English tradition of law for the concepts of property rights, individual, and other significant concepts but you probably will find better examples in language structure.

jesus alfaro writes:

Do you know that american movies have been dubbed for many, many years?

JK Brown writes:


Daniel Hannan cites similar opinions regarding the spread of English and the philosophy of liberty in his 'Inventing Freedom'. It does look like there is a correlation between the advent of "talkies" with American English and the spread of democracies with the decline of monarchies, etc.

Hannan cites how "'democracy' has the same literal meaning in almost every language... But in English, the overtones are so positive that democracy is now used, more generally, as an all-purpose hurray word."(p25)

There really does seem to be something to the Ancient liberties of the English-speaking people. The speaking of English, especially as a first language for offspring, really does seem to inculcate the culture of those ancient liberties nurtured in the English countryside after the immigration of the Saxons.

American motto: Resistance is futile. Prepare to be assimilated.

Mark Bahner writes:
The average American is not likely to know much about Malaysian or Brazilian cinema, but the latest box office results for both Malaysia and Brazil have "Avengers: Age of Ultron" as the biggest movie.

And that's why the world is doomed. ;-)

Massimo writes:

On face value, this is a post about old news: the cultural exports of American media. This crowd already knew that. There is a similar story with science and technology.

Did America take over the world? Or maybe the rest of the world took over America? Did Detroit take over the rest of the world with the automotive revolution? Or did the rest of the world take over Detroit? You can argue either way.

David R. Henderson writes:

You’re absolutely right that it is old news. Recall that the book I’m discussing is about 1927.

Curt Doolitlte writes:

Unfortunately, no other culture, even the catholic states, approaches protestant high trust (and therefore economic velocity). We have genetically pacified northern Europe aggressively for a millennium, practiced delayed reproduction an eugenic mating for just as long, and pacified through eugenic manorialism less so for millennia before that.

Cultures can adopt technology, but it has yet to be seen if anyone can adopt high trust. Truth telling, and even the very concept of it, much less contractual adherence, diminish very, very rapidly, and corruption increases very rapidly outside of the Hanjal line.

I don't see much reason for optimism. We have a very poor record of spreading truth telling and trust, even if we have a great record of spreading money, accounting, banking, interest, and consumer capitalism.

Other cultures wear our clothes, eat our food, listen to our music, watch their movies, and employ our technology. But they remain familial, inbred, tribal, corrupt, and unpacified.

The western miracle was caused by our accidental discovery of truth. From that discovery all of consequence was derived. Without that, little of consequence will be constructed.

Our frequent self congratulation is merely signaling and hubris. We should leave the brits to specialize in it. They're better at it. ;)

guthrie writes:


Not so much in 1927. In 1927 the technology barely existed to add sound to film, so 'dubbing' (i.e. translating audio dialogue into a foreign language) did not yet exist.

jesus alfaro writes:

I can tell you that after 1939, american movies in Spain were dubbed because the law provided for compulsory dubbing (censorship under Franco). If Henderson brings to life a text from 1927 it's probably because he thinks the author was presciently right about the matter he dealt with.

guthrie writes:

Context, Jesus.

The book David is currently reviewing is focusing on 1927. The statement he is highlighting is the fact that the moment sound was introduced to film, anywhere said films were distributed to were seen as-is (the only way to alter these films was by re-shooting them, and this was very costly).

The author, Bill Bryson, seems to be saying that un-altered American films shown in other (largely European) countries had a world-wide impact . A significant one (mind you, I have not yet read the book).

It is suggestive to me that the advent of a dominant world culture might certainly have its roots in the facts presented in the quote. I'm guessing this is the idea which is interesting to David and why he posted it here.

It would appear that your point on dubbing is speaking past what both David and the author are saying. Especially since the date you cite is 12 years older than the year in question. I'm willing to bet there was more than one or two American films shown in Spain during that time.

If you dispute the idea that the advent of sound films had an impact on world culture, then by all means share your ideas. But I don't believe that dubbing films well after the fact that they had sound diminishes the point.

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