Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Week 10: Homosexuality and American Mass Culture


1. What is the main idea of this reading? Summarize in a sentence or two. 
2. What does Cole say is driving opposition to gay marriage in Taiwan
3. Cole compares these Christians to a terrorist organization. In what ways does he say are they like a terrorist organization? 
4. Why does Cole say the government listens to such individuals?

The extremist Christian infiltration of Taiwan (中文link)
J Michael Cole

Intensifying efforts to block same-sex marriage regulations and to promote chastity in Taiwan are led by a loose coalition of evangelical groups with worrying ties to extremist Christian organizations in the U.S.

One of the things we did when I was an intelligence officer was something called “link analysis,” which consisted of establishing a full picture of the ties that bound individuals, groups, organizations, and firms, to our targets. By doing this, we hoped to obtain a fuller understanding of where indoctrination, orders, and money were coming from, while enlarging the scope of our investigation if our targets met other suspect individuals. While we could never hope to have a complete picture of, say, a terrorist organization, it drove home the fact that contemporary terrorist groups tend to be complex and use many fronts to achieve their objectives.

Fast-forward more than a decade, and I find myself once again attempting to establish a picture of another entity that, in some but radically different ways, also threatens society. This time, my endeavors were prompted by the campaign against amendments to Article 972 of the Civil Code, which would legalize same-sex unions in Taiwan, and the disgraceful actions of many participants at the Happiness of the Next Generation Alliance rally on Nov. 30 against same-sex marriage.

What drove me to pursue the matter was the fact that the most sustained and strident opponents of homosexual unions in Taiwan were individuals who were closely associated with Christian churches here. The deeper I dug, the clearer it became that ordinary Taiwanese either didn’t care one way or another, or in fact supported the amendment (about 53%). Those who were vocal in their opposition overwhelmingly belonged to Christian churches, and their ideology sounded oddly similar to that which one encounters in the most conservatives of U.S. (southern) states. In other words, despite claims by the Alliance that homosexuality and same-sex marriage were “Western imports,” it was becoming increasingly evident that the real foreign imports were in fact their intolerant views and the arguments they used to “warn” society about the ills that would befall it should 972 be amended.

I have now spent weeks “link analyzing” the Alliance, and have made some of my findings public in previous articles on the subject. The more I delve into this, the more I am reminded of loose organizations like al-Qaeda (disclaimer: I do not intend to imply that the Alliance is a terrorist organization; the analogy refers strictly to structure). Those who have taken the lead in Taiwan opposing same-sex unions — and interestingly, in spearheading True Love efforts to promote chastity in high-schools — are all part of a loose network whose epicenter can be traced back to ultra-rightist evangelical Christian organizations in the U.S. Many of the leading religious individuals here received training in divinity with groups like the round-the-clock prayer International House of Prayer (IHOP) and the Wagner Institute — two recurrent standouts in my research — before returning to Taiwan to spread a rigidly theistic and zero-sum version of Christianity that involves a blend of magic, cultism, and let’s be frank, homophobia.* Theirs is a spiritual battle to Christianize the world by spreading the gospel in every corner of society, from schools to the workplace, our bedrooms to government (IHOP University’s mission statement is to “equip and send out believers who love Jesus and others wholeheartedly to preach the Word, heal the sick, serve the poor, plant churches, lead worship, start houses of prayer, and proclaim the return of Jesus [my italics]”). The Kingdom Revival Times, a rather useful resource, is full of news articles about IHOP members, including Jerry Chow (周吉仁), being invited to address congregations in Taiwan.

This is where the al-Qaeda analogy becomes useful. It would be invidious to accuse, say, IHOP of directly involving itself in legislative decisions in Taiwan. It doesn’t need to, as it has indoctrinated foot soldiers to do so on behalf of its doctrinaire view of the world. This is very similar to many of the terrorist organizations that sprang up all over the world following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S. and after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Although most of those offshoots subscribed to al-Qaeda ideology, and many of their leaders and foot soldiers had at some point received training in al-Qaeda camps, al-Qaeda central had little direct say over what those organizations did. Most of the time, their actions served al-Qaeda’s grand purpose, though admittedly they sometimes undermined the cause. Regardless, the loose structure of the “alliance” made establishing a full picture of the constellation a near impossibility.

On a smaller scale, the same can be said of the overlapping evangelical Christian organizations across the U.S. that advocate hardline views on homosexuality, abortion, and “intelligent design” (creationism), which extend tentacles in government, courthouses, universities, and the media.

This structure is now being replicated in Taiwan, and I suspect, across Asia. And as in the U.S., they have been recruiting wealthy individuals and government officials in positions of influence to push policies that ill reflect the wishes of the moderate majority. There is now in Taiwan a cross-pollinating (no pun intended) constellation of Christian churches and bible study centers that recruit, train, and indoctrinate Taiwanese, who are then encouraged to spread the gospel. Conduct Google searches on almost any of them or their leaders — the Bread of Life Christian Church, Agape Christian Church, Top Church, New Life (yes, Ted Haggard), Impact Bible School, Asia for Jesus, “Workplace House of Prayer” — and you will eventually unearth connections to IHOP, Wagner, and other religious organizations that all share the characteristics of cults.

Despite the relatively small number of its members, this loose alliance tends to punch above its weight, perhaps because of the tendency of society and governments to bend over backwards to make sure we show no disrespect to religion (in fact I suspect that this may be one of the reasons why police officers stood by on Nov. 30 as Alliance members blocked and surrounded proponents of same-sex marriage in a public space). Those groups have infiltrated the halls of government and our schools, encouraging high-school children to sign a pledge to chastity until marriage (science demonstrates that such efforts have failed miserably) or forcing upon them literature on the alleged dangers of homosexual unions. Such efforts will only intensify as the groups further consolidate their presence in Taiwan.

Scary stuff.

* I doubt that organizations like IHOP would be able to indoctrinate Taiwanese minds to the same extent as, say, in Uganda, where their rhetoric has reached levels of encouraging people to kill homosexuals. Among other things, their reach in Taiwan is hampered by socio-economic conditions, not to mention education levels, that differ markedly from those seen in countries like Uganda, where missionary and humanitarian work serve as the entry point to proselytizing. It is difficult to imagine Taiwanese, even those who oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds, being receptive to calls to kill homosexuals or imprison them for life. Limitations notwithstanding, cultish groups like IHOP can do severe harm to modern societies like Taiwan by spreading intolerance and irrationalism.


1990 version

1992 version

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Week 7-8: Hollywood



1.      List 5 advantages Hollywood has over local film industries in other countries.
2.      How does the US use Free Trade Agreements to help Hollywood?
3. How does the distribution system help Hollywood market its movies?
4. According to the writer, how much of the budget for a big budget film goes to marketing the movie and the products related to it?
5.      How do American movies drive US cultural imperialism?


See discussions, stats, and author profiles for this publication at:
Cultural globalization and the dominance of the American film industry: cultural policies,
national film industries, and... Article in International Journal of Cultural Policy · September 2014

…the expansion of media culture industries in other countries has to be seen in the context of the continuing dominance of American media culture. Banerjee (2002, p. 517) states: ‘The USA has emerged as the most powerful player and clearly dominates the world’s cultural industries’. This is particularly true in the film industry.2 Using data from 2002 to 2007, Fu and Govindaraju (2010,
p. 223) found that countries are increasingly importing American films. The annual World Box Office Top 20 consists of American films and a few US co-productions (European Audiovisual Observatory 2010) (see Chart 1).

The dominance of the American film industry is generally explained by three
factors: (1) the enormous concentration of talent and economic resources for the production of film in the Los Angeles region (Hollywood) (Scott 2002); (2) the advantage of the huge American market that offers economies of scale, ensuring that cultural exports can be sold at rates well below the cost of production for smaller nations (Van Elteren 2003, p. 173); and (3) a widespread and effective distribution system for American films in the USA and in many other countries that effectively excludes foreign films from the US market and ensures the success of American films abroad (Scott 2002).

Scott (2002, p. 958) attributes Hollywood’s competitive advantages to ‘a dense agglomeration of firms and workers and associated institutions’. This production system has two major components, one devoted to the production of very expensive blockbuster films that are marketed globally and another devoted to the production of relatively low-budget independent films which may or may not be distributed abroad. A few American conglomerates produce the most expensive films and provide financing and distribution for films made by small independent companies.3

These elements exist in an institutional environment and regional context which provide filmmakers with ‘strong competitive advantages in the form of increasing returns to scale and scope’ and which function as ‘a seedbed of creativity and innovation for the industry’ (Scott 2002, p. 965).

Among all film-producing countries, the USA is unique in the average cost of films. The average cost of films produced by major studios is close to $100 million while the average cost of independent films is less than $40 million (European Audiovisual Observatory 2006, p. 37).4 By comparison, the average cost of a British film is $13.3 million (Brunet and Gornostaeva 2006), of a French film, $5.1
million (European Audiovisual Observatory 2010, p. 23), and of an Egyptian film, $1.3–$5.5 million (European Audiovisual Observatory 2010, p. 61). Table 1 shows the disparity in production costs between North America and other regions. The high production costs of American films are necessitated by their use of a star system and their emphasis on increasingly elaborate special effects.

Although many American films are very profitable in the USA, foreign markets have become much more important, as the costs of making films have increased. In 2005, 61.3% of Hollywood’s box office receipts were derived from foreign markets (MPAA 2006, cited in Gao 2009). US firms have the advantage of working in the principal international language, English. Typically, about one-third of a US film’s budget is devoted to advertising and promotion, including an emphasis on
film branding which includes product placements and products that are widely marketed through commercial tie-ins and cross-promotions (York 2010, p. 3). Scott argues that, without its effective and unparalleled distribution system, the production system in Hollywood would be much less successful than it is. The system relies on extensive networks of regional offices in the USA and abroad, marketing and distribution involving intense publicity campaigns and exhibition in many different theatres simultaneously (Scott 2002, p. 969). The absence of comparable distribution systems in the film industries in other countries prevents them from competing effectively in the USA and elsewhere. The American market for foreign productions has been described as ‘impenetrable and unattainable’ (Brunet and Gornostaeva 2006, p. 61).

Another factor in the global dominance of the American film industry is the role of cultural policy. As will be discussed in a subsequent section, the continuing success of Hollywood films in the face of increasing competition from other countries is at times the result of a fierce battle between national cultural policies, onewhich Hollywood, supported a system of Foreign Trade Agreements, negotiated by the American government, usually wins (see below).


Cultural policy is an important element in the global dominance of the American film industry. The goal of the American government’s film policy is to eliminate film quotas in other countries so as to ensure that their film markets are open to American films. At the beginning of the past decade, UNESCO (20002005) recognized the exceptional nature of cultural goods and affirmed the right of
nation states to implement policies that protect and provide cultural expression in a Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expression (Jin 2008). While European countries, particularly France, strongly supported the convention, the USA refused to sign it and vigorously lobbied against it (Jin 2011).7

The American response to the UNESCO convention was an increase in the use of Foreign Trade Agreements on a one-to-one basis with other countries. FTAs are intended to eliminate film quotas and promote exports of American films to other countries. The American government’s reaction to the UNESCO convention and its use of FTAs reflect the enormous importance that the American government places on its film industry. Cultural industries, such as film, music, and television,
are major sources of American exports (Jin 2011).

While negotiations for the UNESCO convention were taking place, the USA was beginning FTA agreements with more than 20 countries, including Morocco, Columbia, Australia, Israel, South Africa, Malaysia, and Korea (Jin 2011). In some but not all of the countries that signed FTA agreements with the USA, their domestic film markets declined rapidly, as shown by the market share
of local films. This was particularly true in small countries with relatively small film industries, such as Canada and Australia, which were no longer able to adequately protect their industries.

The USA also pressured South Korea to reduce its quota system for foreign films that had been in existence for several decades as a condition for starting negotiations for a US-Korea FTA (Jin 2008).8 In spite of strong opposition from the film industry, the government halved the quotas because it expected other industries to benefit from other aspects of the FTA.

The effects of American pressure to cut screen quotas vary depending upon the economic and cultural contexts in different countries. In the early 1990s, when screen quotas were cut in Mexico as a result of the NAFTA Treaty with the USA, the number of films produced in Mexico declined from 100 in 1992 to 14 in 2003. The market share of Mexico’s film industry was 7.5% in 2009. In
Korea, the short run effects of cutting the film quotas in 2006 were very negative. The film industry lost money in subsequent years but, in 2009, it once again became profitable. Six Korean films were among the country’s top 10 films (see Table 2). The Korean film industry survived the change in screen quotas because of the huge market all over Asia for all forms of Korean popular culture (known as the Korean Wave), including film, in an economic and cultural context where
emerging countries are expanding their economies and their populations are starting to have disposable income for various forms of consumption (Shim 2006; see also Keane 2006).

Some critics see films as another form of cultural imperialism. Since Hollywood has attracted global audiences, it has made important modifications. Of the past two decades, references to American culture are less specific, while themes and motifs of other cultures are more prevalent, making the film appeal to audience on the global film market (Crane, 2014). And while Hollywood has made these modifications to diversify its content, the American film industry still faces scrutiny for not being diverse enough, as exemplified in the #OscarsSoWhite movement during the 2015 Academy Awards. Because of its lack of diversity and global influence, the Hollywood film industry potentially has the ability to homogenize global cultures, and therefore the industry acts as a cultural imperialist (Crane, 2014).

The United States is not only a political hegemon, but its pop culture is also hegemonic (Wagnleitner, 2001). Ideals that the United States holds to be true are eventually adopted by lower tiers and subordinate countries. For instance, the American view of development as fast, progressive, and industrial, leaves little room for other countries influenced by American pop culture to create a national identity or perspective themselves (Su, 2011). On top of this the hegemonic devices used in the film industry function to contain social change by absorbing stories (that should be told in different perspectives) into its core ideological structure, “giving the appearance of addressing calls for social change, while simultaneously legitimizing dominant ideologies for the viewing public,” (Cooper, 1999).

While Hollywood has made modifications to their industry to be more specific about other cultures, Hollywood is also modifying the cultures within the movies to encompass American ideals. Take, for instance, the Disney Princess movie, Mulan (1998). Before the United States even produced this film, the Chinese folk tale had already been the subject of operas, television series, and three films. When Disney production started, “American-style individualism was inserted in the story, transforming a shy, demure heroine into an outgoing and tomboyish girl… the story although set in China, is resolutely modern and American,” (Crane, 2014)


Understanding Hollywood movies: