We should not underestimate the power of cultural products. You can change the world

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  • Cultural products exert a great influence on international relations.
  • They are also able to bring about societal change in many areas.
  • Given this importance, creatives should be more involved in international forums.

Cultural products such as films and TV series are an integral part of leisure activities around the world – and are particularly present in our lives during the pandemic. So why, despite their huge impact on our daily lives, headlines and global trends, are they still often dismissed as simple entertainment?

A few years ago Nico Daswani put a similar question on Agenda and now I want to present another argument why creative people have a lot of power for change and should be better involved in international forums like the World Economic Forum alongside the CEOs of the biggest companies in the world , or as continuous staples of the G20 meetings, for example. To that end, I want to talk about these products under two lenses: as tools for international relations and as tools for social change.

In terms of international relations, these products can promote tourism, language learning, local products and a country’s image abroad. As for tourism, brave heart might have elevated Visits to Scotland up 300% in the year following release and The motorcycle diaries and game of Thrones had a similar influence on South America and the city of Dubrovnik in Croatia. When it comes to language learning, Squid Game led to one increase in interest in Korean and stranger in Scottish Gaelic, a language that until recently was only spoken fluently 0.6% the Scottish population.

The teen comedy To all the boys I’ve loved before causes a unexpected rise Interested in the Japanese brand Yakult and the film Sideways elevated Sale of Pinot Noir. studies show how consumption of media from a particular country increases interest in products from that country is the case from top gun and American-designed Ray-Ban glasses or stranger things and Eggos during the first season. After all, cultural products can greatly improve a country’s image abroad: research shows that the image that Portugal had of Brazil improved after, for example, Brazilian soap operas were broadcast there, or like that of Russia dedication for Brazilian soap operas meant adding some Brazilian Portuguese words to the language. But when discussing cinema and television as tools for international relations, it is important to separate the above examples from biased propaganda films such as US or Chinese military in the respective blockbusters of the countries.

As tools for social change, these products can spark global debates, be calls to action for something bigger, encourage on-screen representation of overlooked minorities, and also inspire individual reflection and change.

Encouraging debate is one of the things cultural products do best: An uncomfortable truth behaved awareness on climate change, even if not much was worked on in the following years; Day after tomorrow was also one catalyst to discuss and raise awareness of the possible effects of global warming. super size me caused profit losses for fast food chains and triggered an intense debate on the subject of healthy eating. More recently Don’t look up also addressed the issues of governance and climate change scientist Fact and fiction debate, and people around the world find parallels between the film and their own governments.


Cultural products can also call for action more directly, as in the case of the 2013 documentary blackfish, which denounced the treatment of orcas at water parks in the United States. It led to widespread backlash against SeaWorld, resulting in lost profits and fines. Documentary film by Errol Morris from 1988 A thin blue line led to a new jury in a murder case in Texas and to freedom of an innocent man. Finally the documentary Virunga helped fuel one advocacy campaign against oil companies that want to exploit a Ugandan national park.

Films and TV series can also improve people’s mental health by increasing the representation of women and minorities children and teenagers – simultaneously misrepresentation creates harmful stereotypes that will affect daily life, including maintaining a deficiency from diversity among the creatives. Finally, films can also be a catalyst for personal change, for example one in nine women worldwide and one in four in Brazil to have the courage to end an abusive relationship because of positive female role models in film and television.

With this clear potential for impact in so many different areas, there is a need to ensure more creative people outside their industry bubbles have a voice. These are people making an impact around the world in ways that many other ventures cannot emulate. From helping preserve a dying language, to ensuring better treatment for animals, to supporting women moving out of abusive situations, there is real power in visual storytelling.

At the same time, the world is witnessing cuts in funding for the arts in several countries, such as United Kingdom, Finland and Brazil, which is counterproductive to the tangible benefits they bring to society. In order to have more impact and spark social change, the arts need to be taken seriously – with adequate funding and incentives across the board, from training new talent to organizations supporting new projects (such as World Cinema Fund), to those that ensure fair payment for artists (like this project by Ireland).

The Cultural Leaders Network brings together influential artists, cultural leaders and cultural institutions to engage them in the work of the World Economic Forum and to recognize the importance of cultural dimensions in all major issues.

Cultural leaders help promote and drive inclusive and sustainable cultural change. The World Economic Forum works with cultural leaders by co-developing exhibitions, performances, experiences and panels at our global and regional physical and virtual events, commissioning and producing new works and incorporating them into forum projects such as: New storytelling laboratory.


Examples include the Emmy-winning VR documentaries Awavena and Collisions, which screened in the Australian Parliament and influenced the vote on a new resolution banning nuclear weapons. Tour of the Afghan Women’s Orchestrawhich launched a national dialogue on education, and the ACCESS+ABILITY exhibition on disability inclusion, co-curated with the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

Also worrying is the lack of creatives in international forums, where they are often just there for entertainment between panels. Increasing the involvement of creatives in these forums is needed as they can make a powerful contribution, not just in terms of ideas on how best to reach an audience (e.g. pop-up cinemas in remote parts of the world) and raise awareness (film links in the form of advocacy campaigns), but also in thematic knowledge: filmmakers who have been on site for years research and filming specific issues can have as much practical knowledge as policy makers. Combining the expertise of people from diverse backgrounds can lead to inventive solutions to global problems. It’s time for international forums to recognize the potential of creatives and incorporate their diverse experiences into their mix.

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