Mixed reception abroad for U.S. fare

Favorable ratings decline in 26 or 33 countries

Auds abroad are still keen on American pop culture, but Hollywood should brace for growing resistance to its wares in some markets — particularly those with a strong Muslim base.

Twenty-seven of 47 nations surveyed — about 60% — have a positive view of U.S. movies, music and TV, according to Pew Research Center’s latest study of global attitudes. But favorable ratings of the U.S. declined in 26 of 33 countries for which comparisons are available since 2002.

The study, Pew’s largest in five years, offers a snapshot of global views on American culture and reveals that there are already limits to just how far Hollywood likely will be able to extend its reach overseas.

Halfway through the year, overseas box office for the six majors is running 13% ahead of last year, thanks to the flurry of tentpoles unspooling around the globe. This year’s take to date, $4.65 billion, is 24% ahead of the first six months of 2005 (Daily Variety, July 3).

The Pew study found that while a majority of the nations surveyed still like America’s pop culture exports, the percentage that don’t is growing.

Not surprisingly, Western European countries like Sweden and Spain expressed the highest approval of American culture in the study. But views were more mixed in Africa and Eastern Europe. Predominantly Muslim countries gave U.S. pop culture the lowest marks, but Indians and Russians weren’t that fond of American culture either.

American cultural offerings rated bottom of the barrel among Pakistanis, who gave U.S. movies, music and TV a meager 4% approval rating. It was followed by Bangladesh, which turned in a 14% approval rating, Turkey (22%), India (23%) and Pakistan territories (23%). Russia gave American pop culture a higher, but still low, rating of 38% approval.

On the plus side, U.S. pop culture rated surprisingly well in the Ivory Coast — the country gave it an 86% approval rating, the highest surveyed. It was followed by Sweden at 77% thumbs up, Canada (73%), Israel (72%) and Spain (72%). Lebanon and Venezuela tied at 71%, edging out Japan at 70%.

These findings line up with overseas box office results. Japan, the U.K. (63%) and Germany (62% rating) typically lead the overseas B.O. for the majors.

Pew’s survey also revealed strong schisms in Muslim countries. In Lebanon, Christians and Sunni Muslims overwhelmingly embrace American culture, while the Shia community largely rejects Yank cultural exports. Similarly, Christians in Ethiopia and Nigeria tend to like American pop culture while Muslims dislike it. And in Malaysia, the minority Buddhist community is more bullish on American culture than the majority Muslim community.

In predominantly Muslim countries, it’s not just that they don’t approve of American culture; most plain don’t like it. More than two-thirds of Bangladeshis (81%), Pakistanis (80%), Turks (68%), Palestinians (68%) and Indians (68%) said they do not like American music, movies and television.

On the flip side, Americans are almost evenly divided in their acceptance of cultural imports; 45% said they like foreign movies, music and TV, while 44% said they do not.

Overall, the poll found growing concern about “Americanization” over the past five years. A majority said it is bad that American ideas and customs are spreading to their societies in a whopping 80% of the countries outside the U.S. surveyed.

“Worries have especially increased in Western and Eastern Europe, including nations such as Bulgaria, Britain, the Czech Republic and Germany,” the study states.

Disapproval rose most in friendly nations like the U.K., where it jumped 17% to 21%, and Germany, where it climbed 14% to 17%. It increased 13% to 22% among our neighbors to the north. Israel, Ethiopia, the Ivory Coast and Nigeria are the only countries outside the U.S. where the majority like the spread of American culture.

Two-thirds of Americans take a positive spin on the spread of their ideas and customs, although that percentage has dipped from 79% in 2002.

The U.S. is not alone in its sagging image abroad. The poll also found greater dislike toward China as it extends its economic might, and strong dislike of Russia, especially in Western Europe.

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