The Institute of Modern Language Research (IMLR) is the new designation for the Institute of Germanic & Romance Studies (IGRS). IMLR will officially launch on Saturday, 7 December 2013 with a special conference on Post-National Modern Languages. In the lead up to that conference we have interviewed several of the speakers to find out more. We’re currently in the process of talking with Paul Julian Smith (Professor at The City University of New York). The first part of this interview can be found here.
My experience is that the shift to television studies currently taking place will constitute a bigger, but potentially more fruitful, challenge to Anglo-American modern language scholars than the one already made from literature to cinema
We last asked Paul about what he plans to talk about at the Post-National Modern Languages conference. We now turn to his area of research and how this fits into his paper.
To turn to my own current research in media studies, there is some evidence in movie production for an originary alienation parallel to that seen in Hispanism. Thus Spanish cinema earns more income in foreign territories than in its own market and is now seeking funding as well as audiences abroad. Likewise the Mexican cinema that is internationally known is often funded, and distributed, through European festivals like Rotterdam and Berlin and is little seen at home.
Where once Spain invested heavily in cinema co-production, provoking fears of neo-colonialism, now joint ventures are rare. Moreover while state funding for film has greatly increased in Mexico, it has been subject to savage cuts in Spain, further detaching national trajectories. If some Latin Americans remain sensitive to the continuing twin commercial and cultural hegemons of the US and Europe (torn between what filmmaker Jesús Mario Lozano calls in English ‘Mexican cinema’ and in French ‘cinéma mexicain’), then again these contradictions are not simply institutional: they are also founded on culture clashes in the experience of space and time. Domestic comedies in both countries, which tend not to travel, exploit locally specific references, both geographic and historical, with the greatest of success, as does locally produced TV fiction. The model of reverse cultural imperialism can thus be aptly applied to media Goliaths, Mexico’s Televisa and Brazil’s Globo.
Most recently Mexico is speaking back to the US in Spanish. This year, two Mexican comedies have debuted in the US top ten movie grosses; and Univisión, the Spanish-language US TV channel, has regularly beaten English-language networks for the coveted 18-35 demographic. Perhaps, then, as in the media arena, Hispanism will be most affected not by the historic confluence and conflict between Spain and Latin America, but by the new prominence of Spanish languages and cultures within a transformed United States.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
My most recent book is Mexican Screen Fiction: Between Cinema and Television (Polity 2013). I address institutional questions in a newly converged audiovisual sector (based on informant interview) but also offer close readings of film and TV texts. I thus attempt to integrate approaches from the social science and humanities to offer a broad but detailed account of the current Mexican visual field. My experience is that the shift to television studies currently taking place will constitute a bigger, but potentially more fruitful, challenge to Anglo-American modern language scholars than the one already made from literature to cinema.
Paul Julian Smith can be found on Twitter @pauljuliansmith and via his institutional profile page. For more information about the (re)launch of the Institute of Modern Languages Research (IMLR) check out the IMLR website or contact Dr Christopher Barenberg (e-mail: email@example.com; tel: 020 7862 8738)