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New Left Review 17, September-October 2002

The ‘culture industry’ has typically been conceived as a unified, twentieth-century branch of production. Donald Sassoon reveals older, more variegated patterns of development, tracing international relations of cultural dominance from Scott and Verdi to the action movie.



Defining cultural hegemony is no simple task. To feel culturally dominated evokes deep fears and uncertainties; but even those who express these feelings are not clear what they are. By comparison, military hegemony is far less problematic: here, domination merely requires the ability to annihilate one’s nearest competitors. It is a daunting but not a complex undertaking—a question of counting up the nuclear missiles, ships and planes, and being prepared to use them. A militarily dominant country may not win every time—morale, geography and public opinion do matter—but it never loses. Hegemony in this field is a matter of state policy, economic resources and technological know-how. Patriotism and a sense of being under threat are further requirements but these are not too hard to engineer; most countries succeed without difficulty. It is even easier if you have some achievements to be proud of and are worried about forfeiting them.

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Donald Sassoon, ‘On Cultural Markets’, NLR 17: £3

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