Willkommen, Toni Morrison

By Gordon, David T. | The Christian Science Monitor, April 17, 1998 | Go to article overview

Willkommen, Toni Morrison


Gordon, David T., The Christian Science Monitor


This month, the Los Angeles Dodgers began another season playing America's game. Their paychecks will come from Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who no doubt defines a "squeeze play" as a deft move at the negotiating table. Though born in the USA, pop music stars Bruce Springsteen and Mariah Carey generate profits for Japan's Sony. Now, African-American writer Toni Morrison, whose prose throws light into the country's dark corners, will submit her luminescent manuscripts to a corporate giant headquartered in Gueters-loh, Germany.

The recent acquisition of Random House by German media conglomerate Bertelsmann A.G. has prompted a familiar cry - another independent standard-bearer of American letters is "lost" to a foreign multinational. Four of the top seven US publishing houses are now controlled from overseas boardrooms. An ugly clash of cultures can't be far behind, right?

Does American culture belong to Americans anymore? Of course it does. What's more, it belongs to everyone else, too. American culture is global culture. At a Japanese multiplex cinema, 4 out of 5 movies come from Hollywood. Germany's bestseller lists are dominated not only by American hotshots like John Grisham and Tom Clancy, but also writers like Boston's Noah Gordon {no relation to the author of this article}, a little-known novelist here who's sold 10 million books east of the Rhine since 1987. Michael Jackson has a better chance of filling a stadium in India than in his home state of Indiana. The Germans, Japanese, or Australians may peddle the wares, but the product the world wants is all-American. Thanks to advances in transportation and information technology, the world's economies are more closely linked than ever. Big multinationals hardly acknowledge national boundaries anymore. With almost unanimous support from the world's governments, international free trade has become the rule in the last decade and no longer the pipedream of laissez-faire globalists. Culture, at least the kind that makes money, is part of that trend. Books - highbrow and lowbrow alike - are big business, a fact that every author wishes, with a gambler's blind hope, to benefit from. Many do, and handsomely. Horrormeister Stephen King commanded advances of $16 million from Viking (British owned) before bolting to Scribners last year - for more money. Actress-comedienne Whoopi Goldberg got paid $6 million up front from William Morrow & Co. for her book titled "Book." Humorous, no? Of course, Morrow executives weren't laughing when "Book" nosedived after just four bestselling weeks. Bestsellers used to be counted in tens of thousands of volumes sold; now the measure is in millions. …

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