An investigation into French cultural policy circa 1990,
and state involvement in Euro Disneyland
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This essay will explore French cultural policies in the late 1980s and early 1990s in regards to the difficult economic situation the country was struggling with. It will investigate how a failed bid to host the Olympics led to a vigorous campaign to play home to the first European Disney resort and secure the economic guarantees it would bring. Yet in a country where America-fuelled cultural protectionism was significant, and where worries about cultural dilution were widespread, it will explore the cultural policies enacted by the French government to secure domestic culture. These events present a fascinating scenario in which a nationally protective cultural policy had to be compromised for economic security through the construction of a contemporary World’s Fair style project; where a mega-event was not reinforcing national culture, but compromising it.
Throughout the 1980s, France’s economic situation was grim. Suffering through a Europe-wide depression, unemployment rates had been hovering at around 10% throughout the decade , foreign exchange revenues were low as the value of the Franc stagnated , and France was simultaneously battling to ensure its economic and political significance in an emerging European collective. In 1982, socialist Francois Mitterrand assumed the French presidency and advocated a neo-liberal approach to the economy - the corporatization of French industry, encouraging private business to fix the French economy, and renouncing the practice of dirigisme – strong governmental economic control, a transnational trend Raymond Williams identifies as the product of the globalization of capitalism and the threat of a renewed Cold War.
The French government recognised that the cultural and nationalistic value of a mega-event would boost the economy and alleviate the country’s problems, and began an ardent campaign to host the 1992 Olympic Games. Preceding Games had shown the economic and social benefits of hosting, but it was announced in 1985 that the country had come second to Barcelona. At the same time, the Walt Disney Company announced its intention to build a European theme park resort, narrowing the potential location down to either France or Spain. Here was a unique opportunity to replicate the economic advantages of the Olympics; jobs, tourist dollars, purpose for massive infrastructure programmes, and even the prestige of Europe’s premier vacation resort would be afforded to France, reinforcing France’s position as a major European player and destination for tourists throughout the continent and its notion of grandeur – French cultural value. The project would gain international attention not just for a year as with the Olympics, but for decades to come. The total cost of EuroDisney would be estimated at $7.5 billion – almost double the price of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
The government organised a determined campaign to ensure the Disney resort came to France, just as they had done for their failed Olympic bid. France was presented as being the heart of Europe, both geographically and culturally and convinced Disney to go ahead in France. Yet there was a crucial difference; the Olympics were used by their host country as a demonstration of that country’s culture and international prestige. Since the 1960 Rome Olympics, the Games were recognised for their influence on the city , a motivation for civic improvement projects and an advertisement internationally for the host. Disney was American, and in a country fiercely protective against encroaching Americanization, it was a compromised solution.