“America for Sale!” or Japan was Engaging in Normal Mass Media Strategy but the U.S. is Racist

At the start of the 90’s, Hollywood was facing a crisis. For a long time, Hollywood had been alone (or at least thought it was alone) as a giant in the film industry, untouched by outside forces. Hollywood had become as American as apple pie. And yet, companies from across the globe were beginning to take bites out of this media empire. Hollywood was no longer a local or national institution, it was international. As Holt explains in her book, Empires of Entertainment: Media Industries and the Politics of Deregulation, 1980 – 1996, by 1991, foreign companies owned four out of the seven major studios producing U.S. entertainment. Globalization was rearing its ugly head and threatening to destroy the American integrity of Hollywood. Or was it?


This reporter called it an “economic Pearl Harbor.”        Excuse me, what?

It turns out that America was only really afraid of one thing: Japan. Tensions remained after World War II and cultural paranoia caused a real panic over whether or not Japan would attempt to take over the U.S. They had already proven themselves worthy foes in the battle for technological advancement and had even surpassed ailing American industries in some regards. Japan had bounced back after the war and the U.S. was not okay with it. By the 1980’s, Japan had already spent nearly $100 billion on U.S. properties. The American people began to worry that Japan was going to buy up America, leading to headlines like “America for Sale!” and “What Will Japan Buy Next?” This panic made its way into Hollywood as it was not immune to these Japanese acquisitions.

Two of the most significant take-overs were:

  1. Sony buying Columbia in 1989 for $6 billion; Sony also acquired Loew’s theater management company and over 800 theaters.
  2. Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. taking over Universal for $6.6 billion in 1990. They also got “49 percent interest in Cineplex Odeon theaters, half of United Cinema International, and half of USA Network, and MCA records, Geffen records, global music labels, and a library of 2,900 films and 13,000 television shows” (Holt, 128).

Yes, that does say “Japanning.”

The Matsushita takeover was the “largest-ever foreign acquisition of a U.S. media company (Holt, 128).” This caused anxiety among the community, mostly because Japan was the one doing all the acquiring. No one seemed to care this much when Fox was snatched up by the Australian Rupert Murdoch. But, as Holt rightfully points out, “Sony and Matsushita’s approach to owning both hardware and software is a strategy as old as the mass media itself ” (Holt, 128). This kind of behavior was not at all unusual in the industry. The attitudes left over after the second World War clearly influenced the nationalistic environment in Hollywood that deemed Japan a threat. International and more specifically Japanese companies were considered “aliens” that were attempting to infiltrate American through its media landscape.

Despite this opposition, globalization led to a flourishing international marketplace in which U.S. entertainment companies gained ever-increasing global earnings. International exhibition was becoming more popular and new markets in Europe were highly profitable. Despite the xenophobic reaction to the “foreign invasion,” Hollywood was pulled out of a lull and into a world that was more than ready to devour American entertainment content.

Jennifer Holt, Empires of Entertainment: Media Industries and the Politics of Deregulation, 1980-1996 , (Rutgers University Press , 2011).



  1. Choening Dorji says:


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