GaleotaLegrain_IstheWorldaVictimofAmericanCulturalImperialism[1]

GaleotaLegrain_IstheWorldaVictimofAmericanCulturalImperialism[1]

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Unformatted text preview: 1" i’wnaéztyluwx. . _. ISSUE 1 Should the International Community Attempt to Curb Population Growth in the Developing World? \YES: Robert S. McNamara,” from”The Population Explosion," The Futurist (November/December 1992) N0: Steven..WI Masher, from ”McNamara’s F0 : Bankrolling Family Planning, " PRI Review (March—April; / ISSUE SUMMARY YES: Robert McNamara, former president of the World Bank, argues in this piece written during his presidency that the developed countries of the world and international organizations should help the countries of the developing world reduce their population growth rates. NO: Steven W. Mosher, president of the Population Research Insti- tute, an organization dedicated to debunking the idea that the world is overpopulated, argues that McNamara’s World Bank and other international financial lending agencies have served for over a decade as ”loan sharks” for those groups and individuals who were pressuring developing countries to adopt fertility reduction programs for self—interest reasons. , The history of the international community’s efforts to lower birth rates throughout the developing world goes back to the late 19605, when the annual growth rate hovered around 2.35 percent. At that time, selected individuals in international governmental organizations, including the United Nations, were persuaded by a number of wealthy national governments as well as by interna- tional nongovernmental population agencies that a problem of potentially massive proportions had recently emerged. Quite simply, demographers had observed a pattern of population growth in the poorer regions of the world quite unlike that which had occurred in the richer countries during the previous 150—200 years. 2 it values and ideas that are largely American in origin and expression. Values such as speed and ease of use, a strong emphasis on leisure time over work time, and a desire for increasing material wealth and comfort dominate the advertising practices of these companies. For citizens of the United States, this seems a natural part of the landscape. They do not question it; in fact, many Americans enjoy seeing signs of ”home” on street corners abroad: a McDonald's in Tokyo, a Sylvester Stallone movie in Djakarta, or a Gap shirt on a student in Nairobi, for example. While comforting to Westerners, this trend is disquieting to the hundreds of millions of people around the world who wish to partake of the globalizing system without abandoning their own cultural values. Many people around the globe wish to engage in economic exchange and develop politically but do not want to abandon their own cultures amidst the wave of values embedded in Western products. This tension is most pronounced in its effect on the youth around the world. Millions of impressionable young people in the cities and vil- lages of the developing world wish to emulate the American icons that they see on soft drink cans or in m0vie theaters. They attempt to adopt U.S. manners, language, and modes of dress, often in opposition to their parents and local cul- ture. These young people are becoming Americanized and, in the process, creat- ing huge generational rifts within their own societies. Some of the seeds of these rifts and cultural schisms can be seen in the actions of the young Arab men who joined Al Qaeda and participated in the terrorist attacks of September 1 1, 2001. Julia Galeota presents the case that American culture is seen in every comer of the globe. From. McDonald’s and Coke to MTV and CNN, America’s values, ideals, and customs are presented to hundreds of millions of people as right and good and thus homogenizing world culture based on an American matrix. She contends that this imagery and its delivery systems need to be thwarted by ”pro- tective filters [that] should help to maintain the integrity of a culture in the face of cultural imperialism.” Legrain posits two counter arguments, one by Thomas Freidman in favor of globalization and its impact, and one by Naomi Klein against critical of such impact to argue that people define themselves, not adver- tising and images. He argues that it is a myth to regard globalization as culturally imperialist and that living in an era of multiple forms of identity and diverse cul- tures and globalization does not hinder nor stifle any of those cultures. YES @ ‘ Julia Galeota Cultural Imperialism: An American Tradition Travel almost anywhere in the world today and, whether you suffer from habitual Big Mac cravings or cringe at the thought of missing the newest epi- sode of M’IV’s The Real World, your American tastes can be satisfied practically everywhere. This proliferation of American products across the globe is more than mere accident. As a byproduct of globalization, it is part of a larger trend in the conscious dissemination of American attitudes and values that is often referred to as cultural imperialism. In his 1976 work Communication and Cultural Domination, Herbert Schiller defines cultural imperialism as: The sum of the processes by which a society is brought into the modern world system, and how its dominating stratum is attracted, pressured, forced, and sometimes bribed into shaping social institutions to correspond to, or even to promote, the values and structures of the dominant center of the system. Thus, cultural imperialism involves much more than simple consumer goods; it involves the dissemination of ostensibly American principles, such as freedom and democracy. Though this process might sound appealing on the surface, it masks a frightening truth: many cultures around the world are gradu- ally disappearing due to the overwhelming influence of corporate and cultural America. The motivations behind American cultural imperialism parallel the justi- fications for us. imperialism throughout history: the desire for access to foreign markets and the belief in the superiority of American culture. Though the United States does boast the world’s largest, most powerful economy, no business is completely satisfied with controlling only the American market; American corporations want to control the other 95 percent of the world’s consum- ers as well. Many industries are incredibly successful in that venture. According to the Guardian, American films accounted for approximately 80 percent of global box office revenue in January 2003. And who can forget good old Micky D’s? With over 30,000 restaurants in over one hundred countries, the ubiquitous From The Humanist by Julia Galeota, vol. 64, no. 3, May/June 2004, pp. 22—24, 46. Copyright © 2004 by American Humanist Association. Reprinted by permission. 239 240 ISSUE 13 / Is the World a Victim of American Cultural Imperialism? golden arches of McDonald’s are now, according to Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, ”more widely recognized than the Christian cross.” Such American domination inevitably hurts local markets, as the majority of foreign industries are unable to compete with the economic strength of U5. industry. Because it serves American economic interests, corporations conveniently ignore the detrimental impact of American control of foreign markets. Corporations don’t harbor qualms about the detrimental effects of ”Americanization” of foreign cultures, as most corporations have ostensibly convinced themselves that American culture is superior and therefore its influ- ence is beneficial to other, ”lesser” cultures. Unfortunately, this American belief in the superiority of US. culture is anything but new; it is as old as the culture itself. This attitude was manifest in the actions of settlers when they first arrived on this continent and massacred or assimilated essentially the entire ”savage” Native American population. This attitude also reflects that of the late nineteenth-century age of imperialism, during which the jingoists attempted to fulfill what they believed to be the divinely ordained ”manifest destiny” of American expansion. Jingoists strongly believe in the concept of social Darwinism: the stronger, ”superior” cultures will overtake the weaker, ”inferior” cultures in a ”survival of the fittest." It is this arrogant belief in the incompara- bility of American culture that characterizes many of our economic and politi- cal strategies today. ‘ It is easy enough to convince Americans of the superiority of their cul- ture, but how does one convince the rest of the world of the superiority of American culture? The answer is simple; marketing. Whether attempting to sell an item, a brand, or an entire culture, marketers have always been able to successfully associate American products with modernity in the minds of con- sumers worldwide. While corporations seem to simply sell Nike shoes or Gap jeans (both, ironically, manufactured outside of the United States), they are also selling the image of America as the land of ”cool.” This indissoluble association causes consumers all over the globe to clamor ceaselessly for the same American products. . Twenty years ago, in his essay ”The Globalization of Markets, " Harvard business professor Theodore Levitt declared, ”The world’s needs and desires have been irrevocably homogenized.” Levitt held that corporations that were willing to bend to local tastes and habits were inevitably doomed to failure. He drew a distinction between weak multinational corporations that operate dif- ferently in each country and strong global corporations that handle an entire world of business with the same agenda. In recent years, American corporations have developed an even more successful global strategy: instead of advertising American conformity With blonde-haired, blue-eyed, stereotypical Americans, they pitch diversity. These campaigns—such as McDonald’s new intemational ”I’m lovin' it” campaign" work by drawing on the United State’s history as an ethnically integrated nafiof‘ composed of essentially every culture in the world. An early example of this global marketing tactic was found in a Coca Cola commercial from 1971 fea. turing children from many different countries innocently singing, ”I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony/I’d like to buy the world a Coke to YES / Julia Galeota 241 keep it company.” This commercial illustrates an attempt to portray a U.S. goods as a product capable of transcending political, ethnic, religious, social, and eco— nomic differences to unite the world (according to the Coca-Cola Company, we can achieve world peace through consumerism). More recently, Viacon’s MTV has successfully adapted this strategy by integrating many different Americanized cultures into one unbelievably influen- tial American network (with over 280 million subscribers worldwide). According to a 1996 ”New World Teen Study” conducted by DMB&B’s BrainWaves divi- sion, of the 26,700 middle—class teens in forty—five countries surveyed, 85 percent watch MTV every day. These teens absorb what MTV intends to show as a diverse mix of cultural influences but is really nothing more than manufactured stars singing in English to appeal to American popular taste. If the strength of these diverse ”American" images is not powerful enough to move products, American corporations also appropriate local cultures into their advertising abroad. Unlike Levitt’s weak multinationals, these corporations don’t bend to local tastes; they merely insert indigenous celebrities or trends to present the facade of a customized advertisement. MTV has spawned over twenty networks specific to certain geographical areas such as Brazil and Japan. These specialized networks further spread the association between American and modernity under the pretense of catering to local taste. Similarly, com- mercials in India in 2000 featured Bollywood stars Hrithik Roshan promoting Coke and Shahrukh Khan promoting Pepsi (Sanjeev Srivastava, ”Cola Row in India.” BBC News Online). By using popular local icons in their advertisements, U.S. corporations successfully associate what is fashionable in local cultures with what is fashionable in America. America essentially samples the world’s cultures, repackages them with the American trademark of materialism, and resells them to the world. Critics of the theory of American cultural imperialism argue that foreign consumers don’t passively absorb the images America bombards upon them. In fact, foreign consumers do play an active role in the reciprocal relationship between buyer and seller. For example, according to Naomi Klein’s No Logo, American cultural imperialism has inspired a ”slow food movement” in Italy and a demonstration involving the burning of chickens outside of the first Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet in India. Though there have been countless other conspicu- ous and inconspicuous acts of resistance, the intense, unrelenting barrage of American cultural influence continues ceaselessly. Compounding the influence of commercial images are the media and information industries, which present both explicit and implicit messages about the very real military and economic hegemony of thepnited States. Ironically, the industry that claims to be the source for ”fair andbalanced” information plays a large role in the propagation of American influence around the world. The concentration of media ownership during the 1990s enabled both American and British media organizations to gain control of the majority of the world’s news services. Satellites allow over 150 million households in approximately 212 countries and territories worldwide to subscribe to CNN, 21 member of Time Warner, the world’s largest media conglomerate. In the words of British sociologist Jeremy Tunstall, ”When a govenrment allows news importation, it i‘ . . 3. i )l. 2 , é .4 . . 242 ISSUE 13 / Is the World a Victim of American Cultural Imperialism"! is in effect importing a piece of another country’s politics—which is true of no other import. ” In addition to politics and commercials, networks like CNN also present foreign countries with unabashed accounts of the military and eco~ nomic superiority of the United States. The Internet acts as another vehicle for the worldwide propagation of American influence. Interestingly, some commentators cite the new ”inforrna~ tion economy" as proof that American cultural imperialism is in decline. They argue that the global accessibility of this decentralized medium has decreased the relevance of the ”core and periphery” theory of global influence. This theory describes an inherent imbalance in the primarily outward flow of information and influence from the stronger, more powerful ”core” nations such as the United States. Additionally, such critics argue, unlike consumers of other types of media, Internet users must actively seek out information; users can consciously choose to avoid all messages of American culture. While these arguments are valid, they ignore their converse: if one so desires, anyone can access a wealth of infor- mation about American culture possibly unavailable thr0ugh previous channels. Thus, the Internet can dramatically increase exposure to American culture for those who desire it. Fear of the cultural upheaval that could result from this exposure to new information has driven governments in communist China and Cuba to strictly monitor and regulate their citizens’ access to websites (these protectionist poli- cies aren’t totally effective, however, because they are difficult to implement and maintain). Paradoxically, limiting access to the Internet nearly ensures that countries will remain largely the recipients, rather than the contributors, of infor- mation on the Internet. Not all social critics see the Arnericanization of the world as a negative phe- nomenon. Proponents of cultural imperialism, such as David Rothkopf, a former senior official in Clinton’s Department of Commerce, argue that American cultural imperialism is in the interest not only of the United States but also of the world at large. Rothkopf cites Samuel Huntington’s theory from The Clash of Civilizations and the Beginning of the World Order that, the greater the cultural disparities in the world, the more likely it is that conflict will occur. Rothkopf argues that the removal of cultural barriers through us. cultural imperialism will promote a more stable world, one in which American culture reigns supreme as ”the most just, the most tolerant, the most willing to constantly reassess and improve itself, and the best model for the future.” Rothkopf is correct in one sense: Americans are on the way to establishing a global society with minimal cultural barriers. However, one must question whether this projected society is truly beneficial for all involved. Is it worth sacrificing countless indigenous cul- tures for the unlikely promise of a world without conflict? Around the world, the answer is an overwhelming ”No!” Disregarding the fact that a world of homogenized culture would not necessarily guarantee a world without conflict, the complex fabric of diverse cultures around the world is a fundamental and indispensable basis of humanity. Throughout the course of human existence, millions have died to preserve their indigenous culture. It is a fundamental right of humanity to be allowed to preserve the mental, th5; g ical, intellectual, and creative aspects of one’s society. A single ”global cultufe fr l r l YES / Julia Galeota 243 would be nothing more than a shallow, artificial ”culture” of materialism reliant on technology. Thankfully, it would be nearly impossible to create one bland cul- ture in a world of over six billion people. And nor should we want to. Contrary to Rothkopf’s (and George W. Bush’s) belief that, ”Good and evil, better and worse coexist in this world,” there are no such absolutes in this world. The United States should not be able to relentlessly force other nations to accept its definition of what is ”good” and ”just” or even ”modem." Fortunately, many victims of American cultural imperialism aren't blind to the subversion of their cultures. Unfortunately, these nations are often too weak to fight the strength of the United States and subsequently to preserve their native cultures. Some countries—~such as France, China, Cuba, Canada, and Iran—have attempted to quell America’s cultural influence by limiting or prohibiting access to American cultural programming through satellites and the Internet. However, according to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is a basic right of all people to ”seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,”_Govemments shouldn’t have to restrict their citizens’ access to information in order to preserve their native cultures. We as a world must find ways to defend local cultures in a manner that does not com- promise the rights of indigenous people. The prevalent proposed solutions to the problem of American cultural imperialism are a mix of defense and compromise measures on behalf of the endangered cultures. In The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Thomas Friedman advo- cates the use of protective legislation such as zoning laws and protected area laws, as well as the appointment of politicians with cultural integrity, such as those in agricultural, culturally pure Southern France. However, many other nations have no voice in the nomination of their leadership, so those countries need a middle-class and elite committed to social activism. If it is utterly impos- sible to maintain the cultural purity of a country through legislation, Friedman suggests the country attempt to ”glocalize,” that is: B i 2 To absorb influences that naturally fit into and can enrich [a] culture, to'resist I those thin s that are trul alien and to corn artmentalize those thin s that, 8 Y P g while different, can nevertheless be enjoyed and celebrated as different. These types of protective filters should help to maintain the integrity of a culture in the face of cultural imperialism. In...
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