Cultural Imperialism Is A Very Old Phenomenon Media Essay
|✅ Paper Type: Free Essay||✅ Subject: Media|
|✅ Wordcount: 3717 words||✅ Published: 1st Jan 2015|
During the past five hundred years, European countries colonized southern countries in the name of spreading Christian civilization to the primitive people in other parts of the world, as well as securing resources and workers for economic production. As cultural imperialism occurs, it is said to be for the own good of the other, conquered civilization, to spread universal values, rights and standards of development. The United States are currently not the only cultural imperialists, but the spread of American values in the entire world is at the leading edge of a wave of spread of Western goods and consumerist culture. Today, the phenomenon might take a different form, as it is a lot more subtle and less brutal than the European colonization: it is being done in the name of freedom of the market and freedom of expression.
There are two sides and two major views on the ongoing process. Some consider the propagation of the American culture as unavoidable and beneficial to the world, for some American cultural imperialism is a threat to other cultures.
I will try to review both of them to make a better and more reasonable assumption.
People who do not see the hegemony of American culture as a threat, state that through the media, the United States is spreading some universal values and human rights. To some authoritarian countries, it spreads ideas of freedom of expression, democracy, equality, and rights – concepts that should be, in some people’s opinion, universal. Universality of some values may be possible – human nature is not that different from one culture to another, and many values are shared across cultures. However, the majority of the world’s cultures undervalue women and children in practice if not in ethos. Finally, the majority of the world’s people, regardless of the names given to governmental regimes by those with authority, continue to live without real participatory democracy. American ideals of equality, freedom, and democracy now available in the world may give more freedom to women, children, and to minorities in all cultures, and will promote anti-racist, anti-sexist or anti-authoritarian messages and regimes.
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Irving Kristol, in “The emerging American Imperialism,” presents imperialism as an unintended consequence of market expansion rather than a conscious goal: “one of these days, the American people are going to awaken to the fact that we have become an imperial nation.” But he later argues that it is not something unintentional, but that in fact many nations have facilitated and welcomed American cultural values along with American products and ways of life: “it happened because the world wanted it to happen.” To him, the American missionaries live in Hollywood, which is different from the Old European imperialism, which was based on bureaucratic colonial governments and resource extraction.
Christopher Dunkley, in “American Cultural Imperialism: No Bad Thing” says that “America provides some of the best available anywhere in the world.” One of the reasons that American series are so successful in the world is that “thanks to its immigration policies, the US has a population with a mixture of Anglo Saxons, Scandinavians, Asians and so on that provides American broadcasters with a domestic audience which is, to all intents and purposes, international. Please the American audience and you can guarantee you will please the world.”
Some theories of globalization see, instead of cultural imperialism, the movement of products and ideas from across national and cultural borders in ways that produce real changes in cultures like that of the United States. In 1994, MacQuail wrote in his book Mass Communication Theory that not only was United States influencing other cultures, but other cultures were also influencing the US: “While one-way flow may be evident in terms of information flows on an information theory quantitative estimate, the reality is that as media technology and economies become more intertwined, this seemingly one-way flow reverses itself into a two-way flow in which what sells abroad influences what Americans see at home.” In that perspective, we can talk about an interpenetration of cultures instead of the invasion of American culture in the world.
Language is another consideration when speaking about cultural imperialism. English is indeed the language of business, higher education, diplomacy, the Internet, science, popular music, entertainment and international travel. The importance of learning English is not just a political or economic issue4. Logically and arguably, the world needs to have one kind of universal language at a basic level. Economically, having a central language could prove as a great advantage when companies can use the same computer programs in one language. As of 2006, an estimated 1 billion people speak English 5. There has been a greater desire to learn English since the Internet has made such a big impact on the world. The reality is that language and cultural barriers and misunderstandings can get in the way of effective communication and create complications in the work world. With the aid of having a “universal” language, work can be done more efficiently, safer, and with fewer complications than when there is the factor of a language barrier. For international companies, which have branches all over the world in hundreds of different countries with different languages, this universal language could mean a whole new level of production and growth, and in essence, raise the standard of living for many. Richard Pells states that the effectiveness of the English language as a mass communicator has been essential to the acceptance of the American culture. Unlike other languages, the simpler structure, grammar, and use of more concise sentences in the English language, are all advantageous for the composers of ad slogans, cartoon captions, newspaper headlines, and movie and TV dialogue. English, Pells says, is thus a language exceptionally well suited to the demands and spread of American mass culture10.
The American cultural imperialism as a threat to other cultures
We should not forget that the differences in cultures make the world a rich and diverse place. Every individual of each country should have the right to express his or her own culture. A cultural uniformity would lead to the extinction of cultures and it would definitely represent a great loss.
However, the American culture is intruding on most cultures in the world, in many cases threatening their existence. Superman, Spider-man, and Batman replace local heroes; Pepsi and Coke replace local fruit drinks; and “trick or treat” begin to replace Dia de los Muertos. Perhaps more insidious, to compete with American cultural imports, local varieties and products begin to mimic American products. All the exportation of goods and information from the United States to the entire planet contributes to the exportation of the American culture.
We know that the United States is the leader in exporting its information. One problem is that the United States sells its information and media products so cheaply that it is impossible for the whole world to compete. The American producers budget to cover their costs within the US market and can consequently sell at unbeatable prices internationally. A consequence is that it is much cheaper to buy, for example, a blockbuster Hollywood movie made in the United States than to make a less expensive local production in another country. As a famous movie director George Lucas says, the United States is a provincial country with a culture that has invaded the world via Hollywood. “As long as there has been a talking Hollywood, Hollywood has had a huge impact on the rest of the world”. Lucas points out that people in other countries are troubled by what they see as US culture “squashing” local art and cinema.
The motivations behind American cultural imperialism parallel the justifications for U.S. 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 consumers 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 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 U.S. industry. Because it serves American economic interests, corporations conveniently ignore the detrimental impact of American control of foreign markets.
It is easy enough to convince Americans of the superiority of their culture, 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 consumers 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.
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 international “I’m lovin’ it” campaign-work by drawing on the United State’s history as an ethnically integrated nation 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 featuring 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 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 economic differences to unite the world (according to the Coca-Cola Company, we can achieve world peace through consumerism).
Today, the spread of American culture goes through every communication medium: 90% of the information available on the Internet is in English, CNN is seen in 120 countries, Stephen King is the number one best seller in the world. Obviously, there is already a process of cultural uniformity going on, and this can be seen as a great loss.
More recently, Viacom’s MTV has successfully adapted this strategy by integrating many different Americanized cultures into one unbelievably influential American network (with over 280 million subscribers worldwide). According to a 1996 “New World Teen Study” conducted by DMB&B’s BrainWaves division, 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.
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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, commercials 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.
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 the United States. Ironically, the industry that claims to be the source for “fair and balanced” 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, a member of Time Warner, the world’s largest media conglomerate. In the words of British sociologist Jeremy Tunstall, “When a government allows news importation, it 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 economic superiority of the United States.
‘The internationalization of television news, while unquestionably a crucial aspect of the processes generally lumped together as ‘globalization’, seems paradoxically to be the least well examined, yet most alluded to, aspect of the globalization phenomena.’ (Paterson, C. Global television news services, Media in Global Context: A Reader, Oxford University Press:1997, p.145). As Paterson points out in his article, few people actually seem to know that most television broadcasters buy international news from transnational news agencies like Rauters, Worldwide Television News and Associated Press Television. Or as Paterson puts it: ‘…since television is the major force in shaping how Europe and America see the world, and is becoming so in the rest of the industrialised world and much of the developing world, then the images selected by these few television journalists of similar training and background, are absolutely crucial determinants of how people world-wide perceiver other nations and global issues.’ Some of these major news corporations are more closely allied with Rupert Murdoch, and ‘Rupert Murdoch is widely believed to have used his print and broadcast news holding in Britain to bolster Thatcher and Thatcherism’ (Bagdikian:1989, found in Paterson, C. Global television news services, Media in Global Context: A Reader, Oxford University Press:1997 p.154).
Commercialisation gives further reason for concern about international news. The ‘tabloidization’ regarding printed media, and overflow of clichés in television, as Paterson points out, is principally a process of ‘dumbening’ down news, and putting emphases on news concerning sports and stars etc. which may perhaps have further impact on peoples political perception (or maybe lack of it). This trend rises questions about consumerism in the west, and what impact this may have on a global scale. But why is it happening and with such ‘success’? ‘…cultural imperialism is understood in the terms of the imposition of one national culture upon another and the media are seen as central to this process as carriers of cultural meanings which penetrate and dominate the culture of the subordinate nation.’ (Barker, C. Global television, Blackwell Publishers: 1997 p.183) .
In conclusion media have speeded up the connection between cultures and thereby started to erase the boundaries of space, and even more profound boundaries of nations and government ensuring free flow of information and influence. The fact that America arguably is in the centre of this development rises concerns about which influences and the voice of whom we are hearing. The homogenisation thesis involved, as posed by many theorists, is both seen as an advantage and a reason for concern. This concern perhaps mainly because of the threat of American cultural imperialism and a consequent loss of diversity, and the possible immense power of position for whom leads this trend because of what seems to be an ability to override governments. The capitalistic nature of media prevents any revolt against the almost monopolistic position the western world has on globalisation via media, and there seem to be no authority that can intervene in this process preventing a monopoly. So however romantic the idea of cultures being brought closer together is, there are also power struggles and the possibility to exploit this development, which American officials openly admit to be attempting.
The rise of English as an international language of trade and politics has been one of the strongest vehicles for the transmission of American culture. The place of English in the world has crystallized in the past decades – you can read signs in English in every capital, and fluency in English has become a taken-for-granted prerequisite for upper-level positions in international trade and politics. While the forces leading to the rise of an international language differ greatly from cultural imperialism, it would be difficult to separate the two. As English becomes a global language, it becomes clear that language and culture cannot be separated. The AP National Writer journalist Anthony Ted says “every one from the French to the Indonesians worry that where English goes, America will follow.” Scholars Nye and Owen admitted that it is the goal of the United States to have English as the international language: “It is in the economic and political interests of the United States to ensure that, if the world is moving to a common language, it be English; that if the world is becoming linked by television, radio and music, the programming be American; and that, if common values are being developed, they be values with which Americans are comfortable.” According to them, not only it is intentional, but also it is a “developing reality.” If this spread of values, language, and information is purely because of economic and political interest for the United States, the well-being of other cultures and their freedom of expression are not taken into consideration except instrumentally – can they be bought and sold for a profit, or can they be used to political advantage – to the profit and advantage of the US.
Not all social critics see the Americanization of the world as a negative phenomenon. 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 U.S. 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 cultures 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, physical, intellectual, and creative aspects of one’s society. A single “global culture” would be nothing more than a shallow, artificial “culture” of materialism reliant on technology.
The attempt by UNESCO to regulate a more equal flow of communication between the North and the South, to protect cultural diversity and to protect countries from cultural imperialism unfortunately resulted in the withdrawal of the United States because it did not correspond to its financial interests. Since 1984, which is the date of the American withdrawal, UNESCO keeps trying to influence and give recommendations to governments, but it has no power over the main country that owns most of the communication flow in the world: the United States of America.
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