Imperialism can be defined as the guiding principle of broadening a nation’s power by the acquiring of other countries, or by the formation of financial and political authority over other nations. Cultural imperialism can then be defined as the cultural impact of imperialism. This can mean many different things, as culture is such a broad term. When looking at popular culture and cultural imperialism, it is important to look again at the concept of dominant culture. The dominant culture is created, controlled, and spread by the ruling class. The ruling class refers to those individuals or corporations with the most economic power and cultural influence. The political actions of a nation, or the values and beliefs of a society, could be examples of cultural elements that are affected by cultural imperialism, and that is what is being referred to in this lecture.
The Commodification of American Culture
The global power of American culture has been in full effect since the 19th century, when distinctly American commodities were exchanged with other nations on an increasingly large scale. These consumer products ended up being sold in countries such as Britain, or other Western European countries, and this helped to spread dominant American culture. With the advent of mass media, particularly radio and television broadcasting, American consumerist culture was further circulated throughout the world. American cultural commodities, such as films, cars, fast food, music, etc., have increased American influence on an international scale. In turn, some of the commodities produced by the United States since the 1950’s have arguably become symbolic of American culture. Coca-cola, McDonalds, and Disney products have gained international recognition of what America represents, and this is problematic for a number of reasons. Most importantly, consumer products, or the ideologies that are attached to them, should not ultimately define American culture. Unfortunately, people from nations that have no direct knowledge of American people or their values, have developed opinions about the United States that are based upon capitalism, and its products.
Consumerism and Identity
Regardless of whether the ideologies, or beliefs that have become attached to popular commodities have been placed there intentionally or not, the “cultural work” that these American products perform must be examined. This “cultural work” functions by implying to audiences, or consumers, of cultural products, that they should think or feel a certain way, and that buying this consumer product ultimately means that the consumer is buying into the ideology attached to it. For example, McDonalds is known around the world, and there is a McDonalds restaurant in nearly every country in the world today.
The beliefs attached to McDonalds’ products on the surface reveal family values, fun, and enjoyment. However, underneath the surface, it is merely fast food, that is produced in mass quantities. The identity that is formed by consumer products is very powerful, and can affect the attitudes and beliefs of those who purchase them. To be defined in some way by the products that a society consumes has become a facet of capitalism. What kind of coffee do you drink? What music do you listen to? Do you own an i-Phone? What does that say about you as a person? What does that say about your personal identity? These are all questions that relate to the consumerist culture’s formation of identity.
Making Meaning from Products
Popular culture is multi-directional, and multi-faceted. Although audiences, or consumers might appear to accept the ideologies that are attached to the products they purchase, they often reject them. Moreover, while cultural industries create products that are targeted specifically at demographic aspects of a population such as age, race, education, economic status, etc., it is the individual who creates meaning from the products they consume. Thus, the idea that American culture can homogenize, or make other cultures the same as it through the spread of consumerism, is not always applicable. Given the controversial nature of cultural imperialism, and Americanization, it is important to look at all the facts before making a decision about the validity of the arguments for and against it.
The 80’s and 90’s in Pop Culture
American popular culture took a turn towards commercialization in the early to mid 1980’s. The 1980’s was a decade where the dominant culture became obsessed with materialism, binge shopping, and credit card usage. Hollywood films and other cultural industries such as the music industry reflected the sentiment of excess. This began to change in the 1990’s, as the country began to experience an economic downturn after the Black Monday stock market crash of 1987.
By the early 1990’s, musicians such as Nirvana were becoming popular, and the youth culture was developing the “grunge scene”. This cultural movement was first characterized by music that was primarily coming out the Seattle area, from the label Sub Pop. The style was a messy, unkempt look, and the music was very raw, and full of a sense of gritty realism that the music of the 1980’s did not provide. In the 1992 Nirvana video for their song “In Bloom”, the setting is a 1950’s style music show similar to the Ed Sullivan Show. This video shows the grunge movement’s break with the values of the 1950’s, which is contrary to the 1970’s revival of those values.
Globalization refers to the ever increasingly global spread of culture, products, and services. It differs from cultural imperialism, in the aspect that it refers to the ever-increasing interconnectivity between nations, and not directly to the acquiring of other nations by one imperialistic superpower. However, globalization is problematic in nature because it does carry with it the potential for cultural imperialism. Those who argue against globalization feel that Americanization and capitalism spread through globalization are imperialistic in nature, and have a negative impact on global cultural diversity. Conversely, the proponents of globalization believe that the positive aspects of it, such as economic growth, international trade, and the worldwide exchange of innovative thinking, communication, and popular culture, far outweigh globalization’s negative characteristics.
McLuhan and The Global Village
Today, technology has created what has been called a “global village”. The global village is a term that was originally coined by Marshall McLuhan. McLuhan was a Canadian professor, scholar, and one of the first media theorists. He is known for predicting the internet thirty years before its inception in the 1990’s. The global village is essentially a term for the communities that exist via the internet, and suggests that the world wide web has actually made the world a smaller place, by creating integrated communities of people who were once separated by geographical distances. The internet knows nearly no international borders, and therefore, creates cultural connections. The nearly instantaneous speed of online communication, and the ability of people to learn about, expand upon, and respond to world news very quickly, compels Western society to grow to be increasingly concerned with other cultures and nations, and be more conscious of its global responsibilities.
Naomi Klein and “No Logo”
One person that cannot go without being mentioned when discussing popular culture and globalization is the journalist, writer and activist Naomi Klein. Klein’s 1999 book, “No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies”, is considered to be one of the most important writings about the alternative globalization movement.
This movement supports global cultural progress and connectivity, but rejects economic globalization, as it is seen to have negative social and political consequences. No Logo discusses the concept of “branding”, and the problematic issues surrounding consumer brands. She argues that brands have begun to try and sell consumers a lifestyle through their products, and that multinational corporations such as Pepsi or Nike are negatively impacting culture on a global scale.
“Glocalization,” or the act of thinking globally, but acting locally, applies to many cultures that experience American culture through globalization. As discussed in the previous lecture, the concept that the homogenizing effect of American popular culture, or the power to make other cultures the same as it through the spread of consumerism, does not always apply. It is imperative to understand that when a dominant culture is spread through globalization, the specific characteristics of the culture on the receiving end of this transaction work through developing their own meanings for the messages that are being sent.
In this paper, address how Disney might be considered as a leading force of US imperialism. Do you agree with this concept? Why or why not? Give examples.
This paper should be 2 pages of complete content (cover page and reference page are separate) and have in-text citations. The paper will be in APA style (both in formatting the paper and reference page). One scholarly article as a minimum should be included in the paper.
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