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America’s Subverted Culture
In the past, American culture maintained a strong influence throughout the world. It was the most visible culture and enjoyed popularity with people across the world. The culture also influenced the development of others, such as Japan’s J-Pop and Korea’s K-Pop (Haugen and Musser 31). In recent times, globalization has had a profound effect on the world and its people. Flows of information, people and technology have permeated through national boundaries. It is necessary to explore the subject of America’s cultural role, in order to understand the world’s current perceptions of the United States and its people, in relation to globalization. The American culture has, therefore, taken a back seat in global importance. This is attributable to the greater regard that people have given to flows arising from globalization. American culture is generally considered secondary to global information flows. For example, American fast food chains are not as popular as they used to be.
American culture may be defined as the customs and traditions that characterize life within the United States. It encompasses language, food and most importantly, the arts. It is important to note that this culture is not unique in its own right. It is a collection of practices from the different cultures that immigrated into the country. American culture has been influenced by the English, Native American, Asian, Latin American and African cultures. Conversely, globalization may be identified as the process through which increased levels of economic, social and cultural activities are carried out across national boundaries. These activities have had great implications for people around the world. They are now able to interact with people and ideas from other nations that were previously inaccessible. For example, social flows have increased with immigration of people arising from work reasons. Globalization has discounted American culture in a variety of ways.
Food is one of the things that define a culture. In that respect, food enabled the United States to become a cultural icon in the past. American cuisine was influenced by Native American and European dishes, among others. However, the nation’s cuisine is usually associated with fast food. This form of nutrition may be rooted to the mid-20th century in the United States whose industries and population were booming. The people needed a quick means for having their meals before resuming their busy schedules. As a result, foods such as French fries, hamburgers, potato chips, hot dogs and meat loaf quickly became popular (Haugen 41). The United States has the tendency of exporting its culture to places its people frequent. America’s fast food cuisine was, therefore, exported to Asia and Europe, where they quickly became popular. These foods maintained a distinctly American tone since they differed from what was locally available. Corporations such as McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken were influential in spreading this brand of cuisine. They spread as far as Moscow and Beijing where they gained immense popularity with the locals. Their marketing activities made eating such foods to be in vogue. American cuisine was often accompanied by soft drinks such as Coca Cola and Pepsi (Haugen and Musser 79).
Nowadays, eating out at KFC, Pizza Hut or McDonalds is not as popular as it used to be. Globalization has made people across the world to reconsider their gastronomic habits. On the scientific front, globalization has allowed people with easier access to dietary information. American fast food chains have been viewed as one of the causes for issues such as obesity in different countries. In Asia, people view these restaurants as one of the reasons for urban decay in the United States. They feel that the American families and their take-out habits do not present an attractive model for living. Through globalization, the world’s people have had greater access to information concerning American gastronomic values. In that respect, they have seen that their own values are incompatible with those promoted through fast food. According to Pells, each country has its own version of popular fast food. Globalization has not affected the local gastronomic culture as much as it has eroded American power. The influence is still there, but it is not granted the influence that previously existed.
American mass media production has had a strong influence on the world. Mass media production incorporates news coverage and the arts of filmmaking and music. American companies control some of the world’s largest news networks. An example is Time Warner, which owns CNN. Such networks have played an important role in providing the world with information. In the process, they have permeated the American world view into different societies. Globalization has allowed people access to information in a manner that does not reflect the filters placed by American media. It has encouraged people to develop their own networks, which provide news coverage in the local worldview. An example may be seen through Al Jazeera, which defines and interprets news in a manner that reflects the Middle Eastern perspective.
Filmmaking is perhaps the most dominant medium through which American culture has been spread around the world. Hollywood has established itself as the most important scene for movie production. Among its ranks, Hollywood has had access to important directors such as Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick among others (Kammen). Similarly, the scene has access to funding, which enables it easy access to markets across the world. This has allowed Hollywood to dominate the movie cultural scene for over 50 years. In markets such as France and Japan, Hollywood has maintained a strong market share in the past.
Globalization has had profound effects on the cinematic cultural scene. It has allowed people to go beyond the American perspectives in the exploration of culture. According to Pells, major film festivals are no longer those carried out within the United States. They are found in Berlin and Cannes. Similarly, these festivals usually give greater coverage to movies that are produced outside of Hollywood. Globalization has allowed small industries such as Bollywood to have access to the funding necessary for developing and marketing successful productions. As a result, Mumbai has developed an importance for itself in the cinematic scene. For example, Slumdog Millionaire won the best picture in 2008’s Academy Awards. In recent times, the market share held by Hollywood productions has slid. According to Pells (2), American film market share has slid from 70% during the year 1998 to around 50% in South Korea. This is attributed to the success that is now enjoyed by local productions thanks to flows from globalization.
American music consists of diverse styles and genres. It includes rhythm and blues, western, jazz, bluegrass, rock and roll and hip hop music. This variety has allowed it to access a wide range of audiences throughout the world. According to Pells, American culture maintained a strong hold on the global musical scene. He highlights the importance that Stravinsky, an important composer by his own right, had attached to American culture. Similarly, Pells demonstrates the dominance enjoyed by American artists such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. These performers enabled American jazz to become the popular music of the day around the world. The value attached to American jazz music is visible through the Voice of America show known as Music USA. During its heydays, the show enjoyed an audience in excess of 100 million listeners.
In the past, listening to music was a group activity. It was carried out in arenas where musicians performed their arts. With globalization, a sense of individuality has emerged. Flows related to technology; information and culture have emerged. They have enabled people to explore their personal tastes. American culture was and still is considered important by many. Observing American musical tastes, therefore, appears important for one to fit the society. However, the shift to individualized musical tastes has discounted the appeal associated to American music. People no longer have to worry about what other people think of their personal tastes in music.
According to Pell, it was necessary to study American writers in Modern Literature courses. The same applied for studies concerning modern art. For example, it was mandatory to study the works of Ernest Hemingway, and stories such as the Death of a Salesman (Pells 1). However, globalization has allowed people to achieve access to a greater range of literature sources. For example, information flows related to the internet allow people to access literature and art from other countries and regions. Due to that, American artists and writers are no longer the household names that they used to be. People now give greater consideration to their homegrown artists since they have easier reach to them, than it previously was. Similarly, other cultural influences that did not have American resource muscle are now accessible to them thanks to globalization.
It is seen that American culture does not maintain the dominance it held in the past. However, it is prudent to recognize the role of American culture in contemporary life. It has not been eliminated by globalization. It has only been pushed back in terms of importance. People have achieved easier access to their own and other cultures thanks to globalization. For example, alternate cultural practices have been funded by resource flows arising from globalization. Similarly, information flows have enabled these cultures to access a new market.
Haugen, David M and Susan Musser. Popular culture. Detroit, MI: Greenhaven Press, 2011. Print.
Haugen, David M. American values. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2009. Print.
Kammen, Michael G. American culture, American tastes. New York: Knopf, 1999. Print.
Pells, Richard. “Does the World Still Care about American Culture…” Dallas News, 3 April. 2009: Print.
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