Cultural Imperialism: An American Tradition

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Cultural Imperialism: An American Tradition by Julia Galeota (2004).

Adopted and edited by Mr. Mizell, Paisley IB Magnet School
Travel almost anywhere in the world today and, whether you suffer from Big Mac cravings or hate the thought of missing the newest SpongeBob episode your American tastes can be satisfied practically everywhere. This increase of American products across the globe is more than mere accident. It is part of a larger trend that involves the spread of American attitudes and values that is often referred to as cultural imperialism. Thus, cultural imperialism involves much more than simple consumer goods; it involves the spread of 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 gradually disappearing due to the overwhelming influence of corporate and cultural America.
The motivations behind American cultural imperialism can be traced back to 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 at that goal. According to the Guardian, American films accounted for approximately 80 percent of global box office revenue in 2003. And who can forget good old Micky D’s? With over 30,000 restaurants in over one hundred countries, the golden arches of McDonald’s are now, according to Fast Food Nation, “more widely recognized than the Christian cross.”
Such American domination 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 (harmful) impact of American control of foreign markets. Corporations don’t worry about the detrimental effects of “Americanization” of foreign cultures, as most corporations have convinced themselves that American culture is superior and therefore its influence is beneficial to other, “lesser” cultures. 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 what is modern in the minds of consumers worldwide. While corporations seem to simply sell Nike shoes or Gap jeans, they are also selling the image of America as the land of “cool.”
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. 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.” 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.
Others believe America’s cultural imperialism can be good. Rothkopf, who worked for the Clinton Administration, 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.
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