Cultural Imperialism

What is it? Is it pushing your own customs and way of life on others? (and why was it apparently applied to Star Trek:TOS?)

Fly to Tokyo, Berlin, Madrid, Paris, Cairo, whatever big city you like. Go downtown. Note the numerous McDonald’s, Burger King, and Duncan Donuts. Go to a theater, see that they’ve got 5 of their six screens playing American movies, with one leftover for domestic films. Go to a bookstore, they’ll have a bunch of Stephen King and Michael Crighton translations on the shelves. Turn on the television and check out the syndicated episodes of Friends or The Simpsons. Listen to the radio, enjoy the latest Brittany Spears or Eminem single.

America has established a world-wide empire with our, uh…“culture”, that is, the massive crapola factory that passes for our culture. That’s cultural imperialism. We successfully took over the world without really trying. Huzzah! The rest of the world can only take solace in the fact that we’re buried in it worse than any of them.

Never heard it specifically mentioned with regards to ST:TOS. Probably something to do with the prime directive.

The phrase also rears its head in political disputes. For example, let’s say that in a certain country, the president is in the habit of giving the plush jobs to his relatives. In some countries, that’s called “family values” and is considered a Good Thing. In the USA, that’s called “nepotism” and is considered a Bad Thing. If we nag them about it, we get accused of cultural imperialism.

The argument gets really nasty when it’s over something like female circumcision. One culture considers it part of their cultural heritage, and thinks others should respect their diverse traditions. The other culture considers it child abuse, and multiculturalism be damned.

Diletante, yes, in an apparent wave of disgust, people from all over the world are attempting to destroy America by burying it in cash from sales of American books, movies, clothes, music and fast food franchises.

In time, the fascination with Americana will fade, just like the fad of Orientalism in the 1920’s and 30’s faded.

To decry it as a bad thing in cultural elitism.

Just my 2c.

There aren’t any armed Marines in Paris, Hong Kong and Athens forcing the local citizens to eat a cheeseburger or watch THE SIXTH SENSE. Give the people some credit for still having free will.

 Would you be happier if American culture for some self-destructive reason did **not** allow other countries to see our movies, read our books or listen to our music?
 A lot of our pop culture is awful but that's true of any country in history. At the Globe Theatre, there were plenty of mediocre plays performed. Victorian magazines had hundreds of pages of dreadful fiction surrounding Dickens and Conan Doyle.

A little perpective here.

Yeah, isn’t it sickening the way America forces ideas like gender equality, free market economy, artistic freedom, right to trial, freedom of religion and democratic representation on the rest of the world?

You mean they surrounded Doyle with more Doyle? How awful.

If you look back in history, there has always been one country or another which dominates culture and influences other countries in theirs. Right now it happens to be the US. Having said that, it’s interesting to note how the French seem to be so anti-Americana, to such an extent that they even have laws to protect “French” culture. Perhaps we should go back to the days when the French dominated culture and gave us the puffy, colorful and rather feminine male attire? Oh, and let’s bring back makeup for men! Not to mention the peruk! All I can say is, thank goodness the French are no longer in charge of our wardrobe.
You know, culture is a living thing. It is constantly changing. Despite what the French are trying to do to “protect” their cultural heritage, they are not going to succeed.

On the opposite end, I like the way the Japanese culture is evolving. They are influenced by Americana like every one else, but they take it and they Japanise it. Taking it into a completely new direction. That’s cultural evolution in action.


Culture–this? Yuck!

America has a fine tradition of literature, music, architecture, philosophy, art, and entertainment. Too bad so little of the world (and us, for that matter) gets to see the good stuff.

We might be on top of the heap, but Britain blazed the trails. The Empire the Sun Never Sat On (wait, that came out wrong :D) was the pre-eminent military, trade, and cultural force for centuries, with few rivals (the Brits knocked out Spain and France in various times and places). We are Britain’s successor, having taken over after the Civil War (we fought that war to establish the supremacy of the Federalist/Industrialist model in our own nation, a model dependent upon extensive foreign trade, something that presumes a gobally strong military). Of course, we could expand our empire much farther than the UK with our technology and a Strong Free Enterprise economic and governmental philosophy. This is a self-feeding cycle: The expansion of the empire leads to the discovery of cheap labor (Taiwan) and booming markets (Japan and Hong Kong), making it very profitable and sustaining further growth. Prices can be kept low here because they have a lower cost per unit because of all their sales volume abroad. Also, the cheap labor abroad keeps costs low. Of course, material wealth is also found abroad (oil fields in the Middle East), and defending those resources stimulates the economy through government defense contracts ‘priming the pump’, as a Keynesian would say. So don’t knock cultural imperialism. It makes sure that Billy Bass is only $19.95 at Wal-Mart.

You would be hard pressed to find cheap labor in Taiwan today. They’ve moved into the category of “investor nation” rather than “investee”.

For cheap labor in Asia today, try China, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam…etc.


especially considering how utterly rampant and unalloyed those rights are in the US…

Not to mention how “wink, wink” we are about REALLY pushing them as long as the markets are open. Boy we really are coming down hard on those Chinese for their treatment of the Falun Gong, eh?

(This may be one topic, matt, on which you and I are in nearly complete agreement.)

I think that what the French call “cultural imperialism” is really just an example of “Gresham’s Law” in action-that is all that is cheap, fast, and low quality tends to displace that which is expensive, high quality, and time-consuming. The problem is, THIS IS WHAT THE PEOPLE WANT!!
I agree, it is san when a McDonald’s franchise causes the death of a small family restaurant-but the clientele makes their choice 9and has to live with the consequences).I myself like to shop in small stores and patronize small restaurants. However, I cannot dictate my preferences to other people. The sad fact is, WWF (aka “wrestling for morons”) will ALWAYS have more fans than the opera. But, also be aware, tastes are always changing!

Great book recommendation on this topic: Jihad vs. McWorld by Benjamin Barber.

I’m standing with Phil and Matt on this one, unsurprisingly. (And Zenster, calling it “free trade” presents a bit of a false dilemma–implying as it does that anyone opposed to the American brand of market liberalism is somehow against freedom.)

I’ve always been pretty sanguine about so-called “cultural imperialism,” since proponents of the term are often grotesquely paternalistic. The arguments seem to boil down to “These people must be making choices we don’t like because they don’t have alternatives/have been brainwashed.” The former tends to be counterfactual (witness France’s sprawling, state supported film industry), and the latter is simply offensive, even when couched in a sort of “us-against-those-horrible-marketing-behemoths” language. And yet average French people flock to the cine to watch American dreck - that’s their choice.

It also distorts the extent to which this big, awful multinationals (a) tailor themselves to local markets, and (b) manage to have (shock of shocks) better effects on their surroundings. McD’s, for example, is known for raising cleanliness standards in Chinese restaurants generally.

There’s a reflexive sentimentality behind the anti-market movement that I find nauseating, especially since some of the strongest proponents seem to have so little first-hand knowledge of the consequences of what they’re proposing. The presumption seems to be that the choice is between (1) perfect, just-like-in-America working conditions, (2) evil exploititive factory bosses, or (3) a Margaret Meadish confection of peaceful, noble savages. The problem is that options (1) and (3) don’t exist - (1) won’t happen because (this is part of the goal, of course) the factory won’t move there in the first place, and (3) never existed. The real alternative is usually subsistence agriculture, so when the factory doesn’t move, the people who might work there are consigned to even greater poverty.

Moreover, as has been seen in United States, Britain, Germany, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore, the “sweat-shops” can operate to increase living and educational standards to a point at which the “sweat-shop” conditions aren’t tenable anymore. It takes a generation or two, but the results are clear in increasing wealth.

That doesn’t mean there are no losers. The big losers are the low-value-added workers, generally low-skilled, in developed economies. The appropriate response isn’t to pay the equivalent of tens of thousands of dollars to artificially support their jobs, but to make it easier for them to acquire higher skills and mobility.

Ultimately, this process is continuous and will affect most of us. To some extent, we’re all farmers, with good years and bad years.

I’m sounding like a horrible, cruel agent of the Corporate Conspiracy. I don’t particularly like free markets’ secondary effects in ironing out interesting local differences, in exploiting poverty (even if ultimately it improves it), or in breaking up communities. I even buy organic foods partly in the hopes of improving conditions for the growers. I don’t, however, have any illusions that my actions matter other than in the eensiest, weensiest of ways, because although I am willing to pay more to that end, most people are not and never will be.

The trouble is that markets are unavoidable, and attempting to control them usually results in terrible corruption and misallocation of resources (viz. the Soviet Union, the PRC or New York’s rent controls). Any time you give people the power to force private actors to make uneconomic decisions, you provide enormous incentives for bribery.

Of course, private investment is often pretty corrupt as well - ultimately, the common thread connecting the countries who have managed to elevate themselves out of sweat-shop levels of development is a reasonably reliable (if inevitably imperfect) legal system. That’s a much harder slog, however.

End of rant.

Actually, y’know, a different Eric Hoffer quote would’ve been more appropriate for my sig:

“The vanity of the selfless, even those who practice utmost humility, is boundless.”

As pleased as punch as I am to see the cross-political agreement on this subject, I’d like to ask folks to do all that agreeing in Great Debates (if only to give David B and Gaudere heart attacks!).

For purposes of GQ, please stick to reference works and definitions of the term. Which is to say, I think this one has been answered.