The Boring and Dangerous Homogenization of Culture

American culture is no longer the best culture, yet we export it to every corner of the globe. In addition to thwarting people's ability to provide for their own economic wants, the American corporatist culture shows a profound disrespect for other cultures around the world. Through so-called reduction in barriers to trade, we have destroyed their "mom and pop" shops and sold them Coca Cola instead. Like a cancer, corporatist culture, with its carefully and subtly pre-manufactured demand, marches across the globe homogenizing nearly everything in its wake.

Thomas Friedman, in his book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, tells of being in a Middle Eastern country, feeling a bit lost, but then walking around a street corner to see a Taco Bell sign greeting him. He was ecstatic. He mused that "before Taco Bell there was probably a fly-infested sidewalk stand." Friedman,

What started over a century ago as a homogenization of Native Americans and Hispanics into U.S. culture has become a worldwide flood. Go nearly anywhere in the world and you'll find something boringly American.

like many others, sees the homogenization of culture as a godsend to the world, because supposedly, it means that the poor are getting richer. From an economic standpoint, this might possibly be true, but from a social standpoint it is demonstrably false. The world would be much better off enjoying the variegated culture of the sidewalk stand, rather than being bombarded by the hackneyed image of Taco Bells everywhere.

One of my greatest regrets from having served with the U.S. Military in Iraq for 12 months is that I never once got a chance to sample the Iraqi cuisine. Ironically, amid a people we were ostensibly trying to help, the U.S. government would let citizens from nearly any country in the world serve as cooks for us military service members--except for Iraqis. The further irony was that the many-cultured dining workers didn't get to sample anything cultural either--except for the commonplace of American food.

What started over a century ago as a homogenization of Native Americans and Hispanics into U.S. culture has become a worldwide flood.

Do you ever wonder why the world seems so small? Part of the reason is because it has become so much the same wherever you go.

Go nearly anywhere in the world and you'll find something boringly American. More often than not those advocating that we become hyphenated Americans are really simply crying out that we respect and cherish their cultures--and keep them from extinction. Nearly absent such respect, America is becoming one large neon light that shines to glorify the good works of corporatism.

The average American sees over 20,000 television commercials per year. Approximately 100 U.S. corporations control about 75% of the commercials that we see on TV. With prime-time television commercial spots costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, it's no wonder that restaurants and convenience stores serve almost exclusively Coke or Pepsi products. It's no wonder that kids can get sugar fixes from a very limited assortment of goods from their school vending machines. It's no wonder that Lays is almost the only brand of chip on the potato chip aisle at the supermarket. It's no wonder that we think we're

More often than not those advocating that we become hyphenated Americans are really simply crying out for us to respect and cherish their cultures--and to keep them from extinction.

healthy because that grease we just ate has 0 grams of trans fats!!

I kind of like the idea that Arcata, California has come up with: the restriction of so-called "formula restaurants". Not only would that seem to portend well for our health, it would help us to better respect a heterogeneity of cultures--something that is sorely lacking in an America that sees itself in every way the world's primary benefactor.

In 1993, Sony's Akio Morita called for a reduction of trade barriers. The trade barriers that he specifically referred to were the barriers of local cultures. What's wrong with a variety of local cultures? Such variety makes it difficult for a handful of globally dominant corporations to keep their products in the ascendancy. Do you ever wonder why the world seems so small? Part of the reason is because it has become so much the same wherever you go.

To secure brand names, multinational corporations

At one time in America, we prided ourselves on our heterogeneity. We kept with us our cultures that we brought from across the sea, and we respected those we came in contact with. Now, however, we have been seduced into thinking that homogenized consumerism is the key to happiness, and this has become our primary export.

spend hundreds of billions of dollars yearly on advertising in order to manufacture demand for their products. This makes even the most orgiastic presidential campaign look tame by comparison. Such filthy lucre, spent solely on our seduction, is nearly as much as the entire world spends on educating our children. No wonder our world economy is staggering amid mountains of personal and corporate debt.

At one time in America, we prided ourselves on our heterogeneity. We kept with us our cultures that we brought from across the sea, and we respected those we came in contact with. Now, however, we have been seduced into thinking that homogenized consumerism is the key to happiness, and this has become our primary export. In more recent years, as a result, Americans are not the only ones to have been seduced by by the banality offered by predominantly American corporations. Nowadays, we see McDonalds and Taco Bells on every corner. Asians now make products that Americans have become so adept at demanding, to the point that they have come to demand the same lifeless products themselves. Our polished corporate advertising agencies have been successful in colonizing nearly every culture they've touched.

How boring. How dangerous.

. . .

--By the way, I just came across this excellent post by Tom at Alt-Tag. Enjoy!

--Here, from A Liberal Mormon, is another appropriate piece on what Christ would find if he returned to earth during this Christmas season.




Comments

  1. Whenever I'm traveling, I refuse to eat at chain restaurants. I can get Applebee's anywhere, but sampling something like, say, Moishe's in Montreal is something I can't do anywhere else. Those local institutions are a part of what makes each place unique and I like keeping my dollars in the place that I visit.

    After having visited Quebec, I can understand why there's been such a strong secession movement. Homogenization is creeping in and locals feel like it's killing the culture. I can't say whether that's true or not, but I can certainly understand the sentiment.

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  2. Terrific statement, Frank. I might challenge the notion that the U.S. ever really embraced heterogeneity the way you suggest, but that’s just quibbling. The corporatism is turning our “culture” into a bland, shallow mess. Oh, there is some superficial flair, but little of any real value.

    I hate how every community in the US looks identical. At least all which have been built or experienced a dramatic makeover in the past fifty years: Suburbs, stripmalls, and chain stores. Really, is there a single difference between any of the communities sprawled out along the Wasatch Front? For that matter, any difference between them and any ‘burb in Arizona, Southern California, Nevada, etc? Bland, boring, bastardized. Plenty of movement, plenty of cars moving hither and yon, plenty of money exchanging hands, but oh so very little vitality, so very little life. And that is really all we offer anymore to the rest of the developing world. Assimilation.

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  3. Frank whatever you are describing is the reality. It is actually Rockefellerism in action.

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  4. Jesse,

    That's an interesting perspective on Quebec that I never understood before.

    Derek,

    One of the main reasons that communities are so much the same is because of zoning laws. It used to drive me nuts as a member of the Santaquin, Utah City Council when other members of the council thought it was so important to limit people's rights to use their property--with the exact result that you describe.

    Anon,

    Exactly. I wish enough people cared. Actually, I wish enough people even knew about this.

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  5. Euclidian zoning laws do play a role, and I support modifying those laws to permit more mixed-use utilization. That does not change the fact that there are legitimate reasons to limit people's use of supposedly private property, because their property is not truly private. If someone decides to open a factory next to your house, it is going to have an impact on your life and your property. Because we do not live in hermetic bubbles, the the freedom to use one's private property cannot be absolute.

    The enormous and pervasive influence of the corporate world is the greatest reason for the homogenization of our communities--both the bland homogenization of the elite communities, and the dangerous homogenization of the poor communities.

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