Sunday, January 09, 2005

Global culture war 

Some food for thought:
"Robert H. Bork remembers his ambivalence in 1989 as the Berlin Wall came down and dungarees and rock music poured into the former East Germany. 'You almost began to want to put the wall back up,' says the former Supreme Court nominee, a tart critic of American popular culture.

"If there is one proposition on which Western European elites and radical Islamists, American social conservatives and snobby latte town aesthetes all seem to agree, it is this: American popular culture is a subversive thing."
I like Bork, but I'm not with him on this one. I'm getting increasingly tired of the constant grumbling about the nefarious influence of American pop culture. Two simple points:

1) Even after you take into consideration the power of advertising and marketing, you have to give the consumer some due: the reason why the American popular culture is so popular around the world is that people want to watch it, listen to it, and read it. The complaints of cultural protectionists are no different from those of any other producer who finds himself outperformed by a competitor offering cheaper, better, or more attractive products.

2) The "sky is falling" argument that local product is being swamped and sent into extinction by rapacious McCulture is a complete hogwash. Yes, the American product (as opposed to, say, Islamic or Hindu one) is the only one with a truly global appeal, but local culture continues to thrive everywhere around the world, not the least thanks to the same technological advancements, such as Internet, that make the American product so accessible.

In the end, all the hostility directed at the American popular culture by critics worldwide is to a large extent a misplaced anger at your own people: how dare they, traitors, want the American stuff, when our home-grown is so much better. People from Cairo to Calcutta, from Lagos to Lima, are fascinated by the American product because of what it represents: the confidence, optimism and opportunities of the world's most successful economy and the most desired society (we, in communist Poland, certainly did). The critics understand that fact implicitly, which is why those who dislike the American culture are also very likely to be hostile to American political and economic systems, American foreign policy and other aspects of American life. So, in many ways, culture wars are merely a continuation of political conflict through other means.

Update: The Astute Blogger offers another reason why American popular culture is so successful.


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