Once looking through a popular magazine, I would come across a peculiar quote that said “pop culture is not about depth – it’s about marketing, supply, and demand, consumerism.” The quote made me consider the mass culture from a different perspective. Supposing that it is true, and the modern pop culture has turned in a classic business –it is thence unclear, who runs the process and what purposes are targeted.
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The fact that pop culture has become an integral part of modern life is undoubted. It is now hardly possible to eliminate its core elements such as music and movies from the everyday routine. In the meantime, it is likewise evident that this culture has a strong national flavor – it promotes the values of American society.
Due to the overall globalization process, the spread of this culture is gaining pace rapidly. As a result, the question arises regarding whether pop culture might be used as another tool to impose the imperialistic policy through the so-called “soft power.” Thus, the paper at hand is aimed at examining the phenomenon of the interconnection between pop culture and imperialism. It is assumed that the former is skillfully employed to promote the latter because it helps to impose alien values on different cultures in a soft manner.
Background: Different approaches to examine the problem of cultural imperialism
The problem of cultural imperialism has been widely studied throughout the past decades. Naturally, this problem concerns society as almost every individual of today’s world is likely to experience the intensive pressure of American pop culture. Basing on the relevant literature analysis, it might be assumed that, at the current point, the existence of such a phenomenon, as well as the fact that pop culture is skillfully employed to exercise imperialistic power, seems to be undoubted.
The only point that continues to be discussed is the effectiveness of this method and the moral connotations it implies. Therefore, the problem is mainly considered from two perspectives: the outcomes of cultural imperialism and its ethical nature. From the first standpoint, most of the experts agree upon the point that the effectiveness of pop culture as one of the instruments of the so-called “soft power” is unquestioned. It is hard to argue that cultural imperialism is a highly efficient approach to impose the values of one country over another.
Thus, Boyer notes that it is “much more subtle because nobody has a gun to anybody’s head telling them to do this or that” (137). Otherwise stated, the imposing mechanisms are not as evident as in the case of a classic armed invasion. From the second standpoint, the problem seems to be more ambiguous. Hence, some experts do not find any negative implications in the dominance of American pop culture. Heffer, a British journalist, for example, admits readily that the quality of the US pop products prevails significantly over those in other countries – as a result, the world has to learn and accept the better ideals (par.12).
However, Heffer’s vision of the problem is not shared as eagerly as it might have been expected. Thus, a German author, Mueller, believes that the US intrudes on the cultural environment of other countries, imposing their values and making the residents reject their historic identity (96). As a result, it might be seen there is no consensus regarding the theory of cultural imperialism in the modern society. Therefore, this problem needs a thorough and detailed examination.
Counter thesis: The nature of pop culture contradicts with that of imperialism
First and foremost, it should be noted that the main promoter of pop culture values, Hollywood, is an important instrument used for imposing western values on the rest of the world. Thus, the studio has made a considerable contribution to creating an image of the dominant American nation opposing it to the second-rate society of the East. Hollywood films tend to depict Arabs as aggressive and violent terrorists that have little in common with brave and honest heroes of America.
This ideology is perfectly illustrated in “American Sniper” where a small Iraqi boy is sent to bomb American soldiers carrying out their noble mission of democratization. Arab women are likewise depicted in a distorted manner. Thus, as a rule, female characters lack personality and are mainly shown as either attractive belly dancers or mysterious creatures covered up in their clothes from head to toe. In both cases, their characters are typically speechless and have little importance to the principal plotline. In the meantime, it should be reminded that it is Arab women who have contributed considerably to the feminist movement that is appreciated by American society so highly.
Thus, James Petras refers to the example of Huda Sha’arawi, an outstanding feminist and poet who became the founder of the Egyptian Feminist Union in 1923 – that is long before feminism was established in the US (143). In such a manner, the West makes skillful use of the Hollywood industry to strengthen its imperialistic positions and impose the perverted image of the Eastern world presenting it from a negative perspective. Such an approach lets the USA justify their aggressive external policy and the interventions in the domestic affairs of other countries. As a result, it is natural that the distrust that Arab Americans experience to the western civilization continues to grow.
Underpinning reason: The theory of cultural imperialism denies the individual identity of humans
It should be pointed out that Hollywood is not the only tool that pop culture employs to impose imperialism worldwide. The beauty standards promoted by western pop culture are likewise aimed at emphasizing the advantage of the “white race”. Hence, all the advertisements employ an image of a tall blonde with straight hair and white skin. It is supposed that this image is the only one that should be associated with true beauty, even though the major part of the world’s inhabitants is different from it by nature.
It should be noted that the West does not want to appear snobbish, that is why it proclaims the principles of equality and multiculturalism. Hence, for instance, a few years ago, Julia Galeota announced that the American companies renovated their marketing strategies rejecting the common beauty stereotypes and involving models from different countries instead (23). This could sound like a valid argument unless the products these companies advertised had such a distinctly American “flavor”.
The point is that all the products they promote simply aiming at an image of the common western standards – white skin, straight hair, etc. The creams sold are promised to make the skin paler, the hair conditioners are expected to make hair smooth and straight. Hence, it is assumed that eastern women are welcomed to share the joy, although they are expected to look like Americans in case they want their beauty to be recognized. Therefore, pop culture imposes its values actively through marketing tools – it opens access to the global market, letting the eastern civilization come nearer to the commonly recognized ideals of the West.
Supporting arguments: Pop culture – is an integral part of the globalization process aimed at uniting people
Speaking about pop culture exercising its influence through sales and marketing, it should be noted that the scope of the problem goes widely beyond the framework of the beauty industry. Thus, it can be noticed how global brands, with their well-developed franchise networks, replace the local businesses intensively. With the help of skillful advertising campaigns and other promotion tools, global companies make the residents of the developing countries doubt the quality of the local products and admit the implicit advantage of foreign offers.
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The most vivid example is the replacement of the Arab coffee, which has always been considered to be of unparalleled quality, by the mass-product coffee offered by Starbucks. Elif Izberk-Bilgin notes that “the prestige and quality associated with global brands” make the residents of the developing countries change their consumer behavior and perform a shift to foreign products (808). The prevalent advantage of global brands is translated through every channel available.
Numerous blogs kept by different celebrities, such as Kardashian’s family, are aimed at promoting the outputs of pop culture worldwide. People are encouraged to give up their cultural traditions to keep up with the wealthy and successful representatives of the pop industry. Products are sold both directly and indirectly, and, in such a free-and-easy manner, western imperialism penetrates foreign markets, imposing its dominance on the developing economies.
In the meantime, it should be pointed out that the theory of imperialism imposing its power through pop culture has a lot of opponents. Hence, some people believe that the basic nature of pop culture contradicts with that of imperialism. Otherwise stated, it is assumed that the former is manlily targeted at an individual rather than a common identity.
One of the key reasons why people do not believe in the imperialistic nature of pop culture resides in the fact that this theory victimizes humans, presenting them as dependent and easily manageable. It is assumed that the spread of American values to the eastern world does not imply any imperialistic ambitions; instead, its main aim is to provide the residents with a variety of choices.
To support their position, the opponents of the pop imperialistic theory refer to the benefits of the globalization process that accompanies necessarily the mass culture spread. The globalization process is regarded as a positive phenomenon that can gradually eliminate the most critical cultural differences that currently exist and let different nations understand each other better. Hence, it is believed that pop culture serves as a universal language aimed at uniting people worldwide (Fishwick 20). Otherwise stated, pop culture is interpreted as a universal culture that combines the values that can be shared by any society regardless of its background.
Pop culture penetrates the eastern world without trying to understand its values
First and foremost, it should be noted that the idealistic vision of the globalization process is initially faulty. Hence, a close examination of this phenomenon shows that modern globalization fails to combine different cultures as it is supposed to. Global companies employ catchy multicultural slogans to promote their products more effectively and enter new markets. In the meantime, they perform little effort to adopt the essence of the local culture.
What they do is a mere cover-up of the products so that they look more “local”. As a result, the offered product loses its initial quality without acquiring the new one – it resembles the local flavor though, in fact, it has nothing to do with it. As a result, due to the lack of a profound knowledge of a particular cultural background, the globalization process ends up with the generation of new stereotypes and prejudices. Hence, for instance, the education programs in American schools located in the Middle East are very poorly related to the real requirements of the local environment.
Otherwise stated, what is taught is of little value to those who study. Another vivid example of the failure of globalization to align pop culture to local peculiarities is Disney’s penetration to the Hong Kong market. A few years ago, Miller would describe enthusiastically the long-term plans of Disney in China saying that “Disney has launched numerous marketing initiatives to raise awareness of, and spark interest in, Hong Kong Disneyland.
These efforts include establishing cooperative advertising programs with travel agents and the Hong Kong Tourism Board.” (32). On the one hand, it might sound like a good example of globalization’s progress. However, a critical analysis essentially shows that Miller merely provides an example of how the integration of some alien elements into the ancient culture of China is carried out.
Despite all the advertisements and encouraging slogans, it is clear that Disney will always remain an entirely American product, and it will hardly do any effort to transform its core concept by a Chinese background. As a result, the first critical flaw in the opponents’ argumentative resides in the fact that their assumptions would be justified only in case globalization performed the functions they assign to it. At the current point, however, it fails to combine different cultures appropriately. Instead, it tries to impose western culture by all means available.
Globalization offers a choice, though it emphasizes the advantage of one option over another
Secondly, it should be noted that those who reject the imperialistic nature of pop culture appear to overlook an important detail. Thus, their main thesis is that pop culture does not aim to impose particular values but to provide people with extra choice options. This argument is partially true – globalization enables people worldwide to choose between local and foreign goods and services. In the meantime, it can be viewed that global companies make a distinct emphasis on the competitive advantage of their products.
They do not try to study thoroughly the local environment and lifestyle to display them to advantage. On the contrary, they focus on elucidating the benefits of the typically American manner of life. This problem is particularly acute in developing countries, where the social standards of living are considerably lower than those in the West. The image of wealthy and prosperous people distributed actively by numerous advertisements is poorly associated with the local context.
In the meantime, global companies employ it intensively pretending that they strive to spread the globalization process. Otherwise stated, global corporations continue to promote American values claiming that they integrate perfectly in the cultural environment of a particular country. The offered products and services do not undergo any critical transformations to integrate; the companies change their names and consider it sufficient to be called global.
Hence, for instance, the famous Starbucks Company is represented under the name Sudan Starbox in Khartoum, while it preserves all the quality characteristics of the initial variant. Dickson and Ginter explain this phenomenon by saying that “the basis of differentiation could be real or imagined” (6). In other words, they admit that even the nominal transformations are enough to carry out an effective globalization campaign. From this perspective, the question comes up regarding the differences between globalization and an imperialistic invasion. As long as the practice shows, the penetration into eastern markets does not imply the preservation of the local culture. Therefore, it is unclear what makes this process different from the typical intrusion of external values performed by the “dominant” party.
Hence, it might be concluded that there is a strong interconnection between pop culture and imperialistic policy. Numerous examples elucidated above show how the West makes skillful use of the pop culture mechanism to impose its values and lifestyle on the rest of the world. It is likewise evident that pop culture is applied to generating the negative image of the eastern civilization and emphasizing its disadvantaged position.
It is essential to note that the targeted ideas are translated through various channels under the slogans of globalization that is, in fact, an updated form of the classic imperialism. This phenomenon is not a novelty. Thus, history knows numerous examples of a nation advancing the ideas over its dominant position in the world. However, there is one critical difference that should be pointed out – whereas, in the past, the nations preferred to prove their superiority with the help of war, the modern society prefers “soft power” instruments such as pop culture.
Boyer, John. The Plaid Avenger’s World, New York, New York: Kendall Hunt, 2010. Print.
Dickson, Peter, & James Ginter. ” Market Segmentation, Product Differentiation, and Marketing Strategy.” Journal of Marketing 51.2 (1987): 1-10. Print.
Fishwick, Marshall. Cicero, Classicism, and Popular Culture, New York, New York: Routledge, 2013. Print.
Galeota, Julia. “Cultural Imperialism: An American Tradition.” Humanist 64.3 (2004): 21-24. Print.
Heffer, Simon. America is The Acceptable Face of Cultural Imperialism, 2010. Web.
Izberk-Bilgin, Elif. “When Starbucks Meets Turkish Coffee: Cultural Imperialism and Islamism As ‘Other’ Discourses of Consumer Resistance.” Advances in Consumer Research 35.1 (2008): 808-809. Print.
Miller, Paula. “Disneyland in Hong Kong.” China Business Review 34.1 (2007): 31-33. Print.
Mueller, Agnes. German Pop Culture: How “American” is It? Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 2004. Print.
Petras, James. “Cultural Imperialism in the Late 20th Century.” Journal of Contemporary Asia 23.2 (1993): 139-148. Print.