American Culture; A charming parasite

Pre-packaged, shiny, and gleaming with promise. The exported American culture that the world has been receiving since the United States started to branch out its Hegemony desiring tentacles after the Second World War has festooned itself over every single continent on the planet. Culture hybrids have been created from New Zealand to Nepal to Nigeria to Nicaragua. This is not to say that this exported culture represents America, I believe that there are two Americas, however the America that gets exported is lucrative and malleable and can latch itself onto whatever it sets its eyes upon.

There was a time when I used to be hooked on this very addictive drug. American culture was what I lived and breathed I wanted to be adopted by my rich uncle in Bel Air, I wanted to drink coffee in central Perk, I wanted play baseball and go to school on a yellow bus.  This was when I was living in New Zealand, between 1994 and 2000, a time that was a very promising for the exportation of American culture, both morally and monetarily. Apartheid had fallen in South Africa and the darling of the liberal west, Nelson Mandela, had opened up South Africa for business.  McDonalds could set up shop on land recently taken from Blacks in townships across the country. Coke could plaster their “enjoy” advertisements on the side of corrugated iron shacks laced in tetanus. They could all do this with a happy conscious as blacks were enfranchised and could now enjoy the hollowing out of their unique culture by exported American consumerism and materialism, unabated and un checked.

These years were also the years of economic liberalisation in the new Russian Republic. Gorbachev had removed the cultural dam that was the Iron Curtain and Yeltsin did little to stem the tidal wave of American culture that was mediated through and already Americanised Europe. The availability of cars throughout these six years enabled an “automobilization” of Russia states Ivan Tsetkov (http://spbu.academia.edu/IvanTsvetkov/Papers/110364/Americanization_and_anti-Americanism_in_contemporary_Russia), the ability  to pick the kids up from school, short haul grocery shopping, etc. The individualism that characterizes American society has transplanted itself onto Russian. One of the few positives of Soviet era Russia, a communal spirit, has been replaced by a crude atomization of society. The Americanisation of Russian pancakes stalls, and there distribution and taste, the influx of consumer goods has also latched itself onto Russian society. However the onslaught of Coke and Nike only forms one part of a symbolic cultural diffusion. Implicit cultural diffusion has seeped into Russian life, unperceived yet rampant. The acknowledgement of a stratification of society between Oligarch and lower class, a terminology only becoming popular in the last twenty or so years. The commercialisation of national symbols like vodka, the bear, , balalaika, ballet draws direct parallels to the American commercialisation of Jack Daniels, the eagle, the Guitar and modern street dancing (see “step up” “save the last dance”). The one time only strong and seemingly impervious bulwark to American cultural dissemination is now its greatest fiend.

Vietnam withstood thirty years of international assault. From the French, the Americans, the Khmer Rouge and China. This was all at huge cost to its own population and its capacity to stand on its own two feet. Children mutilated by cluster bombs, deformed by Agent Orange and malnourished by international sanctions. It is beyond belief that they managed to establish a free healthcare and educational system. However even this is now being ravaged by the exported commodity culture of the United States.  Vietnam was once the testing ground for US B52 bombers; however it is now the workshop for American garments and domestic products being made on the cheap. Gucci emporiums lace the newly fangled high streets in Ho Chi Minh City.

It seems American culture has weaselled its way and bred with cultures on almost every single corner of the planet, Arabised Sky scrapers dot the vista of Beirut as petrol guzzling 4×4’s dodge between the feet of these monstrosities en route to another shopping mall. In Accra market you can buy a substantial portion of Jolloff rice, two legs of chicken, red red and plantain for 2.50 cedis. It will cost you five times that amount to buy a pizza in Accra mall just twenty minutes away. In the midst of my “Yankee bashing” what must be mentioned is that there are two Americas. The one that is packaged and covered in sprinkles, and the one that is raw and true. The civil rights movement, that has come to characterize a metamorphosis in American cultural life is embodied and exported in the image of Martin Luther King. However the Black Panthers did as much as King did to raise the Dignity of Blacks in America distributing meals to poor black Children and developing an original and intricate Maoist based ideology. What about Arthur Miller? Cultural critic and ground breaking playwright, his scathing depiction of capitalist America and its pitfalls deserve as much attention as “Spy Kids 3D”. Gore Vidals depiction of Homosexuality in his 1948 novel “The City and The Pillar” enforces this history of enlightening and forthright literature. “Democracy Now” is the complete antithesis to “Fox News” where leftist views are un hounded by corporate contaminated “Journalists”. The United States is a plethora of ideas, views and histories; however we are always presented, via the exportation of a certain brand of culture, with a single narrative.

What needs to happen for all cultures of the world to flourish and evolve independently is for the United States to stop ramming its culture down the throats of other nations, but also for these other nations not to dutifully sit there, mouths open. The world needs to wake up to its own individualistic cultural idiosyncrasies, not to manufacture them and export them (in this process watering down their innocence and purity) but to embrace them. In tern the United States needs to delve deeper into its multiflorous culture and embrace all facets, even those that can’t be wrapped up in a bow and exported.

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