Globalization in Relation to Culture

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A global culture can be seen in one of two ways. One suggests that today’s communications and technologies allow a more open spread of culture around the world – people in far corners of the globe are able to be aware of and share each others culture. It is a view that sees global culture as generally positive – something that encourages diversity and a mixing of culture and has enabled people around the world to overcome national boundaries to embrace common causes. The more common perception of global culture is that of a Western, predominantly American culture gradually imposing itself around the world, often to the detriment of long established local cultures.

For analysts opposed to globalisation this type of global culture is slowly killing diversity and devastating traditional ways of life. Scholte suggests that this viewpoint is that: “Globalisation introduces a single world culture centred on consumerism, mass media, Americana and the English language.” (Scholte 2000, p 53) It is this type of global culture in particular that transnational companies are linked to and are generally happy to promote.

Transnational companies have become economic superpowers as globalisation has spread and the development of a global culture is seen to benefit them economically. Certainly the potential wealth that the transnationals can offer to indigenous populations can take precedence over the upholding of local tradition and culture. The basic human desire to accumulate wealth can often override cultural, ethnic and religious factors when transnational companies set their sights on economic expansion in a particular area. A global culture involves the spread of popular cultural icons around the globe, often diluting and overriding local cultures with the threat that the vast cultural diversity that the world offers will one day be submerged beneath a dull uniformity. Advances in technology and communications have helped propagate cultural globalisation. Digital communication, satellite television and the Internet are methods of communication that can overcome any national boundaries or government control – as Held and McGrew write: “Many national controls over information have become ineffective. People everywhere are exposed to the values of other cultures as never before” (p17, Held and McGrew 2003).

Deregulation of media ownership along with technological advances combined in the latter decades of the twentieth century to allow the largest media companies to establish networks in many countries. This media influence gives companies the opportunity to promote their own cultural preferences and it is notable that the global media is dominated by the same eight transnational media companies that dominate the US media: General Electric, AT&T Media, Disney, Time Warner, Sony, News Corporation, Viacom & Seagram and Bertelsmann (p261 Held and McGrew 2003). These companies aggressively seek to become global players – the US market is largely developed and the global markets provide better opportunities for expansion and getting ahead of the competition – Time Warner predict that non-US sales will yield the majority of their revenue within the next decade.

With the global expansion of US media companies comes the global expansion of US culture. The power of Hollywood is one of the prime examples of cultural globalisation with an American agenda. A seemingly endless line of films promoting an American cultural and political agenda emanate from Hollywood and have driven independent film making in many regions either out of business or underground. Some countries such as Norway, Mexico and South Africa have seen government subsidies try to support domestic film production companies, whilst the success of the Indian ‘Bollywood’ film industry is one of few examples of cinema audiences resisting the spread of a global culture. The economic benefits to the transnationals can be huge. Cable and digital television channels across...
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