American Popular Culture and Its Impact in a Globalized World

Topics: Culture, MTV Networks, MTV Pages: 24 (8512 words) Published: February 8, 2006
Americans, after all, did not invent fast food, amusement parks, or the movies. Before the Big Mac, there were British fish and chips. Before Disneyland, there was Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens (which Walt Disney used as a prototype for his first theme park, in Anaheim, a model later re-exported to Tokyo and Paris). – Richard Pells

1. Introduction

No matter what corner of the world, it is more than unlikely to walk up to an adoles-cent, mention the names Jennifer Lopez, Madonna, Eminem or Bruce Willis and be confronted with a questioning face of ignorance. Performers and actors such as these have become increasingly omnipresent in people's lives all around the globe. American popular culture with its above-mentioned icons and its lifestyle of fast food and consumer goods tends to be received by foreign societies in a variety of differing ways. Terms such as Americanization, Westernization and even globalization are only a few of many that have been employed to label the phenomenon of America's growing cultural dominance in the world. Decades of public discourse about this is-sue have shown that all these expressions are being used interchangeably by many. We will see below, however, that it is helpful and, in my view, even necessary to make correct use of the terminology in order to come to a thorough understanding and, finally, a critical evaluation of the problem to be discussed. Various nations have been complaining about a McDonaldization (yet another word for U.S. cultural power worldwide) of their domestic cultures. The present discussion tries to investigate whether American popular culture truly poses a threat to national and regional cul-tural traditions, values and tastes or whether America's popular commodities in fact bear the potential of cultural diversity in receiving cultures. In an attempt to come to a conclusion regarding this question we take a look at the American music business as well as American film and television shows of the past decade or so and examine their reception throughout the world. We will see that the presence and pervasive-ness of U.S.-produced goods do not necessarily signal the death of the local, re-gional or traditional. But before we turn to this point I will, first of all, spend a brief moment on how popular culture may be defined.

To find a working definition of the term popular culture is not an easy task to accomplish for there is a variety of approaches that tries to categorize what products fall under this rubric. Pop culture theorists have defined the area in several opposing ways. Tricia Wachtendorf (1999, online) from the University of Delaware summarizes them as follows:

1)Culture that is mass produced
2)Culture stemming from the people, or bottom-up
3)Post-industrial, urban, American culture
4)Commercial culture
5)Products generally thought of on the lower end of the high-low binary 6)And finally, there are those that see all forms of post-industrial culture as popular.

Here we see that there are several different notions of what may be designated popular culture. It is certainly true when Dominic Strinati (1995) says that "different societies, different groups within societies, and societies and groups in different his-torical periods can all have their own popular culture" and that therefore one ought not to "hold to a strict and exclusive definition" (xvii), but I do not believe, however, that Hebdige's definition quoted in Strinati's introductory paragraph of An introduction to the theories of popular culture suffices: "'popular culture' – e.g. a set of generally available artefacts: films, records, clothes, TV programmes, modes of transport, etc." (ibid.). I, therefore, draw on an approach that provides more information on what dis-tinguishes pop culture in any given society: "Popular culture is defined […] as popular written literature and broadcasting, popular music, popular dance and theater, certain decorative arts,...

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