As the world’s lone superpower, America has massive effects on international politics, economics and culture.
In our time abroad last year, we both saw how our culture marked Argentinean and Turkish society.
Barbara: In Argentina, I was startled to find that my host parents shopped at Wal-Mart and my host sister adored Big Macs. I had been cautioned repeatedly that the shock of being in a culture entirely different from mine would be intense, but it was equally weird to find myself surrounded by so much random British and American pop culture. There is an entire social style called “Rolinga,” after the Rolling Stones. A huge portion of the teenage population is fanatical about the Red Hot Chili Peppers (“Los Red Hot”). One pre-law student I knew would regularly quote lines from Monty Python.
Philip: In Turkey, street vendors hawk bootleg copies of Britney Spears’ albums and posters of American movies. Outside cultures are so immersed into Turkish culture that a one-legged homeless man sang ABBA and Elton John songs while begging for change. Poor and uneducated people in Turkey experience as much foreign culture as educated Americans do.
Barbara and Philip: Misconceptions run rampant. We were constantly asked which celebrities we had met. Argentines and Turks wanted to know if American high schools are really like what they’ve seen in the movies and on MTV.
Barbara: For the first few months of my exchange, I was asked countless times what
I thought of President Bush’s policies and the United States’ relationship with the world. Argentines are aware of what we eat for breakfast and whose concerts we flock to. I was embarrassed to know so little about them. Many Americans can’t find Argentina on a map, and aren’t quite sure what language they speak there (Spanish). Exchange revealed to me how incredibly one-sided globalization can be.
Philip: I don’t think that America is only limited to exporting its culture. We take in foreign culture on a much more personal and divided level. While everyone in the world might know the chorus to “Hard Days Night,” there are small communities of international culture all over the United States. On Whidbey, we have a strong Zimbabwean music scene and this same culture permeates thousands of communities.
While America’s culture has certainly been shifted abroad, sometimes without reciprocation, we must remember the irony that our culture is a product of all these countries’ cultures we now influence. In many ways, we’ve absorbed countless bits of culture from other countries and adopted them into our own, such as Japanese anime, Mexican burritos and Russian literature. The pattern of cultural integration isn’t something new, it is just a process that has become accelerated and catalyzed by technological improvements. Now that kids around the world can download Beyonce’s new bootylicious chart-topper onto their iPods, it seems that everybody is tuning into Americanized music, art and fashion. But kids in America can take the same things from other countries, too.
People all over the world beam their culture onto the Internet and this media is then pumped out through media giants onto the airwaves. We’re exposed to the customs and fads of numerous cultures through movies and television. YouTube and MySpace both have contributed greatly to this mobility. Through this massive exchange, it seems culture is becoming a truly global phenomenon.
It’s hard to know how completely this standardization will take hold. Will ancient cultures lose track of their customs in exchange for newfangled ideas and art forms?
Whether this trend is good or not, it’s clear the momentum is so great it would be impossible for us to stop it.