The Pop Culture Is the World's Culture
I have been travelling around the world for almost two years. I have seen a lot of different things in each country and felt all the differences between various cultures in the countries that I have travelled to but the major issue that I faced each time I entered a new country was the fact that all the cultures are becoming the same. All the cultures are becoming Americanized. In other words, American pop culture is spreading all over the world and adjusting all the cultures to it. In general, globalization of a particular culture is making all the countries similar to each other. I believe globalization should occur, to some degree, but not to the level of destroying cultures and taking advantage of other countries' cultures.
Before discussing the impacts and influences of American pop culture on the world, I want to explain what it means to say "culture" or " popular culture" is American. It is difficult, at best, to claim that a particular group of people share the same values of life, experiences and behaviors. The 300 million people that live in the United States come from hundreds of different countries and all have different cultures, religions and languages, so it is very hard to suppose that these people are part of the same American pop culture. After I started living in the United States, I felt that the public culture of this country is generally termed civic. After reading an article about American popular culture in the Globalization & American Popular Culture book, I think that people tend to focus on several ideas to justify their plans: the first thing is liberty, "the sense that government should leave people alone so that individuals can think and act as they please" and the second thing is individualism, "the idea that individuals have rights that should be protected by government.” Democracy and political equality are the other elements that are part of American pop culture. These concepts form the basis of American pop culture. (Crothers 12)
After understanding the soul of American pop culture, we need to understand what globalization is in order to be able to judge its effects and impacts on the world. According to the Globalization & American Popular Culture book, Manfred Steger, a professor of global studies at RMIT University in Australia, "has offered a concise approach to understanding globalization that accounts for the many dimensions of globalization as a set of social processes that are thought to transform our present social condition into one globality." Globality, in turn, Steger sees as "a social condition characterized by the existence of global economic, political, cultural and environmental flows that make many of the currently existing borders and boundaries irrelevant." We can see that combinations of economic, political or cultural elements promote globalization by linking people around the world, getting people closer to each other by advancing and increasing the speed of communication, and shaping individuals' ideas and identities as they are exposed to this increasingly complex world. As Steger describes, "the direction of globalization is toward the state of globality which means interdependence and integration." (Crothers 15-16)
Now that we have a great view of what pop culture and globalization mean, I will explore how pop culture is spreading and the world is becoming globalized. I personally think that the major strength of pop culture and the reason it is so powerful in spreading around the world is media. Movies, the Internet, television and radio have been always crucial in representing a country's culture, ideas and goals. People around the world love to watch movies and spend a lot of time on the Internet. By spending a huge amount of time on entertainment, people start to get used to what they see and actually tend to act and behave like celebrities and adjust their lifestyle toward these particular people, who are just representing American popular culture.
By watching some Persian music videos, I could definitely feel that the style of singing and acting has become very different from ten years ago. In Cheshman Siah by Mansour, which was recorded ten years ago, the singer is just walking next to the sea and singing a romantic pop song, whereas in Baram Beraghs, recorded ten years later, the same singer is singing in a night club and walking around hot dancers. What is the reason for such changes in one singer's style in only ten years? The only answer that I can think of is globalization. If we look at a couple of music videos which are made in the USA, we can see that singers are acting like movie stars and the situation they are singing in is not just a simple studio but artificial places like a plane or a beach party. The Persian singer, if he wants to stay in the market and keep his fans, needs to imitate the pop culture's singers and act like them because pop culture makes people believe that in order to be accepted by society, people need to conform to pop culture's standards.
It is also important to see how American pop culture is expressed in movies. One of the highest grossing films of all time is Titanic, which I think is an amazing example of how pop culture introduces itself to the world. Titanic's success was stunning. This success is seemingly out of proportion to the story. Essentially a love story framed in the foreshadowing context of the Titanic's doomed ocean voyage, the movie follows the trials of Jack and Rose as they meet, fall in love, and struggle to survive as the Titanic sinks. I am pretty sure that most people have already seen this movie and remember it scene by scene, so it helps me to just point out the conclusions that I can relate to the pop culture.
As Lane Crothers discusses the ideas and conclusion in his book about titanic, "Class, education, training, and opportunity are not structurally limited only to those who go to the right schools or are born into the right families. Instead, all one needs is quick wits, charm, individual creativity and the courage to imagine yourself in the upper class in the first place. Likewise, those in the upper classes need to be tolerant of the diverse skills and talents distributed throughout society if they are to enjoy a full and rich life. Taken together, this account of Titanic's popularity rests on the values and variables of American popular culture. The irrelevance of class, the importance of individualism, the lure of capitalism, the need for tolerance, and the distribution of talent across the society are all foundations of American popular culture. I can really say that Titanic is a movie which is not just a normal movie, told a story that reached out to the world, and the World responded." (Crothers 72)
One of the most interesting cartoon series of this era, which has attracted so many people around the world, is Family Guy, an American animated television series created by Seth MacFarlane for the Fox Broadcasting Company. The series centers on the Griffins, a dysfunctional family consisting of parents Peter and Lois, their children Meg, Chris, and Stewie, and their anthropomorphic pet dog Brian. The show is set in the fictional city of Quahog, Rhode Island and exhibits much of its humor in the form of cutaway gags that often lampoon American culture. The way this show represents itself to the world is by showing a normal American family which millions of people around the world dream to become. Most of the people around the world love the idea of having a happy family and living in a perfect and comfortable situation. A beautiful house, a comfortable car, a good school for kids and delicious meals for the family are the dreams of many people around the world who just want to live a normal American life.
I asked my friend, Artur Dmowski, who is a big fan of Family Guy, for his idea about the show, and he thinks despite all the family's comforts, in each episode each character faces several problems and difficulties. The problems not only make funny and adventurous stories but also cause the family members to help each other to solve the problems. What we see is the unity between family members and the fact that eventually each problem becomes resolved. The point of Family Guy is showing that difficulties are always solved in an American family and there is always a single solution that the family comes up with. Thus, people around the world can see that no matter how hard and ridiculous the problem may be, there is always a way to solve it.
After all the research I did, I thought it would be amazing to hear the point of view of a person who has spent all his life in a country like Iran and has just moved to the United States. I interviewed Arvin Shahbazi Moghaddam , a friend of mine who is a sophomore at MIT and a physics and math major. I first asked him, why is globalization taking place? He responded, "Media, Internet, fashion and movies are the main subjects which make the pop culture globalized." He believes one of the main reasons that he started to know about American pop culture was by surfing the Internet and watching various movies which represented the social situation of the United States. As a result of spending a huge amount of time viewing different media, he made an imaginary lifestyle for himself which he called "Americanized modern culture" while he was living in Iran. Then he argued why we call pop culture the Americanized pop culture. "This country does not have a very unique culture that all the people would follow the same values in it but, instead, it is a very multicultural country. People can easily immigrate to USA because they believe that the US is the land of opportunities." What does it mean to call the United States the "land of opportunities"? Factors like first class education, advanced technology, and the opportunity for finding a job compared to other places in the world makes the United States such a land of opportunities, in other words, a "First World Country." He also believes the reason most of the people around the world aim to adjust their lifestyle and culture to American pop culture is because of the great and amazing reputation that it has around the world. He gave me an example of satellite TV programs back in Iran: "the first language that you hear after turning on the TV is English, and the first thing you see is the United States advertising itself in a way that you feel in order to be a human you need to be American." I could understand from his ideas that the goal of pop culture is to Americanize all the countries. He also talked about the advantages and disadvantages of the globalization of pop culture. He said "it is so hard to get all the people to think like each other, decide in the same way, and get connected to each other easily but, with the ability that globalization has, it makes it so easy to connect people and make them united." Globalization allows developing third world countries to show their talent in improving their own countries' economy and technology. He also mentioned a particular disadvantage which was the destruction of different countries' traditional culture. He states, "By the world becoming more and more Americanized, there is a greater chance that generation by generation the main culture of the country would be forgotten and nobody would even remember the history of their country.”
I agree with him that globalization would destroy the diversity of the world and the traditions and cultures of each country would be forgotten. What actually concerns most people is the fact that after a while, everyone will end up eating the same thing, acting the same way and even wearing the same style of clothes as others around the world. As a result, there would not be any diversity left around the world. As lane Crothers says in his book: "What is left is a world of soulless consumers just looking for the next thing to buy that is exactly like what everyone else in the world already has and wants until the corporations generate the next 'must have' item.” (Crothers 25)
Hearing some of the ideas of my other friend, Nanuka Khardebila, was interesting as well. She is a political science student at Northeastern University who worked at the UN for a year. Her main idea about globalization was that, since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, it has been easier for countries to import and export goods to other countries and cultures. The United States has always been trying to advertise its own culture, lifestyle and products but how are they related? She said "whenever we are watching commercials, a happy American family is advertising a product and meanwhile it is also advertising the American lifestyle." People around the world find the American way of life interesting and comfortable and, in order to get to it, they start using American-made products.
American products, in her mind, are affordable, simple and easy to reach. For example, American cars are not as expensive as European cars and also have a better quality than Asian or Middle Eastern cars and are more comfortable and are suited for family use. As a result, people start adopting the American life style by buying American products. I then asked for her ideas about the reasons that globalization is so Americanized. She replied, "One of the main reasons the USA is always trying to expand its own culture and ideas around the world is that US wants to be a symbol and the model of happy and comfortable lifestyle around the world.” The reasons for becoming a symbol or a role model for the world are economic and political power. Then she followed, "The second reason is that the future of the United States depends upon making globalization Americanized.” The future and the safety of the country are the most important things for the government of United States; therefore, by expanding their own culture, they can guarantee a safe and successful future for themselves. I also asked for her opinion about how globalization is affecting the world and how she feels about it. She believes that the fact that world is becoming modernized and improved is acceptable and appreciable but if we consider the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a consequence of globalization, we arrive at the idea that globalization needs to be limited and not biased towards American interests.
All in all, in order to improve social classes and technology around the world, there is a need for globalization to happen. However, we also need to consider respecting each countries’ cultures and histoies. Millions of people have devoted their lives to their respective cultures and histories. Therefore I feel it is not fair that globalization is so biased and Americanized. Being modernized and advanced is the right of each country so powerful countries like the United States should not take advantage of other countries in order to make them globalized.
Crothers, Lane. Globalization & American Popular Culture. 1st. Lanham,Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009. 12, 15-16, 25, 72. Print.
Cameron, James, dir. Titanic. Paramount, 1997. Film.
Shahbazi Moghaddam, Arvin. Personal Interview. 11/02/2011.
Seth MacFarlane, Seth, dir. Family guy. Fox: Television
Khardebila Nanuka, Personal Interview. 11/20/2011
Artur Dmowski, Personal Interview. 11/20/2011
Cheshman Siah Music Video by Mansuor, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5qkmJYko4S8
Mikham Bahat Beraghsam, Music Video by Mansuor, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ztpsDJXDjjM