Thursday, August 05, 2004

What's So Bad About American Cultural Imperialism?

What exactly is there to dislike about America's so called "cultural hegemony?" Looked at in the context of history, I see little difference between the spread of American cultural norms and those of any other powers that came before it, and I find it hard to believe that those who are most vehement in condemning the spread of American culture would be equally vociferous in decrying the spread of Hellenism, the Latinization of Europe or even the gradual Arabization* of the peoples of the southern Sahel, all of which occurred as much because of the innate appeal of the cultures to the peoples to which they were exposed as much as due to their spread through military force.

Whatever the shortcomings of McDonalds as haute cuisine, it's hardly all there is to American culture, and every previous culture with a widespread appeal beyond its own borders also had unappealing aspects to it by comparison with which the worst vulgarisms of American life seem tame indeed. As long as nobody's being forced to do things the American way at gunpoint, I see no point in complaining about the passing of traditional ways of life, many of which turn out to be far from "traditional" anyway, once we begin to look more closely. There's a saying that the Romans may have conquered the Greeks, but it was Greek culture that ended up conquering the Romans, and I think it sums up the reality of things very well: people will not willingly give up one way of life for another unless they find it superior to what they had before, and if one is so convinced of the greater merit of one's own culture, the judgement of the marketplace will prevail in one's favor. That so many countries go to ridiculous lengths to keep out American cultural imports suggests that their elites aren't really sure that theirs is the superior culture, whatever they might say in public to the contrary.

*As opposed to the forced, "racial" variety currently taking place in Darfur, of course. The allure of Arab culture has naturally waned considerably in what used to be called the Sudan since the arrival of the British at the close of the 19th century.