Since the end of the Cold War, the world has entered a new age where globalisation shapes our political system, our economy and even how we interact with each other. With the rise of technology and transportation, communication has become effortless. This global phenomenon has led to a rising integration of markets and spaces, as well as new diplomatic alliances. Combined with technological advances, different cultures have been brought together voluntarily and involuntarily. Behind the glorified aspect of globalisation, however, hides more complex social, political, cultural and economic components. This is the case for the worldwide influence of the US, especially on a cultural level. Has globalisation turned into an Americanisation of the world?
Diana Ayton-Shenker, senior fellow of Philanthropy and International Affairs at Bard College, describes the result of this collision as “an increasingly global, multicultural world brimming with tension, confusion and conflict in the process of its adjustment to pluralism.” She adds that “there is an understandable urge to return to old conventions, traditional cultures, fundamental values, and the familiar, seemingly secure, sense of one’s identity. Without a secure sense of identity amidst the turmoil of transition, people may resort to isolationism, ethnocentrism and intolerance.”
An anti-American movement has been developing throughout the twenty first century. This was seen, for instance, with the attacks of 9/11, and the multiple terrorist groups that cultivate an abhorrence of American culture. It is true that we nowadays define the international system as a unipolar one, with the US as the hegemon. The US has a very powerful stance in decision making in global institutions at the United Nations. They are often called the ‘’police of the world’’ because of their involvement in worldwide conflicts.
Does being a hegemon mean that the US gets a free pass in international relations and is able to do what she wants? Some would argue that the US has an unfair advantage over less economically developed countries in bureaucratic structures and global decision making systems such as the United Nations. This is seen for example with the invasion of Iraq in 2003 where the Security Council’s decision against the invasion was not respected. Some would also criticize the imposition of the American democratic model on other states in the Middle East. However, it is also a problem in the international system to not have American support, as that usually slows progress. This is the case for environmental issues where consensus is needed. For example, the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 that aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions was not ratified by the US despite the US being, then, the largest polluter in the world. Indeed, the USA emits 25% of green gases with only 4.5% of global population.
American influence does not stop there. Indeed, the US is also extremely influential economically, especially with multi-national conglomerates. It is impossible to go anywhere in the world without seeing the imposing yellow ‘M’ harboring the consumption of fast-food. McDonalds serves 68 million customers daily in 119 countries. This has led to changing food habits in many countries, with fast-food becoming part of people’s alimentation. Moreover, the rise of fast food joints has had an impact on the increase in obesity. According to the WHO factsheet, in 2008, more than 1.4 billion adults, 20 and older, were overweight. The consummation of fast food is one of the reasons for obesity as it results in unhealthy dietary habits.
These billion dollar industries also affect popular culture such as in the cinematographic domain where Hollywood rules the roost. American movies often portray the ultimate American dream advocating consumerism and materialism. For instance, the recent Academy Awards have received worldwide attention, glorifying the Hollywood industry. American influences do not stop there: music, clothing such as the infamous jeans, Disneyland, iPod, iPhones. American culture is everywhere and has modified people’s daily habits and hobbies. Americanization has led to the accessibility, as well as popularity of American culture, which has changed people around the world in a culture harboring capitalism, consumerism and materialism.
Can Americanization be defined as cultural imperialism? The simple fact that the US is defined as ‘America’ in English shows how its influence manifests itself in the way we speak. It sounds almost as if the American continent is solely constituted of the US. This has led to an anti-American movement where American culture is often dismissed. The problem is the ethno-centric view taken by American policy-makers, and often American citizens. The obsession with democratization is, for instance, a good example of American self-involvement. Taking a step back, one should ask: is democracy really the best system of government? Does democracy work for everybody if we take into account cultural and historical background?
Sensitivity towards other cultures is important, as it is what defines an identity and is embedded in people’s heritage. Culture is something that constantly evolves, and outside influences, such as Americanization, is a part of that natural change. We should ponder: is American culture a good influence on other cultures? In a way, Americanization is part globalization with a focus on materialism and individualism. It should, however, not be imposed upon other cultures, or seen as the ultimate mode of living. Relativism must also be shown to this glorified version of American culture, and perhaps take a more Fitzgeraldian approach to the American Dream that may be simply an illusion. After all, is Americanization simply an illusion of the true American Culture?