The Culture War

I am amused by the recently oft-mentioned notion that we can “win” the war on Afghanistan, err. . . terrorism, by bombarding “them” with DVD players and Britney Spears CDs. You know you’ve heard it, this ridiculousness that’s being spouted both by the mainstream media and in annoying chain e-mails. (Funny, this correlation is; there’s more truth in it than anyone wants to admit.)

But is this idea—to show the poor people of the world just how great capitalism is and thereby cause them to embrace us, disregarding their own centuries-old culture for no more than a Slurpee—new or even novel? It’s no secret that for the past 20 years Big Business has been trying to slather our crass commercial culture over the globe like so much Miracle Whip.

How truly insidious is this? Consider the following quote from The End of Marketing As We Know It by Sergio Zyman, former chief marketing officer at CoKKKe: “Anybody who has traveled or studied history knows that the French are different from the Italians, Mexicans are different from Guatemalans, and Brazilians are different from Argentines. Even though they may share borders and some have common languages, each country has its own superstitions, myths, history, demographic makeup, economy, and problems. All of these things make up the fabric of these countries. And it is on these fabrics, or canvases, that you have to paint your brand.”

And what happens when you paint on a canvas? Last time I checked, paint permanently alters the canvas; it will never again be pure and free of color. The same thing happens once we cover the world with brands and consumerism: It will change forever. (Better for the multinational cartels, as it’s an easier sell with every successive generation, as the differences fade and the local culture more resembles our own. Success breeds more success.)

Look closely at Zyman’s statement. Most countries in Europe are attempting to shed their national economy in favor of an E.U.-based economy. Witness, the Euro. “Problems”? As far as I can see it, our problems here in the U.S. have a tendency to take on extreme importance everywhere in the world, as our companies have such great impact on employment and commerce worldwide. (Not to mention our government and its ham-fisted control of the political agenda of most of the first world.) And myths, history and superstitions are nice, but in the face of the ubiquity of Hollywood, they don’t stand a chance. (When in Austria two weeks ago, I went to see American Pie 2—in English. While driving through Italy, I tuned in a pretty good classic rock station: Eagles, Stones, Who, etc.)

Give it another generation and Europe’s culture is gone. Another generation after that, kiss the rest of the world goodbye.

Britney Forever!

So to the people of Afghanistan, here’s what you have to look forward to. From a recent USA Today article: “Among those waiting to buy the double-disc set [Star Wars, Episode I: Phantom Menace] is Doug Radcliffe, 29, of Jacksonville, Fla. He saw the original Star Wars when he was 5 and was instantly ‘obsessed,’ he says. He spent 12 hours in line to watch Menace when it opened in theaters in May 1999 and plans to be at the local Best Buy on Tuesday morning as soon as it opens. Says Radcliffe, ‘I’ve invested a considerable amount of money in a home theater audio system, and the pod race and light-saber battle, especially, should possess enough bass and surround effects to rattle the walls.'”

7 thoughts on “The Culture War”

  1. Having grown up in Amway country, I know full well the impact of branding on a community. Everything in my home town is named after one of the two founders. I actually don’t have much of a problem with that, it’s been going on since the beginning of commerce, but you do have a point about the spread of that kind of influence around the world. Cultures are vanishing and we may be left with identities only as diverse as the Gap vs. Old Navy.

  2. When I spent a semester in Scotland in 1991, I was constantly getting hassled by snobby Brits about America not having any culture. Then they would adjust their basball caps and go back to listening to Nirvana.

  3. But I thought Britney Spears was the Cyndi Lauper of 2001! Backstreet Boys are the Nirvana of …dammit, now I’m all messed up.One thing’s for sure though-Christopher Cross was the Brian Wilson of 1983.

  4. Lack of an identifiable national cultural heritage is what makes this country great. This is the only true melting pot in the known universe.

  5. Lack of cultural history means we have little left behind for generations to come. What will they find when they dig up the USA in 10,000 years? Will it reflect a melting pot of ideas, religions and cultures or just sposnorship and co-branding? I don’t know about you CEP (though I know who you are!), but I don’t want the identity of our nation to be defined by McDonalds, Coke, or Jeep (all of which are fine brands I enjoy).

  6. Neither do I Phil. It’s just interesting to observe that we have the capacity to put aside our vast differences as individuals and band together for a common cause. I also find it fascinating that this country is the only one that people are willing to die for to enter. I like to think that whatever culture we have as a nation is, in fact, defined in this way. It sounds like a cliche, I know, but this is truly a great country and a great citizenry, especially when we are challenged to exceed our individual prejudices. Enough rambling from a guy who can remember the 50’s, no less!

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