U.S cultural imperialism has two major goals, one economic and the other political: to capture markets for its cultural commodities and to establish hegemony by shaping popular consciousness. The export of entertainment is one of the most important sources of capital accumulation and global profits displacing manufacturing exports. In the political sphere, cultural imperialism plays a major role in dissociating people from their cultural roots and traditions of solidarity, replacing them with media created needs which change with every publicity campaign. The political effect in to alienate people from traditional class and community bonds, atomizing and separating individuals from each other.
Cultural imperialism emphasizes the segmentation of the working class: stable workers are encouraged to dissociate themselves from temporary workers, who in turn separate themselves from the unemployed, who are further segmented among themselves within the 'underground economy'. Cultural imperialism encourage working people to think of themselves as part of a hierarchy emphasizing minute differences in life style, in race and gander, with those below them rather than the vast inequalities that separate them from those above.
The principle target of cultural imperialism is the political and economic exploitation of youth. Imperial entertainment and advertisement target young people who are most vulnerable to U.S. commercial propaganda. The message is simple and direct: 'modernity' in associated with consuming U.S. media products. Youth represent a major market for U.S. cultural export and they are most susceptible to the consumerist-individualist propaganda. The mass media manipulates adolescent rebelliousness by appropriating the language of the left and channeling discontent into consumer extravagances.
Cultural imperialism focuses on youth not only as a market but also for political reasons: to undercut a political threat in which personal rebellion could become political revolt against economic as well as cultural forms of control.
Over the past decade progressive movements confront a paradox: while the great majority of the people in the Third World experience deteriorating living standards, growing social and personal insecurity and decay in public services (while affluent minorities prosper as never before) the subjective response to these conditions has been sporadic revolts, sustained, but local activities and large scale protests of short duration. In a word, there is a profound gap between the growing inequalities and socio-economic conditions on the one hand and the weaknesses of revolutionary or radical subjective responses. The maturing 'objective conditions' in the Third World have not been accompanied by the growth of subjective forces capable of transforming the state or society. It is clear that there is no 'automatic- relationship between socio-economic regression and socio-political transformation. Cultural intervention (in the broadest sense including ideology, consciousness, social action) is the crucial link converting objective conditions into conscious political intervention. Paradoxically, imperial policy-makers seem to have understood the importance of cultural dimensions of political practice far better than their adversaries.
Cultural Domination and Global Exploitation
Imperialism cannot be understood merely as an economic-military system of control and exploitation. Cultural domination is an integral dimension to any sustained system of global exploitation.
In relation to the Third World, cultural imperialism can be defined as the systematic penetration and domination of the cultural life of the popular classes by the ruling class of the West in order to reorder the values, behavior, institutions and identity of the oppressed peoples to conform with the interests of the imperial classes. Cultural imperialism has taken both 'traditional' and modern forms. In past centuries, the Church, educational system, and public authorities played a major role in inculcating native peoples with ideas of submission and loyalty in the name of divine or absolutist principles. While these 'traditional' mechanisms of cultural imperialism still operate, new modern instrumentalities rooted in contemporary institutions have become increasingly central to imperial domination. The mass media, publicity, advertisement and secular entertainers and intellectuals play a major role today. In the contemporary world, Hollywood, CNN and Disneyland are more influential than the Vatican, the Bible or the public relations rhetoric of political figures. Cultural penetration is closely linked to politico-military domination and economic exploitation. U.S. military interventions in support of the genocidal regimes in Central America which protect its economic interests are accompanied by intense cultural penetration. U.S. financed evangelicals invade Indian villages to inculcate messages of submission among the peasant-Indian victims. International conferences are sponsored for domesticated intellectuals to discuss 'democracy and market'. Escapist television programs sow illusions from "another world". Cultural penetration is the extension of counter-insurgency warfare by non-military means.
New Features of Cultural Colonialism
Contemporary cultural colonialism [CCC] is distinct from past practices in several senses:
(1) It is oriented toward capturing mass audiences, not just converting elites.
(2) The mass media, particularly television, invade the household and function from the 'inside' and 'below' as well as from 'outside' and above.
(3) CCC is global in scope and homogenizing in its impact: the pretense of universalism serves to mystify the symbols, goals and interests of the imperial power.
(4) The mass media as instruments of cultural imperialism today are 'private' only in the formal sense: the absence of formal state ties provides a legitimate cover for the private media projecting imperial state interests as 'news' or 'entertainment'.
(5) Under contemporary imperialism, political interests are projected through non-imperial subjects. -News reports' focus on the personal biographies of mercenary peasant-soldiers in Central America and smiling working class U.S. blacks in the Gulf War.
(6) Because of the increasing gap between the promise of peace and prosperity under unregulated capital and the reality of increasing misery and violence, the mass media have narrowed even further the possibilities of alternative perspectives in their programs. Total cultural control is the counterpart of the total separation between the brutality of real-existing capitalism and the illusory promises of the free market.
(7) To paralyze collective responses, cultural colonialism seeks to destroy national identities or empty them of substantive socio-economic content. To rupture the solidarity of communities, cultural imperialism promotes the cult of 'modernity' as conformity with external symbols. In the name of 'individuality', social bonds are attacked and personalities are reshaped according to the dictates of media messages. While imperial arms disarticulate civil society, and banks pillage the economy, the imperial media provide individuals with escapist identities.
Cultural imperialism provides devastating demonological caricatures of revolutionary adversaries, while encouraging collective amnesia of the massive violence of pro-Western countries. The Western mass media never remind their audience of the murder by anti-communist pro-U.S. regimes of 100,000 Indiana in Guatemala, 75,000 working people in El Salvador, 50,000 victims in Nicaragua. The mass media, cover up the great disasters resulting from the introduction of the market in Eastern Europe and the ex-U.S.S.R., leaving hundreds of millions Impoverished.
Mass Media: Propaganda and Capital Accumulation
The mass media is one of the principal sources of wealth and power for U.S. capital as it extends its communication networks throughout the world. An increasing percentage of the richest North Americans derive their wealth from the mass media. Among the 400 wealthiest Americans the percentage deriving their wealth from the mass media increased from 9.5 percent in 1982 to 18 percent in 1989. Today almost one out of five of the richest North Americans derive their wealth from the mass media. Cultural capitalism has displaced manufacturing as a source of wealth and influence in the U.S.
The mass media have become an integral part of the U.S. system of global political and social control, as well as a major source of super profits. As the levels of exploitation, inequality and poverty increase in the Third World, Western controlled mass communications operate to convert a critical public into a passive mass. Western media celebrities and mass entertainment have become important ingredients in deflecting potential political unrest. The Reagan presidency highlighted the centrality of media manipulation through highly visible but politically reactionary entertainers, a phenomena which has spread to Latin American and Asia.
There is a direct relation between the increase in the number of television sets in Latin America, the decline of income and the decrease in mass struggle. In Latin America between 1980,and 1990, the number of television sets per inhabitant increased 40 percent,, while the real average income declined 40 percent, and a host of neo-liberal political candidates heavily dependent on television images won the presidency.
The increasing penetration of the mass media among the poor, the growing investments and profits by U.S. corporations in the sale of cultural commodities and the saturation of mass audiences with messages that provide the poor with vicarious experiences of individual consumption and adventure defines the current challenge of cultural colonialism.
U.S. media messages are alienating to Third World people in a double sense. They create illusions of 'international' and 'cross class' bonds. Through television images a false intimacy and an imaginary link is established between the successful subjects of the media and the impoverished spectators in the 'barrios'. These linkages provide a channel through which the discourse of individual solutions for private problems is propagated. The message is clear. The victims are blamed for their own poverty, success depends on individual efforts. Major TV satellites, U.S. and European mass media outlets in Latin America avoid any critique of the politico-economic origins and consequences of the new cultural imperialism that has temporarily disoriented and immobilized millions of impoverished Latin Americans. Imperialism and the Politics of Language Cultural imperialism has developed a dual strategy to counter the Left and establishing hegemony. On the one hand, it seeks to corrupt the political language of the left; on the other it acts to desensitize the general public to the atrocities committed by Western powers. During the 1980's the western mass media systematically appropriated basic ideas of the left, emptied them of their original content and refilled them with a reactionary message. For example, the mass media described politicians intent in restoring capitalism and stimulating inequalities as "reformers" or "revolutionaries", while their opponents were labeled "conservatives". Cultural imperialism sought to promote ideological confusion and political disorientation by reversing the meaning of political language. Many progressive individuals became disoriented by this ideological manipulation. As a result, they were vulnerable to the claims of imperial ideologues who argue that the terms "Right" and "Left" lacked any meaning, that the distinctions have lost significance, that ideologies no longer have meaning. By corrupting the language of the Left and distorting the content of the Left and Right, cultural imperialists hope to undermine the political appeals and political practices of the anti-imperialist movements.
The second strategy of cultural imperialism was to de-sensitize the public; to make mass murder by the Western states routine, acceptable activities. Mass bombings in Iraq were presented in the form of video games. By trivializing crimes against humanity, the public is desensitized from its traditional belief that human suffering is wrong. By emphasizing the modernity of new techniques of warfare, the mass media glorify existing elite power - the techno-warfare of the West. Cultural imperialism today includes "news" reports in which the weapons of mass destruction are presented with human attributes while the victims in the Third World are faceless "aggressors- terrorists".
Global cultural manipulation is sustained by the corruption of the language of politics. In Eastern Europe, speculators and mafioso seizing land, enterprises and wealth are described as "reformers". Contrabandists are described as "innovating entrepreneurs". In the West the concentration of absolute power to hire and fire in the hands of management and the increased vulnerability and insecurity of labor is called "labor flexibility". In the Third World the selling of national public enterprise to giant multi-national monopolies is described as "breaking-up monopolies". "Reconversion" is the euphemism for reversion to 19th century condition of labor stripped of all social benefits. "Restructuring" is the return to specialization in raw materials or the transfer of income from production to speculation. "Deregulation" is the shift in power to regulate the economy from the national welfare state to the international banking, multi-national power elite. "Structural adjustments" in Latin America mean transferring resources to investors and lowering payments to labor. The concepts of the left (reform, agrarian reform, structural changes) were originally oriented toward redistributing income. These concepts have been coopted and turned into symbols for reconcentrating wealth, income and power into the hands of Western elites. And of course all the private cultural institutions of imperialism amplify and propagate this Orwellian disinformation. Contemporary cultural imperialism has debased the language of liberation, converting it into symbols of reaction.
Cultural Terrorism: The Tyranny of Liberalism
Just as western state terrorism attempts to destroy social movements, revolutionary governments and disarticulate civil society, economic terrorism as practiced by the IMF and private bank consortia, destroy local industries, erode public ownership and savages wage and salaried household. Cultural terrorism is responsible for the physical displacement of local cultural activities and artists. Cultural terrorism by preying on the psychological weaknesses and deep anxieties of vulnerable Third World peoples, particularly their sense of being "backward", "traditional" and oppressed, projects new images of "mobility" and "free expression", destroying old bonds to family and community, while fastening new chains of arbitrary authority linked to corporate power and commercial markets. The attacks on traditional restraints and obligations is a mechanism by which the capitalist market and state becomes the ultimate center of exclusive power. Cultural imperialism in the name of "self expression" tyrannizes Third World people fearful of being labeled "traditional", seducing and manipulating them by the phoney images of classless "modernity". Cultural imperialism questions all pre-existing relations that are obstacles to the one and only sacred modern deity: the market. Third World peoples are entertained, coerced, titillated to be modern', to submit to the demands of capitalist market to discard comfortable, traditional, loose fitting clothes for ill fitting unsuitable tight blue jeans.
Cultural imperialism functions best through colonized intermediaries, cultural collaborators. The prototype imperial collaborators are the upwardly mobile Third World professionals who imitate the style of their patrons. These collaborators are servile to the West and arrogant to their people, prototypical authoritarian personalities. Backed by the banks and multinationals, they wield immense power through the state and local mass media. Imitative of the West, they are rigid in their conformity to the rules of unequal competition, opening their country and peoples to savage exploitation in the name of free trade. Among the prominent cultural collaborators are the institutional intellectuals who deny class domination and imperial class warfare behind the jargon of objective social science. They fetischize the market as the absolute arbiter of good and evil. Behind the rhetoric of 'regional cooperation", the conformist intellectuals attack working class and national institutions which constrain capital movements -- their supporters isolated and marginalized. Today throughout the Third World, Western funded Third World intellectuals have embraced the ideology of concertacion (class collaboration). The notion of interdependence has replaced imperialism. And the unregulated world market is presented as the only alternative for development. The irony is that today as never before the "market" has been least favorable to the Third World. Never have the U.S., Europe and Japan been so aggressive in exploiting the Third World. The cultural alienation of the institutional intellectuals from the global realities is a byproduct of the ascendancy of Western cultural imperialism. For those critical intellectuals who refuse to join the celebration of the market, who are outside of the official conference circuits, the challenge is to once again return to the class and anti-imperialist struggle.
North Americanization and the Myth of an International Culture
One of the great deceptions of our times is the notion of 'internationalization' of ideas, markets and movements. It has become fashionable to evoke terms like "globalization" or "internationalization" to justify attacks on any or all forms of solidarity, community, and/or social values. Under the guise of "internationalism", Europe and the U.S. have become dominant exporters of cultural forms most conducive to depoliticizing and trivializing everyday existence. The images of individual mobility, the "self-make person", the emphasis on "self-centered existence" (mass produced and distributed by the U.S. mass media industry) now have become major instruments in dominating the Third World.
Neo-liberalism continues to thrive not because it solves problems, but because it serves the interest of the wealthy and powerful and resonates among some sectors of the impoverished self- employed who crowd the streets of the Third World. The North Americanization of Third World cultures takes place with the blessing and support of the national ruling classes because it contributes to stabilize their rule. The new cultural norms -- the private over the public, the individual over social, the sensational and violent over everyday struggles and social realities -- all contribute to inculcating precisely the egocentric values that undermine collective action. The culture of images, of transitory experiences, of sexual conquest, works against reflection, commitment and shared feelings of affection and solidarity. The North Americanization of culture means focusing popular attention on celebrities, personalities and private gossip -- not on social depth, economic substance and the human condition. Cultural imperialism distracts from power relation and erodes collective forms of social action.
The media culture that glorifies the 'provisional' reflects the rootlessnese of U.S. capitalism -- its power to hire and fire, to move capital without regard for communities. The myth of "freedom of mobility" reflects the incapacity of people to establish and consolidate community roots in the face of the shifting demands of capital. North American culture glorifies transient, impersonal relations as "freedom" when in fact these conditions reflect the anomie and bureaucratic subordination of a mass of individuals to the power of corporate capital. North Americanization involves a wholesale assault on traditions of solidarity in the name of modernity, attacks on class loyalties in the name of individualism, the debasement of democracy through massive media campaigns focusing on personalities.
The new cultural tyranny is rooted in the omnipresent repetitive singular discourse of the market, of a homogenized culture of consumption, of a debased electoral system. The new media tyranny stands alongside the hierarchical state and economic institutions that reach from the board roams of the international banks to the villages in the Andes. The secret of the success of North American cultural penetration of the Third World is its capacity to fashion fantasies to escape from misery, that the very system of economic and military domination generates. The essential ingredients of the new cultural imperialism is the fusion of commercialism-sexuality-conservatism each presented as idealized expressions of private needs, of individual selfrealization. To some Third World people immersed in everyday dead end jobs, struggles for everyday survival, in the midst of squalor and degradation, the fantasies of North American media, like the evangelist, portray "something better", a hope in a future better life -- or at least the vicarious pleasure of watching others enjoying it.
Impact of Cultural Imperialism
If we want to understand the absence of revolutionary transformation, despite the maturing of revolutionary conditions, we must reconsider the profound psychological impact of state violence, political terror and the deep penetration of cultural/ideological values propagated by the imperial countries and internalized by the oppressed peoples. The state violence of the 1970's and early 1980's created long term, large scale psychic damage -- fear of radical initiatives, distrust of collectivities, a sense of impotence before established authorities -- even as the same authorities are hated. Terror turned "people inward" toward private domains.
Subsequently, neo-liberal policies, a form of "economic terrorism", resulted in the closing of factories, the abolition of legal protection of labor, the growth of temporary work, the multiplication of low paid individual enterprises. These policies further fragmented working class and urban communities. In this context of fragmentation, distrust and privatization, the cultural message of imperialism found fertile fields to exploit vulnerable peoples' sensibilities, encouraging and deepening personal alienation, selfcentered pursuits and individual competition over ever scarce resources.
Cultural imperialism and the values it promotes has played a major role in preventing exploited individuals from responding collectively to their deteriorating conditions. The symbols, images and ideologies that have spread to the Third World are major obstacles to the conversion of class exploitation and growing immiseration into class conscious bases for collective action. The great victory of imperialism is not only the material profits, but its conquest of the inner space of consciousness of the oppressed directly through the mass media and indirectly through the capture (or surrender) of its intellectual and political class. Insofar as a revival of mass revolutionary politics is possible, it must begin with open warfare not only with the conditions of exploitation but with culture that subjects its victims.
Limits of Cultural Imperialism
Against the pressures of cultural colonialism is the reality principle: the personal experience of misery and exploitation imposed by Western multinational banks, the police/military repression enforced by U.S. supplied arms. Everyday realities which the escapist media can never change. Within the consciousness of the Third World peoples there is a constant struggle between the demon of individual escape (cultivated by the mass media) and the intuitive knowledge that collective action and responsibility is the only practical response. In times of ascending social mobilizations, the virtue of solidarity takes precedence; in times of defeat and decline, the demons of individual rapacity are given license.
There are absolute limits in the capacity of cultural imperialism to distract and mystify people beyond which popular rejection sets in. The TV "table of plenty" contrasts with the experience of the empty kitchen; the amorous escapades of media personalities crash against a houseful of crawling, crying hungry children. In the street confrontations, Coca Cola becomes a molotov cocktail. The promise of affluence becomes an affront to those who are perpetually denied. Prolonged impoverishment and widespread decay erode the glamour and appeal of the fantasies of the mass media.
The false promises of cultural imperialism become the objects of bitter jokes relegated to another time and place.
The appeals of cultural imperialism are limited by the enduring ties of collectivities -- local and regional -- which have their own values and practices. Where class, racial, gender and ethnic bonds endure and practices of collective action are strong, the influence of the mass media are limited or rejected.
To the extent that preexisting cultures and traditions exist, they form a "closed circle" which integrates social and cultural practices that look inward and downward, not upward and outward. In many communities there is a clear rejection of the "modernist" developmental- individualist discourse associated with the supremacy of the market. The historical roots for sustained solidarity and anti-imperial movements are found in cohesive ethnic and occupational communities; mining towns, fishing and forestry villages, industrial concentrations in urban centers. Where work, community and class converge with collective cultural traditions and practices, cultural imperialism retreats.
The effectiveness of cultural imperialism does not depend merely on its technical skills of manipulation, but on the capacity for the state to brutalize and atomize the populace, to deprive it of its hopes and collective faith in egalitarian societies.
Cultural liberation involves not merely "empowering" individuals or classes, but is dependent on the development of a socio-political force capable of confronting the state terror that precedes cultural conquest. Cultural autonomy depends on social power and social power is perceived by the ruling classes as a threat to economic and state power. Just as cultural struggle is rooted in values of autonomy, community and solidarity which are necessary to create the consciousness for social transformations, political and military power is necessary to sustain the cultural bases for class and national identities.
Most important, the Left must recreate a faith and vision of a new society built around spiritual as well as material values: values of beauty and not only work. Solidary linked to generosity and dignity. Where modes of production are subordinated to efforts to strengthen and deepen longstanding personal bonds and friendship.
Socialism must recognize the longings to be alone to be intimate as well as to be social and collective. Above all, the new vision must inspire people because it resonates with their desire not only to be free from domination but free to create a meaningful personal life informed by affective non-instrumental relations that transcend everyday work even as it inspires people to continue to struggle. Cultural imperialism thrives as much on novelty, transitory relations and personal manipulation, but never on a vision of authentic, intimate ties based on personal honesty, gender equality and social solidarity.
Personal images mask mass state killings, just as technocratic rhetoric rationalize weapons of mass destruction ('intelligent bombs'). Cultural imperialism in the era of 'democracy' must falsify reality in the imperial country to justify aggression -- by converting victims into aggressors and aggressors into victims.
Hence in Panama the U.S. imperial state and mass media projected Panama as a drug threat to young people in the U.S., as it dropped bombs on working class communities in Panama.
The experiences of El Salvador and Guatemala in the 1980's is illustrative.
Nicaraqua's Sandinista government in the 1980's and Chile under Allende in the 1970's are emblematic.
The case of Uruguay and Argentina in the 1970's and 1980's under the military regimes.
Cultural imperialism comprises the cultural aspects of imperialism. Imperialism here refers to the creation and maintenance of unequal relationships between civilizations, favoring the more powerful civilization. Thus, cultural imperialism is the practice of promoting and imposing a culture, usually that of a politically powerful nation, over a less powerful society; in other words, the cultural hegemony of industrialized or economically influential countries which determine general cultural values and standardize civilizations throughout the world. The term is employed especially in the fields of history, cultural studies, and postcolonial theory. It is usually used in a pejorative sense, often in conjunction with calls to reject such influence. Cultural imperialism can take various forms, such as an attitude, a formal policy, or military action, insofar as it reinforces cultural hegemony.
Background and definitions
Although the Oxford English Dictionary has a 1921 reference to the "cultural imperialism of the Russians", John Tomlinson, in his book on the subject, writes that the term emerged in the 1960s and has been a focus of research since at least the 1970s. Terms such as "media imperialism", "structural imperialism", "cultural dependency and domination", "cultural synchronization", "electronic colonialism", "ideological imperialism", and "economic imperialism" have all been used to describe the same basic notion of cultural imperialism.
Various academics give various definitions of the term. American media criticHerbert Schiller wrote: "The concept of cultural imperialism today  best describes the sum of the processes by which a society is brought into the modern world system and how its dominating stratum is attracted, pressured, forced, and sometimes bribed into shaping social institutions to correspond to, or even promote, the values and structures of the dominating centre of the system. The public media are the foremost example of operating enterprises that are used in the penetrative process. For penetration on a significant scale the media themselves must be captured by the dominating/penetrating power. This occurs largely through the commercialization of broadcasting."
Tom McPhail defined "Electronic colonialism as the dependency relationship established by the importation of communication hardware, foreign-produced software, along with engineers, technicians, and related information protocols, that vicariously establish a set of foreign norms, values, and expectations which, in varying degrees, may alter the domestic cultures and socialization processes." Sui-Nam Lee observed that "communication imperialism can be defined as the process in which the ownership and control over the hardware and software of mass media as well as other major forms of communication in one country are singly or together subjugated to the domination of another country with deleterious effects on the indigenous values, norms and culture." Ogan saw "media imperialism often described as a process whereby the United States and Western Europe produce most of the media products, make the first profits from domestic sales, and then market the products in Third World countries at costs considerably lower than those the countries would have to bear to produce similar products at home."
Downing and Sreberny-Mohammadi state: "Imperialism is the conquest and control of one country by a more powerful one. Cultural imperialism signifies the dimensions of the process that go beyond economic exploitation or military force. In the history of colonialism, (i.e., the form of imperialism in which the government of the colony is run directly by foreigners), the educational and media systems of many Third World countries have been set up as replicas of those in Britain, France, or the United States and carry their values. Western advertising has made further inroads, as have architectural and fashion styles. Subtly but powerfully, the message has often been insinuated that Western cultures are superior to the cultures of the Third World." Needless to say, all these authors agree that cultural imperialism promotes the interests of certain circles within the imperial powers, often to the detriment of the target societies.
The issue of cultural imperialism emerged largely from communication studies. However, cultural imperialism has been used as a framework by scholars to explain phenomena in the areas of international relations, anthropology, education, science, history, literature, and sports.
Many of today's academics that employ the term, cultural imperialism, are heavily informed by the work of Foucault, Derrida, Said, and other poststructuralist and postcolonialist theorists. Within the realm of postcolonial discourse, cultural imperialism can be seen as the cultural legacy of colonialism, or forms of social action contributing to the continuation of Western hegemony. To some outside of the realm of this discourse, the term is critiqued as being unclear, unfocused, and/or contradictory in nature.
The work of French philosopher and social theoristMichel Foucault has heavily influenced use of the term cultural imperialism, particularly his philosophical interpretation of power and his concept of governmentality.
Following an interpretation of power similar to that of Machiavelli, Foucault defines power as immaterial, as a "certain type of relation between individuals" that has to do with complex strategic social positions that relate to the subject's ability to control its environment and influence those around itself. According to Foucault, power is intimately tied with his conception of truth. "Truth", as he defines it, is a "system of ordered procedures for the production, regulation, distribution, circulation, and operation of statements" which has a "circular relation" with systems of power. Therefore, inherent in systems of power, is always "truth", which is culturally specific, inseparable from ideology which often coincides with various forms of hegemony. Cultural imperialism may be an example of this.
Foucault's interpretation of governance is also very important in constructing theories of transnational power structure. In his lectures at the Collège de France, Foucault often defines governmentality as the broad art of "governing", which goes beyond the traditional conception of governance in terms of state mandates, and into other realms such as governing "a household, souls, children, a province, a convent, a religious order, a family". This relates directly back to Machiavelli's The Prince, and Foucault's aforementioned conceptions of truth and power. (i.e. various subjectivities are created through power relations that are culturally specific, which lead to various forms of culturally specific governmentality such as neoliberal governmentality.)
Informed by the works of Noam Chomsky, Foucault, and Antonio Gramsci, Edward Saïd is a founding figure of postcolonialism, established with the book Orientalism (1978), a humanist critique of The Enlightenment, which criticizes Western knowledge of "The East"—specifically the English and the French constructions of what is and what is not "Oriental". Whereby said "knowledge" then led to cultural tendencies towards a binary opposition of the Orient vs. the Occident, wherein one concept is defined in opposition to the other concept, and from which they emerge as of unequal value. In Culture and Imperialism (1993), the sequel to Orientalism, Saïd proposes that, despite the formal end of the “age of empire” after the Second World War (1939–45), colonial imperialism left a cultural legacy to the (previously) colonized peoples, which remains in their contemporary civilizations; and that said cultural imperialism is very influential in the international systems of power.
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
A self-described "practical Marxist-feminist-deconstructionist"Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak has published a number of works challenging the "legacy of colonialism" including A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Towards a History of the Vanishing Present (1999), Other Asias (2005), and "Can the Subaltern Speak?" (1988).
In "Can the Subaltern Speak?" Spivak critiques common representations in the West of the Sati, as being controlled by authors other than the participants (specifically English colonizers and Hindu leaders). Because of this, Spivak argues that the subaltern, referring to the communities that participate in the Sati, are not able to represent themselves through their own voice. Spivak says that cultural imperialism has the power to disqualify or erase the knowledge and mode of education of certain populations that are low on the social hierarchy.
Throughout "Can the Subaltern Speak?", Spivak is cites the works of Karl Marx, Michel Foucault, Walter Benjamin, Louis Althusser, Jacques Derrida, and Edward Said, among others.
In A critique of Postcolonial Reason, Spivak argues that Western philosophy has a history of not only exclusion of the subaltern from discourse, but also does not allow them to occupy the space of a fully human subject.
Contemporary ideas and debate
Cultural imperialism can refer to either the forced acculturation of a subject population, or to the voluntary embracing of a foreign culture by individuals who do so of their own free will. Since these are two very different referents, the validity of the term has been called into question.
Cultural influence can be seen by the "receiving" culture as either a threat to or an enrichment of its cultural identity. It seems therefore useful to distinguish between cultural imperialism as an (active or passive) attitude of superiority, and the position of a culture or group that seeks to complement its own cultural production, considered partly deficient, with imported products.
The imported products or services can themselves represent, or be associated with, certain values (such as consumerism). According to one argument, the "receiving" culture does not necessarily perceive this link, but instead absorbs the foreign culture passively through the use of the foreign goods and services. Due to its somewhat concealed, but very potent nature, this hypothetical idea is described by some experts as "banal imperialism." For example, it is argued that while "American companies are accused of wanting to control 95 percent of the world's consumers", "cultural imperialism involves much more than simple consumer goods; it involved the dissemination of American principles such as freedom and democracy", a process which "may sound appealing" but which "masks a frightening truth: many cultures around the world are disappearing due to the overwhelming influence of corporate and cultural America".
Some believe that the newly globalised economy of the late 20th and early 21st century has facilitated this process through the use of new information technology. This kind of cultural imperialism is derived from what is called "soft power". The theory of electronic colonialism extends the issue to global cultural issues and the impact of major multi-media conglomerates, ranging from Viacom, Time-Warner, Disney, News Corp, to Google and Microsoft with the focus on the hegemonic power of these mainly United States-based communication giants.
One of the reasons often given for opposing any form of cultural imperialism, voluntary or otherwise, is the preservation of cultural diversity, a goal seen by some as analogous to the preservation of ecological diversity. Proponents of this idea argue either that such diversity is valuable in itself, to preserve human historical heritage and knowledge, or instrumentally valuable because it makes available more ways of solving problems and responding to catastrophes, natural or otherwise.
Ideas relating to African colonization
Of all the areas of the world that scholars have claimed to be adversely affected by imperialism, Africa is probably the most notable. In the expansive "age of imperialism" of the nineteenth century, scholars have argued that European colonization in Africa has led to the elimination of many various cultures, worldviews, and epistemologies. This, arguably has led to uneven development, and further informal forms of social control having to do with culture and imperialism. A variety of factors, scholars argue, lead to the elimination of cultures, worldviews, and epistemologies, such as "de-linguicization" (replacing native African languages with European ones) and devaluing ontologies that are not explicitly individualistic. One scholar, Ali A. Obdi, claims that imperialism inherently "involve[s] extensively interactive regimes and heavy contexts of identity deformation, misrecognition, loss of self-esteem, and individual and social doubt in self-efficacy."(2000: 12) Therefore, all imperialism would always, already be cultural.
Ties to neoliberalism
Neoliberalism is often critiqued by sociologists, anthropologists, and cultural studies scholars as being culturally imperialistic. Critics of neoliberalism, at times, claim that it is the newly predominant form of imperialism. Other Scholars, such as Elizabeth Dunn and Julia Elyachar have claimed that neoliberalism requires and creates its own form of governmentality.
In Dunn's work, Privatizing Poland, she argues that the expansion of the multinational corporation, Gerber, into Poland in the 1990s imposed Western, neoliberal governmentality, ideologies, and epistemologies upon the post-soviet persons hired. Cultural conflicts occurred most notably the company's inherent individualistic policies, such as promoting competition among workers rather than cooperation, and in its strong opposition to what the company owners claimed was bribery.
In Elyachar's work, Markets of Dispossession, she focuses on ways in which, in Cairo, NGOs along with INGOs and the state promoted neoliberal governmentality through schemas of economic development that relied upon "youth microentrepreneurs." Youth microentrepreneurs would receive small loans to build their own businesses, similar to the way that microfinance supposedly operates. Elyachar argues though, that these programs not only were a failure, but that they shifted cultural opinions of value (personal and cultural) in a way that favored Western ways of thinking and being.
Ties to development studies
Often, methods of promoting development and social justice to are critiqued as being imperialistic, in a cultural sense. For example, Chandra Mohanty has critiqued Western feminism, claiming that it has created a misrepresentation of the "third world woman" as being completely powerless, unable to resist male dominance. Thus, this leads to the often critiqued narrative of the "white man" saving the "brown woman" from the "brown man." Other, more radical critiques of development studies, have to do with the field of study itself. Some scholars even question the intentions of those developing the field of study, claiming that efforts to "develop" the Global South were never about the South itself. Instead, these efforts, it is argued, were made in order to advance Western development and reinforce Western hegemony.
Ties to media effects studies
The core of cultural imperialism thesis is integrated with the political-economy traditional approach in media effects research. Critics of cultural imperialism commonly claim that non-Western cultures, particularly from the Third World, will forsake their traditional values and lose their cultural identities when they are solely exposed to Western media. Nonetheless, Michael B. Salwen, in his book Critical Studies in Mass Communication (1991), claims that cross-consideration and integration of empirical findings on cultural imperialist influences is very critical in terms of understanding mass media in the international sphere. He recognizes both of contradictory contexts on cultural imperialist impacts. The first context is where cultural imperialism imposes socio-political disruptions on developing nations. Western media can distort images of foreign cultures and provoke personal and social conflicts to developing nations in some cases. Another context is that peoples in developing nations resist to foreign media and preserve their cultural attitudes. Although he admits that outward manifestations of Western culture may be adopted, but the fundamental values and behaviors remain still. Furthermore, positive effects might occur when male-dominated cultures adopt the “liberation” of women with exposure to Western media and it stimulates ample exchange of cultural exchange.
Criticisms of "cultural imperialism theory"
Critics of scholars who discuss cultural imperialism have a number of critiques. Cultural imperialism is a term that is only used in discussions where cultural relativism and constructivism are generally taken as true. (One cannot critique promoting Western values if one believes that said values are absolutely correct. Similarly, one cannot argue that Western epistemology is unjustly promoted in non-Western societies if one believes that those epistemologies are absolutely correct.) Therefore, those who disagree with cultural relativism and/or constructivism may critique the employment of the term, cultural imperialism on those terms.
John Tomlinson provides a critique of cultural imperialism theory and reveals major problems in the way in which the idea of cultural, as opposed to economic or political, imperialism is formulated. In his book Cultural Imperialism: A Critical Introduction, he delves into the much debated “media imperialism” theory. Summarizing research on the Third World’s reception of American television shows, he challenges the cultural imperialism argument, conveying his doubts about the degree to which US shows in developing nations actually carry US values and improve the profits of US companies. Tomlinson suggests that cultural imperialism is growing in some respects, but local transformation and interpretations of imported media products propose that cultural diversification is not at an end in global society. He explains that one of the fundamental conceptual mistakes of cultural imperialism is to take for granted that the distribution of cultural goods can be considered as cultural dominance. He thus supports his argument highly criticizing the concept that Americanization is occurring through global overflow of American television products. He points to a myriad of examples of television networks who have managed to dominate their domestic markets and that domestic programs generally top the ratings. He also doubts the concept that cultural agents are passive receivers of information. He states that movement between cultural/geographical areas always involves translation, mutation, adaptation, and the creation of hybridity.
Other major critiques are that the term is not defined well, and employs further terms that are not defined well, and therefore lacks explanatory power, that cultural imperialism is hard to measure, and that the theory of a legacy of colonialism is not always true.
Rothkopf on dealing with cultural dominance
David Rothkopf, managing director of Kissinger Associates and an adjunct professor of international affairs at Columbia University (who also served as a senior US Commerce Department official in the Clinton Administration), wrote about cultural imperialism in his provocatively titled In Praise of Cultural Imperialism? in the summer 1997 issue of Foreign Policy magazine. Rothkopf says that the United States should embrace "cultural imperialism" as in its self-interest. But his definition of cultural imperialism stresses spreading the values of tolerance and openness to cultural change in order to avoid war and conflict between cultures as well as expanding accepted technological and legal standards to provide free traders with enough security to do business with more countries. Rothkopf's definition almost exclusively involves allowing individuals in other nations to accept or reject foreign cultural influences. He also mentions, but only in passing, the use of the English language and consumption of news and popular music and film as cultural dominance that he supports. Rothkopf additionally makes the point that globalization and the Internet are accelerating the process of cultural influence.
Culture is sometimes used by the organizers of society—politicians, theologians, academics, and families—to impose and ensure order, the rudiments of which change over time as need dictates. One need only look at the 20th century's genocides. In each one, leaders used culture as a political front to fuel the passions of their armies and other minions and to justify their actions among their people.
Rothkopf then cites genocide and massacres in Armenia, Russia, the Holocaust, Cambodia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Rwanda and East Timor as examples of culture (in some cases expressed in the ideology of "political culture" or religion) being misused to justify violence. He also acknowledges that cultural imperialism in the past has been guilty of forcefully eliminating the cultures of natives in the Americas and in Africa, or through use of the Inquisition, "and during the expansion of virtually every empire.".The most important way to deal with cultural influence in any nation, according to Rothkopf, is to promote tolerance and allow, or even promote, cultural diversities that are compatible with tolerance and to eliminate those cultural differences that cause violent conflict:
- Successful multicultural societies, be they nations, federations, or other conglomerations of closely interrelated states, discern those aspects of culture that do not threaten union, stability, or prosperity (such as food, holidays, rituals, and music) and allow them to flourish. But they counteract or eradicate the more subversive elements of culture (exclusionary aspects of religion, language, and political/ideological beliefs). History shows that bridging cultural gaps successfully and serving as a home to diverse peoples requires certain social structures, laws, and institutions that transcend culture. Furthermore, the history of a number of ongoing experiments in multiculturalism, such as in the European Union, India, South Africa, Canada and the United States, suggests that workable, if not perfected, integrative models exist. Each is built on the idea that tolerance is crucial to social well-being, and each at times has been threatened by both intolerance and a heightened emphasis on cultural distinctions. The greater public good warrants eliminating those cultural characteristics that promote conflict or prevent harmony, even as less-divisive, more personally observed cultural distinctions are celebrated and preserved.
Cultural dominance can also be seen in the 1930s in Australia where the Aboriginal Assimilation Policy acted as an attempt to wipe out the Native Australian people. The British settlers tried to biologically alter the skin colour of the Australian Aboriginal people through mixed breeding with white people. The policy also made attempts to forcefully conform the Aborigines to western ideas of dress and education.
Although the term was popularized in the 1960s, and was used by its original proponents to refer to cultural hegemonies in a post-colonial world, cultural imperialism has also been used to refer to times further in the past.
The Roman Empire has been seen as an early example of cultural imperialism.
Early Rome, in its conquest of Italy, assimilated the people of Etruria by replacing the Etruscan language with Latin, which led to the demise of that language and many aspects of Etruscan civilization.
Cultural Romanization was imposed on many parts of Rome's empire by "many regions receiving Roman culture unwillingly, as a form of cultural imperialism." For example, when Greece was conquered by the Roman armies, Rome set about altering the culture of Greece to conform with Roman ideals. For instance, the Greek habit of stripping naked, in public, for exercise, was looked on askance by Roman writers, who considered the practice to be a cause of the Greeks' effeminacy and enslavement.
The Pax Romana was secured in the empire, in part, by the "forced acculturation of the culturally diverse populations that Rome had conquered."
British worldwide expansion in the 18th and 19th centuries was an economic and political phenomenon. However, "there was also a strong social and cultural dimension to it, which Rudyard Kipling termed the 'white man's burden'." One of the ways this was carried out was by religious proselytising, by, amongst others, the London Missionary Society, which was "an agent of British cultural imperialism." Another way, was by the imposition of educational material on the colonies for an "imperial curriculum". Morag Bell writes, "The promotion of empire through books, illustrative materials, and educational syllabuses was widespread, part of an education policy geared to cultural imperialism". This was also true of science and technology in the empire. Douglas M. Peers and Nandini Gooptu note that "Most scholars of colonial science in India now prefer to stress the ways in which science and technology worked in the service of colonialism, as both a 'tool of empire' in the practical sense and as a vehicle for cultural imperialism. In other words, science developed in India in ways that reflected colonial priorities, tending to benefit Europeans at the expense of Indians, while remaining dependent on and subservient to scientific authorities in the colonial metropolis."
The analysis of cultural imperialism carried out by Edward Said drew principally from a study of the British Empire. According to Danilo Raponi, the cultural imperialism of the British in the 19th century had a much wider effect than only in the British Empire. He writes, "To paraphrase Said, I see cultural imperialism as a complex cultural hegemony of a country, Great Britain, that in the 19th century had no rivals in terms of its ability to project its power across the world and to influence the cultural, political and commercial affairs of most countries. It is the 'cultural hegemony' of a country whose power to export the most fundamental ideas and concepts at the basis of its understanding of 'civilisation' knew practically no bounds." In this, for example, Raponi includes Italy.
Other pre-Second World War examples
The New Cambridge Modern History writes about the cultural imperialism of Napoleonic France. Napoleon used the Institut de France "as an instrument for transmuting French universalism into cultural imperialism." Members of the Institute (who included Napoleon), descended upon Egypt in 1798. "Upon arrival they organised themselves into an Institute of Cairo. The Rosetta Stone is their most famous find. The science of Egyptology is their legacy."
After the First World War, Germans were worried about the extent of French influence in the annexed Rhineland, with the French occupation of the Ruhr Valley in 1923. An early use of the term appeared in an essay by Paul Ruhlmann (as "Peter Hartmann") at that date, entitled French Cultural Imperialism on the Rhine.
Cultural imperialism has also been used in connection with the expansion of German influence under the Nazis in the middle of the twentieth century. Alan Steinweis and Daniel Rogers note that even before the Nazis came to power, "Already in the Weimar Republic, German academic specialists on eastern Europe had contributed through their publications and teaching to the legitimization Of German territorial revanchism and cultural imperialism. These scholars operated primarily in the disciplines Of history, economics, geography, and literature."
In the area of music, Michael Kater writes that during the WWII German occupation of France, Hans Rosbaud, a German conductor based by the Nazi regime in Strasbourg, became "at least nominally, a servant of Nazi cultural imperialism directed against the French."
In Italy during the war, Germany pursued "a European cultural front that gravitates around German culture". The Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels set up the European Union of Writers, "one of Goebbels's most ambitious projects for Nazi cultural hegemony. Presumably a means of gathering authors from Germany, Italy, and the occupied countries to plan the literary life of the new Europe, the union soon emerged as a vehicle of German cultural imperialism."
For other parts of Europe, Robert Gerwarth, writing about cultural imperialism and Reinhard Heydrich, states that the "Nazis' Germanization project was based on a historically unprecedented programme of racial stock-taking, theft, expulsion and murder." Also, "The full integration of the [Czech] Protectorate into this New Order required the complete Germanization of the Protectorate's cultural life and the eradication of indigenous Czech and Jewish culture."
The actions by Nazi Germany reflect on the notion of race and culture playing a significant role in imperialism. The idea that there is a distinction between the Germans and the Jews has created the illusion of Germans believing they were superior to the Jewish inferiors, the notion of us/them and self/others.[relevant?– discuss]
See Americanization and Cocacolonization.
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- "In Praise of Cultural Imperialism?", by David Rothkopf, Foreign Policy no. 107, Summer 1997, pp. 38–53, which argues that cultural imperialism is a positive thing.
- "Reconsidering cultural imperialism theory" by Livingston A. White, Transnational Broadcasting Studies no. 6, Spring/Summer 2001, which argues that the idea of media imperialism is outdated.
- Academic Web page from 24 February 2000, discussing the idea of cultural imperialism
- "Cultural Imperialism", BBC Radio 4 discussion with Linda Colley, Phillip Dodd and Mary Beard (In Our Time, June 27, 2002)