One of the principal concerns about the new globalization of culture that is supposedly taking place is that it not only leads to a homogenization of world culture, but also that it largely represents the “Americanization” of world cultures.
The spread of American corporations abroad has various consequences on local cultures, some very visible, and others more subtle. For example, the influence of American companies on other countries’ cultural identity can be seen with regard to food, which matters on two levels. First, food itself is in many countries an integral aspect of the culture. Second, restaurants can influence the mores and habits in societies where they operate.
The French are proud of having a localized cuisine, including crepes and pastries, which reflects their unique culture. Because of their pride in their cuisine, some French people are concerned that U.S. food restaurants crowd out their own products with fast food. Some French people would argue that fast food does not belong in the French society and is of lower quality than their own.
Moreover, food restaurants not only affect eating habits, but they also influence the traditions and habits in countries where they are located. Starbucks causes cultural concerns in Italy because of the association that Italians make between coffee and leisurely sidewalk cafes. Coffee in Italy is more than a drink; it is part of the way of life and Italian mores.
While in the United States it is common for people to buy takeaway coffee for drinking in the street or office, in Italy people usually prefer to relax and chat with peers while drinking coffee. Coffee shops offer a personal, friendly atmosphere that many Italians believe a large chain could not provide. Similarly, many people would prefer to frequent coffee shops that are each unique, while Starbucks offers a standard formula.
Another example can be seen with the worldwide influence of McDonald’s. Fittingly enough, the sociologist George Ritzer coined the term McDonaldization. In his book The McDonaldization of Society, Ritzer states that “the principles of the fast-food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society as well as of the rest of the world.” Statistics show that within the last fifty years, McDonalds has expanded to over 31,000 restaurants worldwide.
McDonaldization, Ritzer argues, is a result of globalization and, ultimately, leads to global uniformity, influencing local habits and traditions. Take, for example, the previously mentioned example of Starbucks coffee disrupting the traditional coffee culture in Italy. This sometimes leads to negative reactions, such as in the case of the Starbucks coffeehouse in the Forbidden City in central Beijing. This particular Starbucks branch, which opened in 2000, was shut down in 2007 due to heavy protests. Critics called it a stain on China’s historical legacy.
Concerns that globalization leads to a dominance of US customs and values are also present with regard to films and the entertainment industry more broadly. This is the case with French films in France, for example. As will be discussed later in the brief, governments from countries like France have attempted to intervene in the functioning of the market to try to protect their local cultural industries, by taking measures such as restricting the number of foreign films that can be shown.
But if a government imposes domestic films, TV shows, or books onto its people, it limits their choice to consume what they prefer. In other words, the government is effectively saying that it does not trust its people to make the choices that are right for them.
Throughout history, cultures have changed and evolved. Globalization may accelerate cultural change. However, because change is driven by the choice of consumers, the elements of a particular culture will inevitably reflect consumer choice.
For information on globalization and obesity, click here.
* Image: Starbucks/McDonald’s global dominion graph [Electronic image]. (2006). Retrieved June 22, 2012, from: http://consumerist.com/2006/08/starbucksmcdonalds-global-dominion-graph.html
McDonaldization: Interview with George Ritzer
May191 (2007, October 24). McDonaldization theory of George Ritzer. Retrieved June 22, 2012, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fdy1AgO6Fp4