Americanization or Globalization?

Americanization or Globalization?

PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS ARTICLE IS FROM 2006. VISIT OUR HOMEPAGE FOR NEW CONTENT.

A Ugandan writer explores the meaning of globalization and the growing influence of American culture around the world.
Global socio-political issues never cease to fascinate any interested soul. From the times of civilization came the era of colonialism then independence. This was followed by the cold war era where The Soviets were slowly but surely out-smarted by the more versatile capitalists of the day.

The post cold war era led to the increasing influence of what some people these days call quasi-governments (such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank).

The IMF and World Bank consequently took on the role of the world's economic ‘police' telling particularly poorer nations how to spend their money. In order to receive more aid, these Bretton Woods institutions demanded that countries open up their economies to liberalization under Structural Adjustment Programmes that encouraged governments to fund privatization programmes, ahead of welfare and public services. Concurrently we had the influence of multinational organisations like the United Nations Organisation also greatly formatting global issues.

Fast-forward to the new millennium things took a different path. All of a sudden we were being pumped with rhetoric titled globalization. Globalization is an umbrella term for a complex series of economic, social, technological, and political changes seen as increasing interdependence and interaction between people and companies in disparate locations. In general use within the field of economics and political economy, it refers to the increasing integration of economies around the world, particularly through trade and financial flows. The term sometimes also refers to the movement of people (labour) and knowledge (technology) across international borders. There are also broader cultural, political and environmental dimensions of globalization. For the common man it was always argued that the world had become like a global village of sorts.
Globalization is an umbrella term for a complex series of economic, social, technological and political changes seen as increasing interdependence and interaction between people and companies in disparate locations.


At its most basic, there is nothing mysterious about globalization. But not so fast, some people are now arguing that globalization has mainly benefited the already strong economies of the world and it has given them leverage to not only trade with the rest of the world but to also influence their general lifestyles and politics. Proponents of the school of thought contend that countries like U.S.A are using the globalization as an engine of "corporate imperialism"; one which tramples over the human rights of developing societies, claims to bring prosperity, yet often simply amounts to plundering and profiteering.

Another negative effect of globalization has been cultural assimilation via cultural imperialism. This can be further explained as a situation of exporting of artificial wants, and the destruction or inhibition of authentic local cultures. This brings me to the gist of my submission. At a closer look, globalization is slowly shifting towards Americanization. Have you heard the word "Americanization"? Well in the early 1900's Americanization meant taking new immigrants and turning them into Americans...whether they wanted to give up their traditional ways or not. This process often involved learning English and adjusting to American culture, customs, and dress.

Critics now say globalization is nothing more than the imposition of American culture on the entire world. In fact, the most visible sign of globalization seems to be the spread of American hamburgers and cola (Pepsi and Coca Cola products) to nearly every country on earth. The song Amerika by the German rock band Rammstein is often seen as a satire of Americanization. It has received mixed reviews: some perceive it as anti-American, others as being opposed to globalization. The band views it as a satirical commentary on "cocacolonization".
The most visible sign of globalization seems to be the spread of American hamburgers and cola to nearly every country on earth.


According to information from Globalisation.about.com even globalization champions like Thomas Friedman see it. In a recent column describing why terrorists hate the United States, Friedman wrote: "...globalization is in so many ways Americanization: globalization wears Mickey Mouse ears, it drinks Pepsi and Coke, eats Big Macs, does its computing on an IBM laptop with Windows 98. Many societies around the world can't get enough of it, but others see it as a fundamental threat."

The rest of the world seems to be following Uncle Sam (U.S.A) and leaving behind its authentic ways of life. This has not spared even the ‘air tight' Chinese society. Americanization is the contemporary term used for the influence the United States of America has on the culture of other countries, substituting their culture with American culture. When encountered unwillingly, it has a negative connotation; when sought voluntarily, it has a positive connotation.

How Are We Being Americanized?


U.S.A, which has the world's biggest economy and strongest known army, has taken gigantic steps in persuading the rest of the world to think and act like them. Many people especially the Europeans have often despised Americans saying they have no culture. But as any sociologist will tell you, even having no culture is a culture in itself. So for many years, the land of immigrants has been on a process of creating an identity and hence a culture. Now they seem to be selling their culture to the rest of the world as anew and improved product of what we all have as culture.

As far as fashion is concerned, the casual ‘American' style of wearing Jeans, T-Shirts and sports shoes is now common and acceptable in many places. For the office it is not rare to see someone wearing tight jeans with a long sleeved shirt plus a tie. His defence is of course that it is the American style (read modern). Cowboy hats, boots and large silver belt buckles are also a common imitation of the dress style of American especially those from Texas and Arizona. The American music industry has also gone a long way in influencing the dress culture of other people around the world. What about the example youths have picked up from famous American rap artists like 50-cent, Eminem, Tupac Shakur (R.I.P) and Snoop Dogg with their flashy fashions characterized by what is commonly known as "bling bling" (expensive shiny jewellery and watches). Look at the music played in the Nyamirambo bound taxis and you will be amazed at how it matches with the dress style of the passengers!
The casual ‘American' style of wearing Jeans, T-Shirts and sports shoes is now common and acceptable in many places.


Around the world the United States is perhaps best known for it's numerous and successful fast food franchises. Such chains, including McDonald's, Burger King, and Kentucky Fried Chicken are known for selling simply, pre-prepared meals of foods such as hamburgers, French fries (chips), soft drinks, fried chicken, and ice cream. Though undeniably popular, such food, with its emphasis on deep-frying, has been criticized by dietitians in recent decades for being unhealthy and a cause of obesity. It has thus become somewhat of a stereotype to associate American cuisine with obesity and junk food. The whole world now is full of similar eating joints. In Africa many are referred to as take-aways.

Popular Culture


This transmission of American culture has been mainly through several conduits with the number one medium being the electronic media. Television in particular has done a lot in Americanizing those who view images especially from Hollywood. The guys in Hollywood have made us to adore the tough cigar-smoking guys in the Casinos, the thin shapely long legged women, and to dream about rags-to-riches stories that are a common tag line of the movies. We now adore jazz, hip-hop, rap music, country music as well as gospel music all of which were pioneered by the United States.

And trust us in following the Uncle Sam; many countries now have equivalents of the American awards of Oscars for the movies and Grammy's for the music. Just check out the PAM awards in Uganda or the Kisima awards in Kenya, not forgetting the continental Kora awards held annually in South Africa. Many countries have also gone a head to construct theme parks basing on the American Disney World model. Americanization has also led to the popularity and acceptability of what is known as American English. I have seen many posters here in Rwanda of schools claiming to teach American English. Many youths are now using this type of English considering it ‘modern'.

We ought not to ignore the heavy influence that the United States has demonstrated in the development of the Internet and it's subsequent control. Remember the conference that was held at the beginning of this year in Tunisia where nations were complaining about the control the US has over the Internet. They were proposing that instead an international body should take over but the conference ended in defeat of this line of argument. The iPod, the most popular gadget for portable digital music, is also American invention.
The number one medium for the transmission of American culture has been through electronic media, television in particular.


American sports especially basketball have now become famous worldwide especially among college students. However other games like baseball and American football have not been easily adopted by other people in the world, as has been the case with basketball. Soccer, which is known to be the world's most popular sport, is not so popular in the US. However the US women's soccer team is one the of the world's premier women's sides.

War on Terrorism


Americans have also been known to spear heard the spread of the Pentecostal, Charismatic, Evangelical or born again religious movements worldwide. American preachers are always globetrotting all in the name of spreading the word of ‘Gad'. We should not ignore the fact that the United States Constitution enshrined individual freedom of religious practice, which courts have since interpreted to mean that the government is a secular institution, an idea called "separation of church and state". This notion of separating religion from the state is one of the controversial aspects of exporting American culture. This is embedded in the Bush administration's "War on terror" which some have gone ahead to read as a war on Islam. This controversial American policy is what inspired Prof. Mamdani to write a book titled, " Bad Muslim good Muslim".

America, which has thousands of military servicemen around the world, has of late been preoccupied with fighting terror in Afghanistan, Iraq and it is getting ready to deal with the Iran problem soon. Actually some people are already speculating that the current crisis between Israel and Hezbollah is a precursor to America's war with Iran. That US is supporting the Olmert government to keep bombing Lebanon until Iran which is said to be the Godfather of Hezbollah gets angry enough to join the war. At this point it is argued that the US will join hands with Israel and fight the Iran government because "they have weapons of mass destruction". At the end of the war as usual US will be expected by many viewers to have conquered another oil producing country.

Many see the War on terror as a veil for acquiring cheap oil to run the US economy. Returning to the Israeli conflict with Hezbollah, one can not fail to see an American tone in the whole conflict. Do you remember the first people to use the word "collateral damage"? This was what Americans first used to describe the death of innocent civilians and destruction of infrastructure by ‘precision' missiles during the Afghan war after the 9/11. This was an excuse used for having bombed the Chinese Embassy and a Red Cross facility during the war. Now compare it with the death of thousand of Lebanese civilians and the destruction of hundreds of buildings. The death of UN officers and the recent Qana massacre can be accurately referred to as collateral damage by the Israeli government.

The notion of separating religion from the state is one of the controversial aspects of exporting American culture and is embedded in the Bush administration's "war on terror" which some have gone ahead to read as a war on Islam.
This notion of separating religion from the state is one of the controversial aspects of exporting American culture. This is embedded in the Bush administration's "War on terror" which some have gone ahead to read as a war on Islam.

The apparent determination by the US to appoint itself "Mr. Fix it all" is a somewhat naive but optimistic belief among Americans that all problems can be fixed with enough commitment and effort. This sometimes leads America into problematic situations such as Vietnam and Iraq. In some cases though, American fix it all attitude has positively led to large outpouring of humanitarianism. This is clearly evidenced by the enormous aid that Americans especially at the individual level, are sending to poor nations. Americans like Bill Gates and CNN's Ted turner are some of the world's biggest donors.

In conclusion, therefore, the global stage is at a period of American conquest in many different ways than you can imagine. Globalization seems to be hijacked by the Americans. The world also seems to be clamouring for more of the Yankee lifestyle. However simply dismissing -- or demonizing -- globalization as mere Americanization is misleading. Globalization has the ability to alter much more than just the movies or food consumed by a society. And the results can be powerfully positive, devastatingly negative, or (more often) something in between.




Contributed by Allan Brian Ssenyonga, a Ugandan freelance writer for The New Times, an English daily in Rwanda. He holds a bachelor's degree in Adult and Community Education and works as a secondary school teacher in Rwanda. Reprinted with permission from The New Times.

To read another Global Envision article about globalization and American culture, see Americanization vs. Globalization.



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