Global Culture or national culture

By Denise Phelps


This week I really found Sinclairs readings on global culture very interesting.  His ideas about the national becoming  internationalized and his belief in a shift from cultural imperialism to global culture, really resonated with me. In many respects I see what he means, but I also question in what respects this is shaped by capitalist economics.  I see international bodies like UNESCO and powerful countries like the U.S. using their influence to promote a ‘global culture’ but it is one that is shaped more in their benefit than in others.  I’m  not saying that the good intentions are’nt there, but I would question weather the matter in which  global culture is promoted is done in a way that really allows for it to be multi directional.  My interpretation is that global culture is only being promoted as a front for Western culture.

I don’t think there is much doubt that the time-space dynamic is changing the social, cultural and political spheres in which we live.   We are now able to travel all over the world in a few hours, and people the world over are interacting and influencing one another in ways unimaginable only a generation ago.  Just today I had  Turkish, Thai and then some Sushi.  However, I think what is most relevant is a countries ability to not just receive others information, culture, and ideas but also to export their own.   Everyone knows American music, and American movies, and can name 15 of their favorite American actors, but American’s access to the foreign is much more limited.  There are many arguments for why this is, ranging  from: we are ethnocentric, to America is a big country we have enough going on that we don’t need to pay attention to anyone else.   Regardless of how many immigrants we have or how many different languages are spoken in a given city, our overall awareness of what other people are doing and experiencing: their music, movies, newspapers, is much more limited.   When I returned from being abroad I craved movies and music from Eastern Europe.  I wanted to get my hands on some of my favorites and I wanted to explore new ones.  I couldn’t find hardly anything.  Even with companies like Netflix, having huge databases, their foreign section is incredibly limited.  Sure you can find the odd French film, or German drama.  But even ones that are already made with English subtitles or dubbing can’t be found here.  What about places like Finland, and Ukraine, or Portugal?  Isn’t there something that they have to offer our “global culture”?  And why if it really is global do we not know anything about them, or even have access to the media they create?

I’m sure you’re thinking, there’s the internet you can find anything on the internet.   I would argue that the idea of a ‘global culture’ isn’t about searching things out on the internet.  It is about exposure to different cultures and ideas without initially seeking them out.  In order for there to be a global culture, there needs to be equal amounts of exposure all over the world not just in countries that consume American media.

Is this lack of multi-directional information flow due to an unabalanced and American biased “global culture”, or is it meerly a product of supply and demand?  Do not many Americans want to have access to these things?  Do people living half way across the world really want to see all of these Hollywood movies?  Or are we just exporting our American consumerism as “global culture”  because it’s more digestible?  Everyone else consumes our goods and media, and culture.  But really how much of theirs do we consume in turn?

In answer to my own questions I think that one of the reasons why we don’t have access to many of these foreign media types is because there isn’t a demand.  But the demand isn’t there because the exposure isn’t there to create the demand.  I think there is potential for a real ‘global culture’  but it would require certain countries like the U.S.  letting go of some of their nationalism and being willing to consume media from other places.


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