Entry: Milk Is Homogenized, Culture Is Not Tuesday, April 06, 2004



I keep hearing people talk about different, generally non-US, non-Western cultures becoming more "Americanized". It's spoken with a disdainful, wistful tone, as if yearning for days of greater cultural diversity.

Yet where's the proof that cultures aren't diverse? Is it that they are not, to many Western eyes, the romanticized, blissfully non-Western ways of living that too often get portrayed in exotic novels? Is it that those seeing American influence in other cultures, have failed to notice all the changes those cultures have had on the West?

Kick Out the Chili, Asia, It's a South American Import!
The people of other cultures did not develop their ways of living so they could be a spectator event for Western tourists or college students interested in bucking the norm of their "just plain folks" parents. All cultures develop and change in response to their physical environment, the attitudes of leaders, the natural progression of thought and ideas.

Cultures also change in response to their contact with other cultures. Asian cooking, with its wonderful chilies, would not exist as it does if not for the Western traders who introduced the chili to Asia. Columbus brought chilies back to Europe from South America. Within 50 years, chilies were being cultivated in Africa, India, Asia, China, Middle East, Balkans, Central Europe and Italy. Not even Starbucks is that hot.

Should Americana Renounce Its Asiana?
All cultures have changed -- including Western cultures, and especially American. Much of that influence is due to contact with non-Western cultures. In the US, for example, Thai and Chinese food are two of the most-loved and most-popular cuisines in the country. More and more people study yoga, tai chi, and kung fu, be it for physical improvement or spiritual balance. A child growing up today is just as likely to study karate or tae kwon do as they are to play soccer. We look to feng sui to guide us in more harmonious home arrangements. Does that make us less "American", or make American culture more homogenized? If anything, many would say that this is a positive change -- American thinking and outlook on life are changing, becoming more well-rounded.

Cultural Condescension
I don't think it's intentional, but this attitude of other cultures being less "traditional" or more "homogenized" carries a certain condescension with it. Americans thrive on adapting their cultures by taking in aspects of other cultures, yet then complain if those other cultures do the same thing. It implies that Americans may benefit from other cultures, but that those cultures are supposed to stay as they are, and do not have the right to grow and change, to import new ideas and ways of living.

Yet as long as the West has brought elements of other cultures into its own, why wouldn't other cultures do the same? When an English band such as the Beatles brings India's sitar into their music, and when college students in Eugene, Oregon, read the Tao Te Ching and decorate their rooms with Buddhas or Hindu art and sculptures, why wouldn't an Indian be interested in blue jeans? Or a Thai in the Outback Steakhouse? Is a Chinese derogatorily "less Chinese" because they take an interest in Van Gogh or Frank Lloyd Wright, or Sheryl Crow and David Mamet?

Or perhaps the real scoundrel and focus of dislike in this, is corporate imperialism. There's an Outback Steakhouse in Bangkok, and a McDonald's in Bombay. They are a scant percentage of a percentage of the locally owned restaurants and stalls that feed the bellies and souls of people in these countries. Might that change? Perhaps. Though if it does, it will be because people keep wanting to go to them. And they have that right, just as surely as any American has the right to eat at a local Indian restaurant. Just as the Outback or McDonald's open up overseas, that Indian restaurant also has the right to respond to growing customer demand too, and open a second branch in a different part of town -- right next to an Applebee's, even.

Are people more "Western" nowadays? Sure. But the west is also a lot more Eastern, or just less traditionally Western, than it was 50 or 25 or even 10 years ago. Even if other cultures are different, or less traditional, so what? It's their culture, and it exists for their livelihood and benefit, not someone else's amusement and nostalgia.

   9 comments

lolo
April 22, 2004   08:10 AM PDT
 
Nysh made an interesting point that I think deserves more notice. Is American democracy an exportable product? I think that the answer is a resounding no. American democracy arose out of the particular conditions which influenced this countries creation. We originally had the Articles of Confederation, which we used for a good 6 years before we learned that they just werenīt working at all. The constitution came about through trial and error and responding to the needs of the populace.

I think that listening to the voice of the people is a good idea when making a government- though ideally I personally would like to see little to no government. So, in situations like Iraq, where we are forcefully trying to impose american style government onto a culture that is not very similar to ours in any way these things need to be taken into consideration. Additionally, the practice of tying aid money to "democratic reforms"does little but force our view of "America has the best govīt ever and you should all emulate it" onto a country. As long as they are working at their own pace to bring about the type of government that they want, we should be satisfied. Tying aid with reforms does two things, I think. First, it is a way of increasing American hegemony in that region. Most of these countries are at a pre-development level and their economies are suffering from years of corrupt officials leaching funds and having local economies usurped by multinationals importing goods. These countries are then more and more reliant on the US for money for development. Itīs a vicious circle. They need more money, so we force them to open their markets more, causing more of the same problems in perpetuity. Secondly, aside from economic hegemony, you see the importation of idealogical hegemony. We force countries to adopt similar views to ours. This is always going to backfie. In countries like Iraq, where there is a predominantly muslim population, we are denying any handover of power due to the pessure to form an Iran-style religious government. This causes more tension, more fighting, and more hatred. I find myself wondering, in this situation would they benefit from Balkanization? Give the Kurds the Northern region that they already inhabit, then allow the rest of Iraq to create a muslim government? I have gotten off the topic, but that happens. My mind moves faster than my fingers and I have limited time here at this hostel.
Iīll read this again later, after Iīve had some sleep and Iīam not still drunk from the revels of last night. Nice to see that thereīs still some discussion thriving here, as the Tribe seems to have devolved to one word posts.
Antsaint
April 16, 2004   09:28 PM PDT
 
Thanx Dig. These comments are getting of the post topic, but ah, what the hell. This is fun :-)

I at first typed up this big long reply, but I don't think most of it is truly relevant. Most of the skills I've learned, I didn't get from college - I learned them on my own time. I don't care what your class is, what your education or lack of is. For me personally, my life has included "middle class" elements, and it's also come from a lot of crap that would make a great "working class" or "lower class" soap opera. All these class terms, btw, I say with no intended meaning, mainly because the whole damn class obsession gets on my nerves.

One thing remains constant though, and this is my reply: how do you answer, and how do you live the answer, to this question - "What are you going to do, with what you've got?"

Dig
April 15, 2004   10:11 PM PDT
 
Ant, you are forgetting something important when you say;

" I live in a town where everyone bitches and moans about not being able to find work. After a few weeks temping at a place, my supervisor and I created a job for me, because I asked him what he needed and told him how I could fulfill it. Jobs aren't lying under rocks waiting for people to turn them over - you gotta make your own way."

You are forgetting that you have important skills (specific to this job, Web Design skills). You have had the benefit of an education, and of a fairly middle class (as I understand it) life. Many people lack those skills.

Also, the unemployment rate in Eugene is approaching 9%. That's one of the highest in the country. There really aren't a lot of jobs for some people. While you seem to have succeded like a madman, I spent months plasering everyplace in Eugene with application materials and didn't hear a word back. Unemployment isn't lazyness, because not all (or even most) of the unemployed are lazy. On the other hand, many of the lazy are indeed unemployed. You fell into one of the conservative falacies. Oops.
antsaint
April 15, 2004   09:47 PM PDT
 
Good arguments, and no offense taken; I hope my own replies cause no offense to you mate.

"Chili is also grown in Asia, and is not a South American import" - sorry, I think you missed the context. Chilis are grown in Asia *now*, but they were introduced to Asia by the Europeans.

"There are thousnads of people without jobs,"

There are also thousands of people who believe that jobs should be handed to them, not that they have to earn their way or make their way. I live in a town where everyone bitches and moans about not being able to find work. After a few weeks temping at a place, my supervisor and I created a job for me, because I asked him what he needed and told him how I could fulfill it. Jobs aren't lying under rocks waiting for people to turn them over - you gotta make your own way.

"Is everyone's opinion heard? Are we all as free as the Bill of Rights allow us to be? I hardly think so."

I'm in China right now. I was able to view Downfall just long enough to pull up the comments window. Then the main page got kicked to a page saying that I can't view that site. That's not a problem I've ever seen in the States.

What is the worth of everyone's opinion on every topic? Sometimes someone's opinion might be how they view something, but that doesn't make it valuable to the discussion or issue at-hand.

Beyond that though, are that rights matter only when you assert them. If rights are being eroded, the people doing the eroding are in the wrong - but so are those letting it happen. Giving some self-justifying BS about inherent rights doesn't cut it - you have to stand up for them too.
Nysh
April 12, 2004   10:20 PM PDT
 
sorry, i didn't realise the last comment : ie the soup with beans. Ignore the first part of my argument.
Also please don't be offended by my argument. It's just an argument. Don't take it too personally, I don't mean it to be so. :)
Nysh
April 12, 2004   10:18 PM PDT
 
Chili is also grown in Asia, and is not a South American import.

Just because people do things that are not "American" doesn't mean that their morals and values have changed. Moderating is one thing, while imposing (such as America is doing to Iraq) is another. Yes, I agree. America has moderated, changed, but how much? who are the people most shown in movies? Those which follow American ideology. You won't ever have a strict Hindu family becoming a successful American because their values aren't portrayed in Indian culture. And yet, in India, Hindi movies often show America as a land of destiny.

But the argument is really, whether American democracy is always the answer (the idea they want to impose on Asia). I hardly see it working in USA though. There are thousnads of people without jobs, people who can't afford Medical aid, because Medic Aid is such a pathetic piece of legislation. Is everyone's opinion heard? Are we all as free as the Bill of Rights allow us to be? I hardly think so.
hmmm
April 8, 2004   08:41 AM PDT
 
I meant the soup like stuff made with beans. Not the actual pepper. :)
Ant
April 7, 2004   10:00 AM PDT
 
Could be - the sources I found were saying that the Europeans first found them in Brazil... or did you mean groceries nowadays? :-)

hmm..
April 6, 2004   03:46 PM PDT
 
chili is actually a mexican import most likely. ;)

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