|Italy 2011, Apparently Free of Cultural Imperialism|
A year ago seated at a tiny expertly designed kitchen table in Parma, Italy, where I found myself in a very broad conversation about America and the world. My host sister’s father was asking me some difficult-to-answer questions. I chose to answer either flatteringly (“America loves Italy, its culture, its food, its fashion, its beautiful sights!”) or mildly (“Which countries do America hate? None!”) In response to my return of the same questions, he rattled off many countries Italy hated (Russia, Mexico, China, France, the entire Middle East) and immediately and sincerely answered “America!” when asked which countries Italy loved. I looked around the table noticing the father’s Harley Davidson shirt and my host sister’s Abercrombie sweater, though my host mother’s appearance was purely Italian (Dolce & Gabbana). As the first thing she had her daughter translate to me was “I will not speak English to her, she can speak Italian to me”, her all Italian attire fit her general attitude on the subject. Also fitting was the fact that both father and daughter eagerly spoke English to me. As someone who would never say “I love America!” with the genuine fervor that this family could, it got me thinking about how well the United States’ pop culture and identity has permeated into Italy and the global culture.
So how did the United States manage to assert its own culture and way of life as an ideal into the world culture, and in the process expand its consumer market across the globe? As expected these two realities are closely tied. Noam Chomsky helps explain an aspect of this and covers a lot of ground of the near-recent US history of the economy in his opinion piece on Al Jazeera. The US achieved and has maintained the biggest economy in the world since the 1920s, which it procured by part using imperialism to obtain cheap material and labor to begin a production based economy with high export rates. In the process it also achieved cultural imperialism and secured an enthusiastic world market for the products America manufactures. The US economy originally was able to continue to grow at such a profound rate despite the depression which shocked the 1930s due to the government’s manipulation of fiscal policy. This economic growth ushered the country into a position which allowed it to begin spreading all that was America across the world, from McDonalds to Disney to the Hollywood movie industry in general. The international fame in brand and entertainment plus the high immigration rate held by the US further perpetuated American culture and the products it presents as both modern and quality. It must be kept in mind that although the American market produces amazing and advanced products such as the airplane and the Internet, just because a culture is dominant it does not mean it is because it is better. In fact, one must often be wary of any dominant culture, ideal, or belief. Being number one often goes hand and hand with manipulative or exploitive forces meaning the dominant force is probably not in power due to its inherent superior qualities.
In the 1970s the US economy began to decline and there was a fear that Japan’s economy would surpass the United States’ in growth and size. This sparked a fear in Americans and economic practices began to shift. There was a massive deregulation of financial institutions and this slowly concentrated the wealth to those in charge of these institutions. Money and politics were now linked very tightly and the economy changed from one secure in high production to one built on the unstable and unregulated union between Wall Street and Washington. This shift led to an environment and economy so beyond the point of return to stability and normalcy that it resulted in the financial crash of 2008. The Occupy Wall Street protest was an interesting development and response in the second half of 2011, as a visual reminder to the citizens of the US who was responsible for their misfortunes as a result of the crash. One of the amazing things about Occupy Wall Street is the speed at which other Occupy movements popped up around the entire world, from big city demonstrations in London and Rome, to smaller demonstrations at universities like UC Davis and even cities as small as Parma. This is a completely different type of cultural imperialism, in this case inspired by the backlash in response to corruptness of the very institutions that originally made a living off of similar cultural imperialism. Although each Occupy Movement has its own reasons for coming about as well as its own focus, it cannot be ignored that the idea was born in the city which is the epitome of American culture, on the street that is the center of America’s economic glory and decline. I only wonder what my host family thought as they drove their Italian made Fiat past Parma’s small occupy movement, dressed as they were in American garb possibly even drinking Starbucks Italian roast coffee.
|North Beach, San Francisco LITTLE ITALY|