Sep 21, 2009

The Flip Sides of Globalization

Sinclair's discussion of global culture as a more complex process that recognizes the agency of individuals to navigate their own identities was a refreshing, though perhaps slightly unsatisfying, read. On the one hand, it was nice to read about globalization from a laudatory, rather than critical, perspective. Often, when reading about issues of cultural imperialism, I find myself saying, “Yes, but there are also benefits to globalization!” I find globalization to be a fascinating process (hence entering this program), and see incredible benefits in the exchange of social processes, language, customs, traditions, food, etc., of various cultures. Is there the danger of losing one’s “authentic” culture to globalized, commodified products? Yes, absolutely. But in the same way that you have to let a child enter the big bad world on his or her own at some point so that they can grow stronger through their own mistakes, you can’t just protect a culture “for its own good” by closing it off to any outside influences.

Weaver posits that it is through exposure to other cultures that we most recognize and define our own cultures. To this end, exposure to foreign media/products and globalization would actually reinforce one’s own sense of culture and national identity. As it relates to foreign media and consumer goods, I think the greater danger towards a diverse and yet unified global culture lies in the obscurity of a product’s true origins. Hidden behind complicated chains of ownership and conglomerates, one hardly knows where any new product was conceived, tested, manufactured, marketed, etc. It is here that media and product literacy – an ability to critically analyze the media, manufacturing process and marketing that goes into these products – is key towards recognizing globalizing forces and how an “authentic” culture might be impacted. The danger is in assuming a local nature for any product, as the strengths and benefits of global culture, in my opinion, can only be realized with a consciousness of the various cultural influences at play.

To this end, the effort by companies to localize their products to national markets represents both a new hope and new dangers in supporting global culture. On the one hand, companies are recognizing that consumers favor that which is local and speaks to their own experiences. Unique cultural tropes and adaptations are then mobilized in order to localize the product for each market. Producers make an effort to understand the local culture and to adapt to it, rather than trampling a local market with a foreign product in the vein of cultural imperialism. A certain respect for culture and differences, though motivated more by the bottom line than by any idealistic notions of world peace, is thus implemented.

The danger, however, is that efforts to localize a product further obscure the variety of influences that make up that product. A cynic might say that the bully has not stopped bullying, it has just found a more subtle way to exert its influence. Here is where the Sinclair reading leaves me somewhat unsatisfied. He seems to take an idealized vision of global culture that doesn’t fully acknowledge or reconcile the real negative impacts. While it was refreshing to have the benefits of global exchange and exposure to a world of influences touted, some critical analysis is needed to gain a full perspective.

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