Thursday, January 17, 2008

Cultural Globalization

Tyler Cowen has an interesting piece on the topic over at Mint. The article pretty much echoes what Cris Lingle had to say at a forum I was involved in late last year. The backlash against cultural globalization is inevitable and understandable. A group of people in every society have certain attachments to what they perceive as “their culture” and whenever those traits are seen to be disappearing rapidly; there will be a backlash from some quarters. Cris called this a “Clash of Generations”, he saw it as a battle between young people who want to change things around while the generations before wanting to keep things the way they are. That’s probably true, although I could show few young people who’d viscously defend what they call the “Sri Lankan Culture”.

This backlash, as Tyler argues is healthy as it keeps things in check, as long as one keeps a sense of perspective. It’s perspective that’s unfortunately missing from those who oppose this inevitability.

Cultural globalization is made to be seen as something which comes only from “them to us” and in most cases simply put down to “Americanization”. This clearly is not the case. First of all when “it” does indeed comes from “them to us”, it doesn’t arrive pre-packaged, in fact its always localized, after all (contrary to what left-wing conspiracy theorists may tell you) the “west” is not out to colonize everywhere else, they (and by they, I mean those companies) are just here to make some revenue for themselves. The only way they can do that is to give us something we’d want to have. Tyler notices this when he says,
..some of the chains such as McDonald’s bend towards local taste with curry and tikka and lamb burger. Going out to eat is often more for the air conditioning than for the food.
I can think of many more examples, but most striking perhaps is what I encountered in Bangalore where I found a KFC restaurant with a vegetarian section. That’s right. Kentucky Fried Chicken has a pure vegetarian section. In Sri Lanka too the KFC’s, McDonald’s sells their version of Kottu. Not to mention the many Chinese restaurants serving what’s probably closer to local food than Chinese.

Tyler also speaks about the flip side,
In my home town of Fairfax, Virginia, it is now easier to get a good dosa than a good hamburger, but it still feels like America, albeit a different America than that of 1953.
Tyler of course doesn’t worry much about this, but there are people in the U.S. who especially in light of the emerging population patterns, issues of identity will become an emerging topic in U.S. politics. I’d say everyone should appreciate humanity and just take a chill pill, cultural globalization is inevitable, but it certainly won’t be Americanization nor one-way traffic. Sri Lankans are more likely to wear Kurthas and sing Baila than to flip burgers while listening to dirty rap.

Read Tyler Cowen’s article and Chris Lingle’s talk.

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