Globalization Unchecked: How Alien Media Suffocate Real Culture

To sell products, global media also sell ideas, often one-sided, and create unjustifiable fascinations with ways of life that hardly represent natural progression for many vanishing cultures and communities around the world.

By Ramzy Baroud
Published November 18, 2009

A Muslim family sits across of me in cafe, in a largely Muslim Asia country. An older woman shyly hunches over and desperately trying to avoid eye contact with the giant plasma screen TV, blazing loud music on the popular music video channel, MTV. The scantily-dressed presenter introduces her 'top song' for the week. Beyonce, dressed in so very little, reiterates that she is "a single lady."

The old woman's son is mesmerized by what he sees. He pays no attention to his mother, young wife or even his own son who wreaks havoc in the coffee shop. The man's t-shirt reads: "what the f--- are you looking at?"

Respecting the message on his t-shirt, I try to keep to myself, but find it increasingly difficult. The wife is completely covered, all but her face. The contradictions are ample, overwhelming even.

The attire of the family, the attitude of the ladies and even the man with the provocative t-shirt are all signs of the cultural schizophrenia that permeates many societies in the so-called Third World. It's a side effect of globalization that few wish to talk about.

It's almost always about trade, foreign investment, capital flow and all the rest. But what about culture, identity, traditions and ways of life; do these things amount to anything?

True, globalization has various manifestations. If viewed strictly from economic terms, then the debate delves into trade barriers, protectionism and tariffs. Powerful countries demand smaller countries to break down all trade barriers, while maintaining a level of protectionism over their own.

Smaller countries, knowing that they cannot do much to hide from the hegemonic nature of globalization, form their own economic clubs, hoping to negotiate fairer deals. And the economic tug-of-war continues, between diplomacy and threats, dialogue and arm twisting. This is the side of globalization with which most of us are familiar.

But there is another side of globalization, one that is similarly detrimental to some countries, and profitable to others: cultural globalization. Not necessarily the domination of a specific culture, in this case Western culture, over all the rest - but rather the unbridgeable disadvantage of poorer countries, who lack the means to withstand the unmitigated takeover of their traditional ways of life by the dazzling, well-packaged and branded 'culture' imparted upon them around the clock.

What audiences watch, read and listen to in most countries outside the Western hemisphere is not truly Western culture in the strict definition of the term, of course. It's a selective brand of a culture, a reductionst presentation of art, entertainment, news, and so on, as platforms to promote ideas that would ultimately sell products.

For the dwarfed representation of Western culture, it's all about things, tangible material values that can be obtained by that simple and final act of pulling out one's credit card. To sell a product, however, media also sell ideas, often one-sided, and create unjustifiable fascinations with ways of life that hardly represent natural progression for many vanishing cultures and communities around the world.

Recently in a Gulf country, a few Turkish teenagers turned an internet cafe into a shouting match as they engaged one another in some violent computer game. I desperately tried to mind my own business, but their shrieks of victory and defeat were deafening. "Kill the Terrorist", one of them yelled in English, with a thick Turkish accent. The "Rs" in "terrorists" rolled over his tongue so unnaturally.

For a moment, he was an "American", killing "terrorists", who, bizarrely looked more Turkish than American. As I walked out, I glanced at the screen. Among the rubble, there was a mosque, or what was left of it. The young Turkish Muslim was congratulated by his friends for his handiwork.

There is nothing wrong with exchanges of ideas, of course. Cultural interactions are historically responsible for much of the great advancements and evolution in art, science, language, even food and much more.

But prior to globalization, cultural influences were introduced at much slower speed. It allowed societies, big and small, to reflect, consider, and adjust to these unique notions over time. But the globalization of the media is unfair. It gives no chance for mulling anything over, for determining the benefits or the harms, for any sort of value analysis.

News, music and pornography are beamed directly to all sorts of screens and gadgets. When Beyonce sings she is a 'single lady', the whole world must know, instantly. This may sound like a harmless act, but the cultural contradictions eventually morph into conflicts and clashes, in figurative and real senses.

More, it makes little sense, for example, that Asian audiences are consumers of Fox News and Sky News, while both are regarded as right-wing platforms in their original markets.

And what can Nepali television, for example, do to control media moguls and morphing media empires all around? Young people grow, defining themselves according to someone else's standards, thus the Turkish teenager, temporarily adopting the role of the "American", blows up his own mosque.

Globalization is not a fair game, of course. Those with giant economies get the lion's share of the 'collective' decision-making. Those with more money and global outlook tend to have influential media, also with global outlook.

In both scenarios, small countries are lost between desperately trying to negotiate a better economic standing for themselves, while hopelessly trying to maintain their cultural identity, which defined their people, generation after generation throughout history.

The Muslim family eventually left the coffee shop. The husband watched MTV throughout his stay; the young wife, clicked endlessly on her iPhone, and the older woman glanced at the TV from time to time, then quickly looked the other way.

One is certain that a few years ago, that family would have enjoyed an entirely different experience. Alas, a few years from today, they might not even sit at the same table.

Ramzy Baroud is an author and editor of www.palestinechronicle.com. His work has been published in many newspapers and journals worldwide. His latest book is The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle (Pluto Press, London).


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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted November 18, 2009 at 13:32:31

Definitely visible in places like the Ukraine as well to this day... and definitely sad, but somewhat inevitable.

I really wonder what this will look like when the primary influence on culture is no longer Western as well.. I especially remember this blog post (it references a couple decent sources/books, good comments as well). In any case, it's much different from the articles you'd read about American culture and Asia from the late 90s.


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By cal difalco (registered) - website | Posted November 18, 2009 at 20:09:57

I found this article interesting. While elements of different cultures will collide and strain what was previously thought of as the "norms" specific to the culture in question, I suppose the other side of this is that exposure to different cultural influences, may contribute positively toward the building of tolerance.

Well written Ramzy.


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By Chris Angel (registered) | Posted November 20, 2009 at 11:09:06

Well written Ramzy. I think much of what is happening in the world today especially suicide is the result of cultural displacement. In many places young people can no longer realistically aspire to traditional lifestyles. When a young man can not even obtain work what hope is there that he will ever marry or have a family? Western lifestyles with it's emphasis on materialism is equally or still further out of reach if it is not abhorred. In the west we have had generations to adjust to cultural change. Some countries are barely at a 19th century technological level and so it is little wonder then that in such regions fundamentalism is so attractive. A promise to turn back the clock and return to an idealized time. Lies that adherents will recapture much of the lifestyle of their ancestors but most importantly that they will at last have a chance for dignity and the respect of their culture. What other choices are there until as Meredith stated the west is no longer the primary influence on culture? When you have millions of culturally displaced people an awful resonance builds which is bound to echo violently for many years. If the west was to start today building schools and assisting development it would take many years before alternatives appear. It has to be done though and the west has to ensure that other cultures do not mistake entertainment, commercial media, television and their excesses for western culture.

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By cheek (anonymous) | Posted November 20, 2009 at 11:49:35

"Some countries are barely at a 19th century technological level and so it is little wonder then that in such regions fundamentalism is so attractive." ...like America?

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By cal difalco (registered) - website | Posted November 20, 2009 at 23:50:50

WRCU2. I read your post with interest. i think it holds true when we are dealing with what a reasonable person would deem to be a "bad influence". It doesn't hold true when we are dealiong with what a reasonable person would deem to be a good influence. I understand why you went where you went, (because the article cited some negative influences). I was looking at the flip side. ie: where the influence was rooted in a positive thought or movement.


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