Culture Imperiled or Enriched?
On August 12, 1999, José Bové, an obscure Frenchman, and a group of other farmers entered the town of Millau in southwestern France and flattened a McDonald's that was still under construction. 1 The rubble was driven, in a celebratory fashion and much like a corpse in a hearse, through the town on trucks and tractors and dumped on its outskirts. With a theatrical flourish that the French language accentuates, he proclaimed: “The object was to have a non-violent but symbolically forceful action, in broad daylight and with the largest participation possible. … I believe that the French people have already made a decision about this case—they are with us in this fight against junk food and against globalization.”
By fusing culture and agriculture, Bové was tapping into two of France's obsessions: the American threat to French culture—and who can deny that the French cuisine is one of France's cultural triumphs, even greater than its cinema?—and the threat to French agriculture from the spread of the Anglo-Saxon-led policies on trade liberalization that have intensified globalization.
As put exquisitely by Jean-Michel Normand in Le Monde:“McDonald's … commercial hegemony threatens our agriculture and its cultural hegemony insidiously ruins alimentary behaviour—both sacred reflections of the French identity.” Believe it or not, Alain Rollat of Le Monde joined the lament and the alarm, declaring, “Resistance to the hegemonic pretenses of hamburgers is, above all, a cultural imperative.” 2
But the leveling of McDonald's also had an immense international salience because it was simultaneously a symbolic act of defiance pandering to two of today's profound prejudices: anti-Americanism and antiglobalization. BBC News reported that Bové, the plucky Frenchman, was