American Culture in the 1980s

By Graham Thompson | Go to book overview
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Chapter 5
American Culture and Globalization

Cultural Imperialism

If globalization is taken to mean the proliferation of connections and dependencies between different geographical locations across the world, or what John Tomlinson has called ‘complex connectivity’,1 then this proliferation should not necessarily be understood to be a development of recent date. Even if globalization were considered to be driven by modernity, the problem arises of how to date that modernity and whether modernity itself should be reduced to a series of social and political changes such as industrialization, urbanization and the rise of the nation state; or whether globalization as it has developed in the twentieth century marks a historical break with modernity and a new phase of social experience. These are complex issues about the conceptualization of history and periodization in which the place of any single decade recedes into the background. For the purposes of this book, one particular strand of the debates around globalization can help to clear the way to think about the US in the 1980s. This is the idea that globalization, certainly in the post-World War II period, is synonymous with a process of Americanization in which the US attempts to exert its control and influence across the globe by cultural as well as economic, political and military means.

The historical back story to this process can be seen in recent developments in the study of US culture that increasingly emphasize the imperialist tendency of US national consolidation in the nineteenth century and the way in which the settling of the continent during this period relied upon the violent acquisition of territory by the displacement of Indians and the US-Mexican War (1846–8), for instance supported by ideological justifications for this process, particularly the doctrine of Manifest Destiny. Culture played an important part in


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