U.S. Pop Culture Seen as Plague; Damage, Influence May Be Exaggerated

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 31, 2004 | Go to article overview

U.S. Pop Culture Seen as Plague; Damage, Influence May Be Exaggerated


Byline: Scott Galupo, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Robert H. Bork remembers his ambivalence in 1989 as the Berlin Wall came down and dungarees and rock music poured into the former East Germany.

"You almost began to want to put the wall back up," says the former Supreme Court nominee, a tart critic of American popular culture.

If there is one proposition on which Western European elites and radical Islamists, American social conservatives and snobby latte town aesthetes all seem to agree, it is this: American popular culture is a subversive thing.

The critiques are both secular and sectarian, and they gained intensity in 2004.

French President Jacques Chirac, during a visit to Hanoi in October, accused the United States of spreading a "generalized underculture in the world."

This juggernaut of crassness, if unchecked, he suggested, will stamp out whatever folkways and native idiosyncrasies lie in its path.

"All other countries would be stifled to the benefit of American culture," Mr. Chirac warned, speaking in a city once under French dominion. "If there was a single language, a single culture, it would be a real ecological disaster."For Islamic fundamentalists, American pop culture beckons the faithful to depravity.

Sayyid Qutb, a founder of political Islamism, spotted the subversive potential as early as the late 1940s. Not in Manhattan or Hollywood, but in Greeley, Colo. At a church dance. While a disc jockey played the swing-era classic "Baby, It's Cold Outside."

"The dancing intensified," wrote Qutb, an Egyptian then studying America's education system, in his influential book "Milestones." "The hall swarmed with legs. ... Arms circled arms, lips met lips, chests met chests, and the atmosphere was full of love."

After love, license. Followed by perversion. Then chaos.

'Global theme park'

Things have gotten considerably racier since Harry S. Truman was president - and American pop culture has become ever more pervasive.

The world is way more "American." The pull of our ideals, media culture and economic opportunity works in mysterious counterpoint, and often dissonantly, with the overwhelming military might and principled clout for which we have been chided of late in the court of the "world test."

This series has considered aspects of this pervasive American influence - from ideals of freedom to language, entrepreneurial ingenuity and sports - and some of the consequences and repercussions.

Sometimes, you'd think we were the bad guys. As it turns out, though, individual national identities tend to more than hold their own against American pop culture within their borders.

But even so, not one of these countries is a serious rival to America as an international culture. (Maybe that's what's eating the French.)

Our pop culture is resented in parts of the world as evidence of a poisonous contagion. "Coca-Colonization" it's been called, another takeover of the Third World, but with a twist: imposing a cookie-cutter consumerist culture from without rather than looting natural resources from within.

American-made movies, music, television shows and pop icons are said to litter the globe, disrupting cultural ecosystems and Americanizing (read: corrupting) impressionable minds. The effects are everywhere.

Last month, an advertisement in Jerusalem featuring "Sex and the City" actress Sarah Jessica Parker hawking soap was deemed too revealing.

Two weeks ago, Chinese censors suspiciously eyed a poster of a semi-naked Pamela Anderson, the "Baywatch" icon, protesting the fur industry.

Singer Janet Jackson's infamous "wardrobe malfunction" in February was a sneak preview seen 'round the world.

There's fear and revulsion here at home, of course, on both the left and right.

"Jihad vs. McWorld" author Benjamin Barber, a liberal communitarian, has written that American "cultural imperialism," fueled by a global economy, will "mesmerize peoples everywhere with fast music, fast computers and fast food - MTV, Macintosh and McDonald's - pressing nations into one homogenous global theme park. …

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U.S. Pop Culture Seen as Plague; Damage, Influence May Be Exaggerated
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