America’s influence on global pop culture

Since the end of World War II, the world has become more united, with economic globalization and the more recent advent of the Internet promoting worldwide connectedness. Due to this trend, in recent decades, America has begun to export more than the Ford Model T and Coca-Cola—America is spreading its culture. As an economic and political influence, the United States, backed by the most prolific brands and entertainment industry in the world, has also continued to dominate the global scene on a cultural level.

Graphic: Alizeh Shamshad

Graphic: Alizeh Shamshad

Throughout the world, teenage culture has quickly become synonymous with American culture, with youth in places like Asia and Europe embracing American music, television, fashion, and film. In France in 2014, eight of the top ten grossing films were American, and currently, eight of the ten top songs are in English, according to Billboard. In fact, according to the BBC, now 70 percent of the Motion Picture Association of America’s revenue comes from international markets. Along with entertainment, American hallmarks such as fast food restaurants have branched out to international markets, with more than 66,000 franchises of the top ten largest American chains operating abroad, as reported by Forbes. The creation of a global culture based upon American values results in greater international stability, collaboration, and reform.

As the world interconnects, commonalities rather than differences must be highlighted to promote global collaboration. American cultural diffusion is setting the foundation for unity by creating common cultural phenomena with which individuals can identify. In the case of an American TV show, foreign viewers can connect to and identify with Americans through the relatable characters and scenarios. Additionally, people of different cultural backgrounds can connect with each other around common interests. Rather than acting as a force of division and creating a tribal mentality between previously distinct and isolated cultures, common elements pull populations together.

Graphic: Alizeh Shamshad

Graphic: Alizeh Shamshad

American culture can be used as a compelling vehicle for social and political change because of the underlying assumptions and values held by Americans, which permeate through our media and entertainment industries. For example, the rights to freedom of the press and freedom of speech are assumed and accepted by Americans as the norm. This expectation is often portrayed in entertainment such as The Newsroom and The West Wing and is expressed by entertainer-newsmen such as Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart. While the idea of a free press is hardly revolutionary for American viewers, an international audience without such liberties may be influenced by this American value through entertainment. In this way, American values can be diffused on the backs of our culture through entertainment and media.

Graphic: Alizeh Shamshad

Graphic: Alizeh Shamshad

With more and more people worldwide listening to similar music, watching similar movies, and wearing similar clothes, the gap between cultures is shrinking, leading to a more unified world. The shrinking gap is reflected by the Golden Arches Theory, which speculates that no two countries that both have a McDonald’s have been to war. In other words, nations with societal likenesses, even those as seemingly insignificant as both having McDonald’s, have reduced the cultural gap to a point where violence driven by cultural differences is unlikely. If having only McDonald’s in common can prevent violence, it is clear that the potential for peace when the culture gap is near zero is much higher than the potential for peace when the gap is significant.

As dominating as it may seem, the American culture establishes a crucial global identity to which most societies can relate, just as foreign viewers can connect with an American TV show and listen to American music. Through cultural identification and sympathy, countries find themselves hesitant to take violent action, making a global identity all the more valuable. It is important, however, to keep in mind that cultural diffusion is not a one-way street, and the global identity is a conglomeration of all societies. Foreign trends can sweep across America just as quickly as American trends can sweep across the world.

Graphic: Alizeh Shamshad

Graphic: Alizeh Shamshad

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