Tupac in Gaza
A while back, the NY Times published an extended article on the reception of American cultural products in the Gaza. In some significant ways, the article mirrors many of the arguments recently put forward by social scientists who have become increasingly unsatisfied with the cultural imperialism thesis. Among this academic group includes recent work by the sociologist Ronald Jacobs as well as the anthropologist Daniel Miller. Both assert that while there is insight to gain from the cultural imperialism’s focus on how “local” cultures are eliminated or suppressed by America’s hegemonic cultural outputs, a more well-rounded scholarly approach would consider other possibilities. For instance, from this perspective, one could examine how “local” cultures actually receive American media outputs, examining how meaning is instilled in these foreign products and thus how they may possible help “local” communities make sense of the world.
Similar in sentiment, the NY Times article illustrates an interesting contrast, describing both the official and unofficial cultural policies of Hamas and Fatah as well as what is actually occurring “on the ground”. Here the article provides such engaging accounts as a local rapper inspired by such American performers as Tupac and 50cent, women discussing the latest episodes of “Prison Break” and “24”, and restaurants crowded with patrons watching the US sitcom “Friends”. In one interesting passage, a Gazan man criticizes a Turkish soap opera for not portraying “real men” and notes that instead he prefers the US soap opera “The Bold and the Beautiful”. While stringent academic works would have to push further than this, examining how these cultural experiences create meaning; these curious examples would most likely be ignored by a strict cultural imperialism perspective.
Globalization of Culture and the Arts
These are some great empirical examples of local agency in response to cultural imperialism. I appreciated India’s creative interpretation of a veggie burger last year. They are great tasting, but may not be as recognizable as a “burger.”
I wonder if this issue is pointing to another iteration of the structure-agency debate?
Agreed! A well rounded approach recognizes both (1) the agentic hybridization of global products by localities (“glocalization”), as well as (2) the ways in which global/structural products ‘grow’ themselves over localities in a top-down fashion (“grobalization”). Both glocal and grobalization exist in globalization, and writing should reflect this. In addition to the examples in this post, we should be equally harsh on literature that only focuses on agentic localities, and there is plenty of glocal-centric lit out there…