University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
According to Bloch, the ultrasocial and communicative nature of the human species makes the desire for a unique sense of belonging a deep-seated need. Identification with a particular community, whether it is a distinct cultural identity or a subculture of socio-political beliefs helps fulfill this need. This is not to say the desire for cultural identity rests on the same psychological drive or libidinal charge that powers fashion or gestation.
It is important to distinguish that need from these desires, as cultures are not mere surface properties distinguished only by flavor and aesthetics, instead they arise naturally from the unique properties of the geography that spawn them. Archaeologist Paul Bidwell notes that the success of many empires such as those of the Roman Empire quite possibly has more to do with their ability to accommodate diverging cultures.
Areas which were successfully Romanized such as southern Britannia were won over by inviting the ruling classes to dinner, while Celtic chiefs disinterested in Roman culture were never successfully incorporated into the pre-modern proto-melting pot that was the Roman Empire. In essence, Bidwell asserts that the Roman Empire’s assimilation policy rested entirely on a principle of minimizing the amount of intervention necessary to secure imperial interests such as the food supply provided by Egyptian agriculture, limiting their actions entirely to structured forms of co-optation: legislation, taxes and the requisitioning of goods.
Bloch concurs, noting that when an empire begins to disrupt the social fabric of a culture, that trouble begins. This is not unlike the present state of the “accidental empire” of the United States, which as a melting pot (or salad bowl, depending on who you ask) is remarkably tolerant of other cultures to the extent that it does not threaten the status quo.
Globalization permits the fulfillment of the desire for individual cultural belonging by making all sorts of cultural identities permissible by amplifying their importance in relation to an American past that had previously been subject to the hegemony of European culture. Because cultural diversity is now more relevant to the economic and political concerns of the United States, they are now considered more relevant to individuals by making the range of identity expression more permissible.
If the United States is the Roman Empire, then it has now begun to realize that it is no longer practical to keep the cultures of Celts and Egyptians at arm’s length. For example, European culture’s relationship with the United States resembles that of the relationship between Greek culture to the Roman Empire, while many other cultures stand in for the Celts which are largely held up as valuable assets to be accommodated into a global economy that has been enabled by digital telecommunications technologies.
Jerry Mander argues that whatever criticisms can be leveled against free trade agreements and other means by which nation states and transnational corporations exert commercial and political hegemony, these acts are merely external homogenization processes, and as such, a truly efficient and successful homogenization of culture relies on the ever expanding range of communication technologies such as TV and the Internet.
Global telecommunications are in essence, internal homogenization forces that “speak directly into the minds of people everywhere, imprinting them with a unified pattern of thought, a unified set of imagery and ideas, a single framework of understanding for how life should be lived, thus carrying the homogenization and commodification mandate directly inside the brain. ”
For example, Todd Gitlin argues that the increasing influence of Hollywood on the international film market have essentially rewritten the parameters by which filmmakers produce their films, effectively washing away the paradigms of filmmaking that are unique to various cultures as well as reengineering local tastes. Gitlin does not suggest that differences in cultural content have been eradicated, but rather, the models and designs of American entertainment have become the most far-flung, successful and consequential.
However, Soraj Hongladarom does defend the idea that digital telecommunications do not necessarily erode notions of local culture, presenting an example in which one thrives in spite of globalizing effects of such. In an examination of Thai based newsgroup culture, he notes that the Internet replicates the heterogeneity of local cultures using it, rather than subsuming them into one homogenous whole.
Hongladarom thus concludes that what the Internet does, is create an “umbrella culture” under which disparate cultures can communicate: “Thai attitudes toward the CMC technologies, especially the Internet, seem to show that the technologies only serve as a means that makes communication possible, communication which would take place anyway in some other form if not on the Internet … Cyberspace mirrors real space, and vice versa. ” Works Cited Bidwell, Paul. Roman Forts in Britain. Wiltshire: English Heritage, 2007. Gitlin, Todd. Media Unlimited: How the Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms Our Lives.
New York: Henry Holy and Company, 2002. Hongladarom, Soraj. “Global Culture, Local Cultures and the Internet: The Thai Example. ”C. Ess and F. Sudweeks (eds). Proceedings Cultural Attitudes Towards Communication and Technology ’98, University of Sydney, Australia, 231-245. Retrieved May 6, 2008 at: http://www. it. murdoch. edu. au/~sudweeks/catac98/pdf/19_hongladarom. pdf Mander, Jerry. “The Homogenization of Global Consciousness: Media, Telecommunications and Culture. ” Lapis Magazine. Retrieved on May 6, 2006 from: http://www. lapismagazine. org/index. php? option=com_content&task=view&id=120&Itemid=2