This editorial answers the question, "What is the American Experience?" It is part of a series from the junior AP Language and Composition classes at Oakton High School in Northern Virginia, and was selected by a panel of student judges for publication on HuffPost Teen.
Whether it is Shanghai, London or even the Museum of Communism in Prague, wherever you go, you will see familiar golden arches and red-and-white logos printed everywhere in the city. By the way McDonald's and Coca-Cola have touched various cultures worldwide, you may begin to question how these American multinational corporations were able to extend their reach to such lengths. Their influence is so rooted in global society that the McDonalds' golden arches are one of the most identifiable symbols, like the Christian cross.
The truth is that widespread American culture is threatening cultural diversity. And while some nations resist the temptation of American wealth, these corporations manage to pry their way through those barriers anyway. One protester's words at the Guangzhou demonstration in 1999 against the American bombing of Belgrade are very telling of the foreign perception of American imperialism: "I'd rather die of thirst than drink Coca-Cola. I'd rather starve to death than eat McDonald's." Yet despite harsh rejections, through serpentine persuasion, America has managed to stuff foreign mouths with a multitude of hamburgers and soda to achieve what can only be called cultural hegemony. As these corporations continue to gain customers and influence, they slowly progress on the path to world domination.
However, foreign consumers are not always known to passively absorb the American culture that bombards their daily lives. The "Slow Movement" is said to have began in 1986, advocating a cultural shift to slow down life's pace and celebrate the most basic needs to live comfortably. And in turn, it rejects the infusion of American culture into foreign nations. Part of the movement, the Slow Food organization, began in Piazza Di Spagna, Rome, almost 30 years ago. Reluctant to accept American fast food culture, Carlo Petrini protested the opening of the first McDonald's restaurant in Italy. His protest gave voice to the sentiments of many people throughout the world, and spread as far as Australia and Japan. According to the Washington Post article "What's Slow Food Anyway?" there are now approximately 83,000 members from 131 countries worldwide that support this movement.
Nevertheless, since then, McDonald's has opened nearly 20 stores in Piazza Di Spagna alone. So why is it that these corporations can so blatantly disregard the will of the populace? The reason lies mainly with the vast influence of the American image. The media: TV, Internet, news, etc., spits out images of American superiority in politics, economics and military virtually 24/7. Foreign nations that are assailed with these images are led to believe in the American façade of democracy, extravagant wealth and incomparable military power. Thus, they are pressured to accept American commercialism lest they go against this American "power."
The most egocentric part of the whole debacle is that the supporters of Americanization believe that this will bring order to the global economic experience, even though it is obvious that foreign consumers reject impeding American influence, as seen with the Guangzhou demonstration. We feel obligated as "superiors" to "keep things in order." However, these serve only as pretty words to cover up American imperialistic intentions.
In her essay, "Cultural Imperialism: An American Tradition," Julia Galeota asks if the possibility of a world without conflict is worth sacrificing countless indigenous cultures. The possibility of the world economy being joined under a unified front (with America at its head) sounds appealing because unity could signify less conflict. But unity would also undoubtedly devastate cultural identity. The way America has influenced foreign countries so far worries me, because a future without cultural identity is a daunting prospect. Historically, too many things have been sacrificed to keep distinct cultures alive. And for America to take away this privilege by replacing indigenous culture with "superior" American culture is egoistic and wrong. To avoid further demoralization of American principles, I hope that proponents of American cultural imperialism will realize this fatal flaw.
Even as the world continues to become interconnected, it is crucial to realize that through cultural imperialism, foreign consumers have perceived American multinational corporations as invasive pests rather than assistance. To make up for the damage done, it is time for America to rethink strategies for international relations, and realize equal, mutual partnerships with foreign correspondents.