Culture, Media and Global Consumer
Jihad v. McWorld
Last year, I went to Middleboro, a small town in southeastern
Massachusetts, to write a piece about
Rwanda. It had all the makings of your classic "shrinking planet"
story. Here was Manzi Kanobana, a Tutsi
teen from the heart of Africa, now an exchange student at a small
Mew England high school. To these
kids, Manzi seemed strange at first, but he played a mean game of
soccer and quickly made friends. His
home country's quirky customs caught on--like the midnight candy
Christmas tradition--and, before long,
he had plenty of friends with whom to watch TV--usually CNN's
"International Hour." Middleboro, meet
But that spring, amidst CNN's reports of Coca Cola's move to
Prague and the most recent opening of a
McDonald's franchise in Budapest, came chaotic stories of
Rwanda's self-destruction. The president's
plane had been shot down, and the nation's two tribes--the Hutus
and the minority Tutsis--fell upon each
other with an apocalyptic fury. One afternoon, I sat in a
sparsely-furnished apartment, with Manzi's aunt
sitting at the table next to me, crying softly as her young
nephew explained, bewildered, how men came
with machetes and executed most of his family.
Is the world coming together, or is it ripping apart at the
This is the driving question behind Jihad vs. McWorld, an
important new book by Rutgers political scientist
Ben Barber. This book, like Paul Kennedy's The Rise and Fall of
the Great Powers or Francis
Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man, is an attempt to
make sense of what is still awkwardly
known as "the post-Cold War world." Barber concerns himself with
what he sees as the two dominant
international trends of our time: "McWorld integration," based on
a rapidly growing world consumer
culture, and "Jihad retribalization," splintering once-settled
nations. He pointedly argues that although
"McWorld" and "Jihad" are in seeming opposition, the two forces
are in fact partners, attacking
democracies at their roots. Yet, this is not a book solely for
foreign-policy mavens. Barber asks
provocative questions about the direction Americans are taking--
as a country and as a culture.
For a while, it was fashionable to point out that the United
States didn't win the Cold War--Japan did.
Indeed, Japan did emerge from the superpower struggle as a real
economic power unfettered by punishing
levels of defense spending. But Barber argues that the real prize
should go to Mickey Mouse. With the fall
of communism, the last great empire, there is nothing to stop a
distinctly American kind of consumerism,
which gives "McWorld" its name, from sweeping the globe. Kentucky
Fried Chicken has outposts in
Nanjing, Xian, Hangzhou. American pop music--Madonna, Bruce
Springsteen, Nirvana--can be heard in
cafes from Tunis to Warsaw. Reruns of old television shows like
"Dallas," "Wheel of Fortune," and "The
Simpsons" are top programs across vast swaths of the planet.
Modern communication and transportation
have made borders ever more porous by default, even as the free-
traders have made them more so by
There was a historical moment, right after the Berliners hacked
down their wall, when the "McWorld"
info-revolution seemed to have a distinctly human face. Fax
machines and photocopiers, radio and
television, all helped to undercut totalitarianism. They spread
ideas and fueled discontent by showing the
freedoms (and the consumer goodies) to be had in the West. Even
MTV's claim that it helped bring down
the Wall had a ring of truth: It was Madonna versus Marx, and
Marx didn't stand a chance.
But the same forces that toppled old-line communists are also
bulldozing the world's cultural landscape.
Television, movies, and modern advertising are making more and
more of the planet look more and more
the same. Terminator 2 was the number one film in Argentina,
Malaysia and Mexico in 1991. For
Indonesian youth, tea is out; Coke is in. T-shirts with American
pop icons are a hot commodity throughout
the Third World--and the Japanese pay upwards of $100 for a pair
None of this is new, of course. As radio spread in the 1960s, it
was already becoming difficult to escape
the Beatles. The theme of traditional local cultures faltering
under the onslaught of Western consumerism is
a sad one, but a familiar one. Now, though, the process has
There is also more to "McWorld" fears than the vague,
claustrophobic sense that all the world's becoming
an American strip mall. Control over the increasingly powerful
info-entertainment sector is growing more
and more concentrated. These new agglomerations sprawl across
traditional media divisions--movies,
television, cable, books, producers and distributors. By the
1990s, according to Ben Bagdikian, author of
The Media Monopoly, 17 intermedia conglomerates owned half of the
revenues from all media. Since this
book was written, Disney announced it was going to purchase
Capitol Records/ABC. Then Time-Warner
announced it would join forces with Turner Broadcasting; the
combination would own HBO, Cinemax,
CNN, Time-Life books, a slew of magazines (including People,
Money, Sports Illustrated, and Time) and
a variety of other entertainment interests.
This is especially worrisome for the news business. After World
War II, about 8 in 10 American
newspapers were independently owned; by the beginning of this
decade, about eight in ten were owned by
one of the big chains. What of the network news? NBC is owned by
General Electric. Now,
Westinghouse wants to take over CBS, and Disney has made a deal
for ABC, "where more Americans
get their news than [from] any other source." Don't hold your
breath for NBC to do a story on how GE
continues to screw taxpayers on defense contracts.
Perhaps I am paranoid, but I sometimes feel that all the shows on
television (with the possible exception of
"The X-Files") are already produced by one big machine somewhere
in the southern California desert. Do
we want this fantasy to become a reality? The lesson of Barber's
book, then, is an old one, but one worth
repeating. Capitalism is a wonderful system, adaptable, full of
vitality and, quite literally, creative. But
capitalism is not synonymous with democracy and, unchecked, it
can threaten democracy.
The backlash against capitalism and Westernization is the theme
of Barber's second, less successful,
section. Granted, the ancient force he names "Jihad" is
psychological and difficult to define. In this book, it
lies somewhere in the nexus of the human desire for community and
hatred for others. Jihad, we are told, is
"communities of blood rooted in exclusion and hatred." Yet he
travels far from this definition, including
everything from bona fide tribal hatred, like that of Rwanda, to
the Euro-skeptics who resist European
integration, to the American militia movement.
The crucial distinction here lies between protective nationalism,
based on cultural preservation, and the
uglier versions which are moved by hatred and aim at separation.
It is the difference between what the
Polish dissident-philosopher Czeslaw Milosz liked to call "a
sense of belonging" and the Bosnian Serbs
who want to "cleanse" the land of other ethnic groups and carve
out their own state.
Barber does a better job in his analysis of the overtly political
implications of "Jihad." Among post-war
liberals, political movements which have "self-government" as
their aim have long enjoyed an aura of moral
authority. (Isn't that why we fought the Revolutionary War?) But
Barber is among the thinkers who have
rightly made the case that these movements no longer deserve our
reflexive support. Quebec, for example,
has long talked about seceding from Canada. Yet can we be sure
that this new state, built around its
distinctive brand of French culture, would be just as respectful
of its own minorities? What is to be done
when these minorities have had enough and demand--as the Cree
Indians already have--their own
nation-state? The experts say there are roughly 6,000 languages
spoken on the planet. Should every one
have a country of its own?
It is true that there are some places--like Ireland or Cyprus--
that are so deeply divided, with hatreds so
ingrained, that separation is the only solution. But these break-
away states then tend to be less hospitable
to the basic attitudes--tolerance, compromise, pluralism--that we
know are necessary for democracy to
function smoothly over time.
Barber's real contribution is this focus on democracy and on the
ways "Jihad" and "McWorld" cooperate
to undercut it. At the heart of his argument is the "citizen"--
the person who has learned the lessons of
compromise and pluralism, who believes in a common good that is
more important than his or her own
narrow self-interest. Citizens are essential for a democracy to
Yet Barber sees citizens as a vanishing breed. The threat posed
by "Jihad" is more or less clear--blood
feuds do not inspire good citizenship. But "McWorld's" pervasive
consumer culture, he argues, is really the
greater threat. The attitudes that make for a true citizen are
learned in "public spaces," in what is more
commonly called "civil society." These "places"--the public park,
the voluntary organization, the public
school--are dying. In their place are shopping malls and suburban
walled communities; watching television
has replaced the chat on the porch or the walk around the block.
It is much more common for the evening
news to refer to Americans as "consumers" than as "citizens."
Not only are "McWorld" and "Jihad" both bad for democracy, Barber
concludes, but they feed off one
another, leaving civil society in a tough spot. "Jihad" can use
the technology and propaganda power of
"McWorld" to rekindle old hatreds. "McWorld's" leveling--its
unfettered capitalism, its spiritual
emptiness--can push people into the clutches of Jihad, searching
for meaning and finding hatred.
Throughout, Barber makes a convincing case. My main gripe with
his book is that it is painted with broad
strokes, which can be frustrating. He writes with grace and
verve, but, at times, he also goes overboard:
"They are accelerating toward the limits of nature--the speed of
light that defines the interactions of
cyberspace--in quest of a palliative to (or is it a catalyst
for?) their restlessness." And he throws around the
word "virtual" an awful lot, without it meaning much.
But Barber's book is about the big picture, which he describes
well. He would be happy to agree, I
suspect, that there are plenty of exceptions to his sweeping
arguments--and even signs of hope. After
Manzi, the Rwandan who came to Middleboro, got his awful news,
the local Unitarian church got together
with his high school friends. They brought food to his house.
They raised money to bring his surviving
relatives to America. They even started a college fund for him.
It's a true story, and Disney doesn't own the
rights to it.
The Jerusalem Post
April 20, 1999
The 51st state?
Michael S. Arnold
Michael S. Arnold sees signs of Americanization everywhere
The line of cars stretches for a mile down the slow lane of the
Tel Aviv-Haifa freeway. Many drivers do the typical Israeli
cruising along in the adjacent lane almost to the exit and then,
with the swiftness of a falcon on the hunt, swooping into the
idling cars at the first hint of daylight.
What they are turning for, however, is more typically American
than Israeli. Saturday traffic jams have become a way of life at
Kibbutz Shefayim, which several years ago paved over its once
verdant fields and built enormous outlets of some the most
popular American chains: Ace Hardware, Toys 'R Us, Office Depot,
Many here, worried by what they consider the headlong pace of
Americanization, point to Shefayim as the prime example of an
Israel that has sold its solid old values for the superficial
blandishments of an American-style consumer culture.
But the sheer number of cars turning into Shefayim and spilling
out of the makeshift parking lots carved out of its fields shows
which side is winning the debate. While other kibbutzim are
struggling to pay off crushing debts incurred during decades of
socialist-style statism, Shefayim's shopping-center gambit has
made it one of the wealthiest kibbutzim in Israel.
"I'd be happy for Israel to become the 51st state," says Hanoch
Meringer, an accountant downing a soft drink outside
Shefayim's McDonald's. "It would make everything a lot easier.
"When I bought an apartment I negotiated the price in dollars.
All business is done here in dollars. Why don't we just go ahead
already and make everything American?"
Some would say that process is already under way. As Israel turns
51, signs of Americanization are everywhere, from the
increasing infusion of English words into the Hebrew language, to
the popularity of television programs such as Seinfeld and Ally
McBeal, to the political consultants who made their names helping
American politicians to the White House and now are trying
to replicate their feats in the Israeli arena.
"It is not possible that I go to the mall in Haifa and half of
the signs are in a foreign language," says A. B. Yehoshua, a
Israeli novelist who has railed against the "Madonnaization" of
Israeli culture. "Not just the words are in English, but the
actually written in English."
As Israel celebrates another Independence Day, then, some may be
wondering just how independent the country really is.
More than half a century ago, Time magazine publisher Henry Luce
already had christened this "the American Century."
Luce's title proved prescient. After World War II, the United
States emerged as the dominant world power, supplanting a
Europe that had bled itself dry in two stupefying paroxysms of
violence within just three decades.
At the time, the Soviet Union, at least, could challenge the US
for world supremacy, as it confronted the US in proxy wars
around the globe.
Since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet
Union, however, the US has reigned as the unquestioned
sovereign power of a unipolar international system unparalleled
in world history - unchallenged in military power, economic and
political might and cultural dominance.
In recent years, Israel has sought to wean itself of American
economic aid, hoping to stand free of the unilateral transfers
many experts contend warped the Israeli economy for years and
allowed bloated and inefficient industries to survive.
Politically, although Israel still depends on the US to block
critical resolutions in the United Nations Security Council, it
its close ties with America suffer in recent years as the US
seeks to broaden its ties in the Arab world and broker a peace
with the Palestinians that requires painful Israeli concessions.
Culturally, however, Israel finds itself heavily influenced by
the US. This is evident in the fashions worn by Israeli children,
younger generation's emphasis on individualism, to the fast-food
franchises dotting the Israeli countryside, to the shift in
purchasing habits from the makolet to the mall, to the speech,
mannerisms and political instincts of its American-bred prime
"In Europe you have McDonald's but you also have the Louvre and
the Sistine Chapel. You have a long and strong history with
buildings, museums, artistic creations that stand against the
American cultural influence," says Yehoshua.
"Israel is so new and there's nothing like that standing, so the
exposure to Americanization here is that much quicker."
US Ambassador Edward Walker notes in an interview with The
Jerusalem Post, that the two countries' voting records in the
UN historically have been as similar as "two peas in a pod." With
the exception of mighty Micronesia, the US has, in fact, been
the only country Israel reliably can count on in votes of censure
at the UN.
It is ironic then that the area of Israeli-American ties to
suffer most during the tenure of a prime minister raised and
the US should be the political ones. To be sure, the two
countries have had their share of crises in the past: from the
David Ben-Gurion's showdown with Dwight Eisenhower over the 1956
Sinai campaign, to the Reagan administration's anger at
Menahem Begin's 1981 bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor, to the
impasse over Yitzhak Shamir's settlement policies and
George Bush's threat to withhold loan guarantees at the beginning
of this decade.
Yet nothing could better illustrate the political tension that
has plagued recent Israel-US ties than the recent statements of
Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon. Not only did Sharon decline to
offer firm support for the American-led NATO air war on
Yugoslavia, he wondered aloud whether the campaign might set a
precedent for a bombardment of Israel if Galilee Arabs, like
the Kosovo Albanians, one day demanded autonomy.
Sharon's scenario is still far-fetched, but in warmer times it
would have been virtually unthinkable.
"Relationships mature and change, and this one is certainly
maturing," Walker says diplomatically. But, he adds, differences
opinion "are not the end of a friendship."
The American-Israeli friendship is in many ways unique. Israel
first won American hearts as a tiny, beleaguered democracy, the
only one in the Middle East. Both countries are nations of
immigrants, places of refuge seen by many people as Promised
Then, too, America is a highly religious place, and many
Christians take a special interest in Israel as the site of the
miracles - and, perhaps, see the resurrection of the state of
Israel as a precursor for the coming Redemption.
Of immeasurable importance, too, is the existence in America of a
powerful, wealthy and well-organized Jewish constituency
that has supported Israel through thick and thin - as George Bush
learned, to his chagrin, when he faced off with Shamir over
the loan guarantees.
"I think in effect (the American Jewish community) cushions a lot
of the possible shocks and bumps in the relation with the
United States, and I think that's really unique in the annals of
the relationship between a superpower and a regional power," says
Yossi Alpher, director of the American Jewish Committee's Israel
office and former head of Tel Aviv University's Jaffee Center
for Strategic Studies.
"Absent the American Jewish community and the relationship might
look quite different."
When Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has felt himself blocked
in his dealings with the Clinton administration, he has proven
adept at using American Jewish and Christian lobbies - as well as
alternate centers of power in America such as Congress and
the media - to press Israel's case.
"Clearly we have witnessed over the past 20 or 30 years a growing
reality or perception among Israeli policy makers, Left or
Right, that major policy decisions must be coordinated with the
United States in one form or another," Alpher says. "Yet a
strong Israeli leader, when he feels strongly enough about an
issue, is prepared to go it alone."
Labor MK Yossi Beilin says some may try to put a positive spin on
the chill in Israeli-American relations, pointing to them as a
sign of Israeli independence.
But Netanyahu's communications adviser David Bar-Illan denies
that political ties between the two countries have ebbed;
compared to other historical crises in bilateral relations, he
said, "what is said about Netanyahu and Clinton is small
"Most of these frictions derive from what Netanyahu has very
perceptively called the difference in how security looks from the
banks of the Jordan River and the banks of the Potomac," Bar-
Illan says. "To portray relations between Israel and the United
States as fine until Netanyahu became prime minister and somehow
tense and fragile and dangerously confrontational since
Netanyahu is a gross insult to history."
The year 1998 was hardly an annus mirabilis for the Israeli
economy, but it certainly was a marvelous time for the tiny
America On-Line bought the Israeli start-up, makers of the ICQ
program, for the outrageous sum of $ 400 million, making
instant multimillionaires of the company's twentysomething
The Internet is more than just a tool to bring Israelis,
especially the youth, closer to the world; it also is an economic
While blue-collar workers in Negev development towns were
watching textile plants close, the success of Mirabilis was the
most obvious proof that the future of the Israeli economy lies in
the hi-tech revolution.
The emphasis on hi-tech is just one facet of the economic
revolution begun in the 1980s and accelerated under the
MIT-educated Netanyahu, which to date has included a broad
program of privatizing government companies, revamping the tax
structure and making the Israeli currency and banking systems
more modern and transparent.
Included in the process has been a plan to phase out the $ 1.2
billion in annual economic aid from the US.
In short, Netanyahu's economic program has been to further
Israel's transformation from a statist economy with heavy
overtones into a competitive, free and open market of the kind
that has driven the US to world economic hegemony. Together
with a healthy peace process, economic liberalization is seen as
one of the keys to attracting foreign investment to Israel.
The result has been a marked rise in recent years in the Israeli
standard of living, almost to Western European levels - and, at
the same time, unprecedented income disparities approaching those
This has coincided with the gradual dismantling of the Israeli
welfare system and, some would say, the social cohesion that had
made Israel feel in many ways like one large family.
"Individualism is the pillar of political behavior in the west
and it is becoming so in this country as well. One of the reasons
the welfare state is going to pieces is that collective values
are crumbling," Hebrew University political scientist Ze'ev
"In America you have an enormous underclass with all the
political rights you can imagine but no social rights. As we
gap of wealth (with the west) we are seeing here, too, the growth
of the idea that people can have civic and political rights but
no social rights.
"This is related to the deification of the market," Sternhell
"The market has become king, and the market is an arena of social
Darwinism. For us modernity means liberal social
Darwinism, and this is a new phenomenon for us."
For Oz Almog, a sociologist at Jezreel Valley College, along with
the riches of Americanization have come the dangers.
"Along with a capitalist economy and the free market we also get
the negatives - the economic gap and the alienation," Almog
says. "We are becoming an alienated society. We used to be one
big family, and now we're losing that."
As the country's social glue dries up, Shas MK David Tal sees
evidence of decadence.
"There are good sides to Americanization in terms of the
development of science, hi-tech, and industry," Tal says. "But in
rest of the things I see a great danger. America to me suggests
liberality without brakes and without boundaries. Even in
America there are thoughts that things may have gone too far."
As an example, Tal mentions the high level of violence in
America, a phenomenon on the rise here, too.
"When I was growing up there used to be no fences or borders
between us and the neighbors. Now there are electronic eyes,
fences, dogs," he says. "In Israel if you heard about a murder 30
or 40 years ago it was a terrible thing, you talked about it for
whole month. Today it's becoming a regular occurrence."
The culprit behind the social disintegration, Tal says, is money;
the solution, Torah.
"People feel they can ride the wave and become
multimillionaires," he says. "There's just one name for the game
today - money,
money, money, money. A person with a lot of money can buy a lot
of people. It allows for all possibilities. It's the fulfillment
the American dream."
Almog, too, is wary of the deficiencies that have accompanied
America's unprecedented wealth.
"I hope we don't become totally Americanized because America
suffers from a high rate of violence, homelessness and poverty.
I don't want us to have this violence at school, to lose our
family component," he says.
"Americanization is like a tidal wave. You can't build a dam
against it, but hopefully you can channel it. You can't and you
shouldn't import everything. You should learn from their
When Israeli politicians sat down in the early 1990s to revamp
the political system, their impulse was right, Hebrew University
political scientist and Israel Prize winner Shlomo Avineri says;
it was their orientation that was wrong.
"We always look to the American example, while there are other
examples of western European democracy that are more
relevant for Israel," says Avineri, currently on sabbatical at
Yeshiva University's Cardozo School of Law in New York.
"When primaries were introduced, everyone saw them as the only
alternative, whereas the United States is the only country that
has primaries. The whole system of the direct election of the
prime minister was modeled on the US presidency."
It was perhaps no accident that Netanyahu was the first to
benefit from the direct election system. Handsome and articulate,
communications skills honed as UN ambassador, and later as a
frequent guest on CNN, Netanyahu was the perfect candidate
for a new political system that, like the American one, thrives
on media-friendly sound bites. His simple repetitive messages are
dictated by constant polling and drummed into Netanyahu by
American political consultant Arthur Finkelstein.
Netanyahu's example has forced challenger Ehud Barak to adapt his
An intellectual liable to answer a simple question with a long,
analytical and complicated response, Barak hired Clinton guru
James Carville to manage his campaign and has remade himself as a
television candidate staying doggedly "on-message" with
pithy, catchy slogans.
"Everything is becoming superficial; you can see it in the sound
bites and in the type of people who are becoming leaders," says
Beilin. "I can imagine a situation where people would get sick
and tired of all these sound bites and superficial leaders and
we need the real thing. The more educated may say this earlier."
Ambassador Walker also criticizes the Israeli move toward
American-style campaigns and the dependence on American
"In the US, the media is critical because of the breadth of the
country and the scope of the campaign," Walker told the Post
earlier this month.
In Israel, on the other hand, "you don't necessarily have to rely
solely on image, sound bites, and so on, you can get out and talk
to people and hope to have an impact."
Ze'ev Chafets, an author and columnist for the Jerusalem Report,
says the Americanization of Israel's political system does not
stop with Netanyahu.
"Bibi is an American and his government is an American
government," Chafets says, noting the number of former Americans
with top posts in the administration: Bar-Illan, Defense Minister
Moshe Arens, Diaspora Affairs adviser Bobby Brown, United
Nations Ambassador Dore Gold and Lenny Davis, deputy chief of
mission at the Israeli Embassy in Washington.
"That's quite something," Chafets says. "This is an ethnic
government and the ethnicity is American."
Chafets only wishes the Americanization process would go further,
toward the institutionalized separation of church and state
enshrined in the US Constitution.
"There's only one political culture which actually works in the
world and that is the Anglo-American political culture," Chafets
says. "We should only be so lucky as to actually become a
democracy after that model.
"We're not there primarily because this is a country which still
aspires to a compromise between democracy and some sort of
medieval rabbinical theocracy, and until we can get that sorted
out, Israel won't be a democracy in the American sense."
Journalist and author Tom Segev notes other local effects of
American political culture.
For one, many of the actors who have shaped current events in
Israel - Meir Kahane and Baruch Goldstein, Reform and
Conservative movement activists, leading figures in the country's
environmental, human rights and feminist movements - are
More important, perhaps, is the culture of dissent these
immigrants have imported to Israel.
The Zo Arzenu movement, which protested the Oslo Accords by,
among other things, staging massive traffic disruptions,
included Americans among its leaders and drew inspiration partly
from the 1960s civil disobedience efforts of Rev. Martin
Luther King, Jr.
The Women of the Wall and groups of liberal Jews whose Kotel
prayer vigils spark such strong haredi opposition - and attract
all-important media coverage - comprise large numbers of American
Segev also notes that Netanyahu is not the only Israeli leader to
have undergone an American apprenticeship.
Yitzhak Rabin, who as a youth dreamed of studying in the US, made
his political debut as ambassador to Washington and had a
keenly pro-American diplomatic and cultural orientation. Ehud
Barak earned his advanced degeree in systems analysis from
Stanford. ; Meretz leader Yossi Sarid studied at New York's New
School for Social Research. And Supreme Court President
Aharon Barak did advanced legal studies at Harvard.
Today, hordes of young Israelis either travel abroad to earn the
MBAs they hope will propel them to fame and fortune or enroll
in local programs associated with American universities.
"All the elites are manned by people who studied in America,"
Segev says. "It has become a very important part of the
biographies of those who excel here.
"Israel today is a province of America, like we were once a
province of Rome. Those who were in the capital and understand
the way it works succeed much better in the province." Segev
himself, one of the generation of "new historians" who have
exploded many of Israel's founding myths, earned his doctorate
from Boston University.
"Studying in America I learned that as a historian you don't have
to be part of your country's national struggle," Segev says.
"You don't have to use history for ideology. You can tell the
Computer programmer Aya Eshdat went to high school at Kibbutz
Shefayim and remembers traipsing across the kibbutz fields
for her biology projects. Now she comes to Shefayaim not
primarily to shop - though she has done that, too - but to fly
with her husband Lior in a field next to the shopping center.
Israel will never become a little America, Eshdat says: The sense
of family is too strong, the country is too small for its youth
be truly rootless, it has an ethnic solidarity lacking in
Lior Eshdat, who has just finished explaining that Israel is
insulated from American values, notes how accustomed he has
become to stores that stay open late into the night and on
weekends. When he finds the rare shop that closes at 6 or 7 in
evening - until recently, the rule in Israel - Lior becomes
"What, don't they want to make money?" he asks.
It wasn't until the mid-1980s that the first shopping mall opened
in Israel; Center One, the first mall to open in Jerusalem, was
attacked by critics for being too big. Now hanging out at the
mall has replaced the patriotic youth movements as the center of
teenage social life.
Beilin remembers how, as a child in the 1950s, "Made in Ameica"
was a sign of high quality - and also of a far- away world that
most Israelis would never reach.
Today the lag time between American cultural innovations in
music, fashion or entertainment and their arrival in Israel has
"If something new would appear in the US it used to take five
years, 10 years until it arrived here. Now it's a matter of
"Mainly it's a product of television and the frequent visits to
the United States that many of us take. Twenty or 30 years ago,
admired the American culture but were not part of it. Today we're
very much a part of it."
Sociologist Almog has decried what he calls the "Coca-
Colazation" of Israeli life. Driving past the Golani Junction in
he notes how the museum of the famous army regiment now is
bordered by a McDonald's.
"You actually change a sacred place by importing these foreign
symbols," he says. "America has changed even our landscape."
Almog traces the process of cultural Americanization to the
spread of television sets among Israeli housholds in the early
Suddenly Israelis were regaled with such gems of American pop
culture as Flipper, The Partridge Family and The Brady Bunch.
"We actually discovered that there is a heaven and that heaven is
across the ocean," Almog says. "The television was the small
window that let in more streams of wind."
With the advent of Channel 2 and cable television, he says, "that
wind has become a typhoon."
For many young Israelis, a stint in the US, working as a mover in
Manhattan perhaps, became a nearly obligatory rite of
"We used to be a very closed society, and going abroad meant
discoveirng the world. Everything was new," Almog says.
"When you went to the United States or Europe it was really
thrilling to watch many TV channels and go to the mall.
"Now it's less exciting because we have become America in so many
respects. Today I think Israeli malls are richer in the
variety of products than the average American mall."
Many look back on the old, small-town Israel with nostalgia. Not
Chafets, who moved here shortly after the Six Day War.
"I came here in spite of what Israel was then, not because of it.
I have no nostalgia for a country where television was outlawed
or where the Beatles couldn't perform by governmental decision,"
"When air-conditioning arrived, I cheered. When I found the first
bottle of Wild Turkey (bourbon) on the shelf, I cheered.
When they got cable TV and I could watch the Super Bowl, I was
delighted. None of those things have undermined the realities
of Israel, they've only improved them."
Walker says Israel is not adopting the American consumer model
per se, but rather is choosing a system of commercialization,
efficiency and service that simply has been proven to work.
"America is also a way of saying comfort and enjoyment because
it's a society that is geared to those things," agrees Chafets.
think that America is a country that has proven that it works.
The challenge for Israel is to learn to relax. I see personal
gratification as something normal and fine, and I'm glad to
participate in it."
While the Jews long have prided themselves on being a nation that
dwells alone, Beilin sees the growing American influence as
Yet its price, he says, is a gradual dumbing-down of Israeli
"We are moving toward a much more shallow culture, where more
people know less," he says. "If in the past the elite was much
more knowledgeable but the masses were not involved. Today many
more people are involved, they are literate and
knowledgeable, but the price is that their knowledge is very
"Certainly there are downsides to everything but I think it's
enormously facile to concentrate on what is supposedly
American culture, as if Israeli culture used to be so deep. It's
a kind of snobbism that is not justified," he says.
"Israel, for its size produces a lot of good things, but for us
to assume the pose of the ancient and profound society snickering
the young and immature America is hilarious."
When Tom Segev was born, in the 1940s, his parents may not have
realized they were ahead of their time. Biblical names were
then the fashion for Israeli children.
After the young country's stunning military successes in the
1960s and '70s, more martial names came into vogue. In the 1980s
the pattern changed again, to what Almog calls "American
passports," that is, names that could pass for American: Shirley,
Sharon, Guy, Tom.
"It's done unconsciously but that's because the parents are
responding to everything that sounds American," Almog says. "It's
kind of sublimation."
In European countries such as France and Germany, a backlash has
erupted against the intrusion of Americanisms such as
"weekend." Yehoshua, for one, would like to see a similar
"We need a definite war against that," Yehoshua says. "It's a
very worrying phenomenon. We have to strengthen the language
by law and to support Hebrew names for stores and other things."
He supports, for example, a recent law requiring that at least
half of songs broadcast on state radio must be Hebrew songs.
Chafets feels Israeli culture has enough of the basic building
blocks - land, a vital language, and a vibrant recent history -
retain its unique identity despite the American influence.
Lior Eshdat, too, believes Israel can survive as a unique and
independent culture within the Pax Americana. While American
music is popular, Hebrew rock 'n' roll is also strong, he notes;
stuck in a traffic jam several weeks ago he realized that all the
drivers were returning from their Pessah seders.
"Next to the internationalism that we can't resist still remains
something of our small private nationalism," Eshdat says.
Not far away, Gilad Nehushtan is selling ethnic art from Africa
and Asia outside the exit of Shefayim's huge Office Depot.
"The nation of Israel is thirsty for diversion and this is the
diversion they want," he says, indicating the crowds of people
into and out of the stores. "You see all the cars and you realize
what a need it is. Israel is changing over time, sure, but I
think it's a loss.
"It's a recognition of reality. It doesn't come instead of
something more Israeli, it comes in addition to it."
Tel Aviv University student Yair Mizrahi, hanging out with
accountant Meringer near Nehushtan's stand, puts it more
"The place is absolutely disgusting," Mizrahi says of the
Shefayim complex. "But it sure is convenient."
GRAPHIC: 10 photos: 1. American week at the Supersol supermarket
chain. 2. Importing a culture of dissent: American
Reform Rabbis Levi Weiman-Kelman and his sister Naama Kelman. 3.
A. B. Yehosua: Madonnaization. 4. Edward Walker:
Two peas in a pod 5. Oz Almog: Coca-Colaization. 6. Shlomo
Avineri: Wrong orientation. 7. Ze'ev Chafets: Bibi's an
American 8. Tom Segev: A province of America. 9. Yossi Beilin:
Part of US culture. 10. Better than America: Nathan's, the
archetypical US non-kosher hot-dog parlor, is kosher in
Journal of Commerce
March 26, 1999
Japanese palate craves high-end foods from West
BY BILL MONGELLUZZO
Higher-value, consumer-ready food items are the big growth
area for U. S. exporters of agricultural products to Asia.
Total U.S. agricultural exports to the Far East declined last
year, and are projected to drop again this year due to the Asian
financial crisis. But the long-term trend in food exports
involves processed and prepared products, meat and poultry and
specialty fruits and vegetables. And U.S. exports of those items
Japan offers the best opportunities for export of value-added
food products. The trendy items in Japan currently include
food, Starbucks coffee and the meal replacement market, said Dan
Berman, director of the Agricultural Export Services
Division, Foreign Agricultural Services, U.S. Department of
""Those trends work to our advantage,'' Mr. Berman told the
annual Asia/Pacific Business Outlook Conference at the
University of Southern California.
The trend toward export of consumer food products has evolved
gradually over the past 20 years, said Robert Tse, an
agricultural economist at the USDA's Foreign Agricultural
In 1975, 75 percent of the $21.8 billion in U.S. agricultural
exports to the rest of the world were bulk products such as
Only 10 percent were consumer food products. Last year, bulk
commodities accounted for 38 percent of the $51 billion in
U.S. agricultural exports. For the first time ever, consumer
products, which accounted for 39 percent of total U.S. exports,
exceeded bulk commodities, Mr. Tse said.
Even though Japan's economy has been in the doldrums for much of
the 1990s, it continues to be by far the largest market in
Asia for U.S. exports. "" Japan is absolutely critical,''
accounting for 50 percent of total U.S. exports to Asia, said
Coyle, leader of the USDA's Asia Initiative.
Japan is crucial to the future of U.S. food products exports to
Asia because its population of 125 million has a high disposable
income and a growing interest in the types of specialty food
products U.S. agribusiness specializes in.
The consumer market in Japan is divided into two distinct camps.
The 65- year-old and older generation tends to favor
traditional Japanese foods and culture, and is therefore not a
prime candidate for specialty food products.
But the younger generation, especially the single, working women
who set the food trends in Japan, tend to live at home until
they marry and therefore have a high disposable income, Mr.
Berman said. This generation likes to eat out, and identifies
with imported food items than does the older generation.
""They're getting tired of the undifferentiated mass products.
They say, "I define who I am by the foods I eat,' '' Mr. Berman
Whether they are dining out or eating consumer-ready prepared
meals at home, Japan's young working adults seek more
information on the food they are eating, where it comes from and
its nutritional value.
For example, they enjoy field-range chicken that is packaged with
a description of how the chicken was raised and even
includes a picture of the farmer who raised the bird. Australian
farmers are cleverly marketing their products to tap into this
market, Mr. Berman said.
Reaching Japan's younger market can be relatively simple, but
costly. Since Japan is a compact, homogeneous society with
national media, trends usually take hold throughout the entire
country at the same time. One television program on gourmet
cooking is watched by 20 million viewers each week, as chefs in a
Las Vegas-style contest preparing meals based on a single
ingredient, such as lobster.
Reaching the right consumer market is costly, though. The
Japanese food companies that do well spend heavily on marketing
programs. By contrast, Mr. Berman said, some large U.S. food
companies do not engage in costly marketing programs, and
are not doing well.
""They're not spending the bucks to get to the consumers. They're
not as dominant as they should be,'' he said.
One U.S. group that has succeeded in Japan is the California
prune industry. It hired a prominent Japanese consultant who
studied the potential market for an admitedly not very exciting
product, Mr. Berman said. The consultant found that there was
little competition for U.S.-grown prunes, but also very little
recognition of prunes as a consumer product.
The marketing campaign was geared for the middle-aged Japanese
male who did not have a particularly healthy lifestyle or
eating habits. However, the marketing was aimed at the Japanese
housewives who make the food purchasing decisions and
want their husbands to be healthier. Nutrition experts were
featured in advertisements describing prunes as a healthy food
The result was a ""textbook case'' of how to create a market for
a product, Mr. Berman said. Prunes were viewed not as an
imported item, but rather as a nutritious food to be eaten daily.
""Prunes have broken through to become an everyday item.
That's where everyone wants their product to be,'' he said. U. S.
food companies that want to break into markets in Japan and
elsewhere in Asia should anticipate strong competition from
European, Canadian and Australian exporters. Some of those
producers have a cost advantage because their currencies have
devalued while the U.S. dollar remains strong.
It can also take time to break through tariff and non-tariff
barriers in Asia. For example, Mr. Tse noted, it took 25 years to
Japan to allow red delicious apples from Washington state into
""You have to be persistent,'' he said.
The Plain Dealer
August 15, 1993
WE ARE THE WORLD: THE AMERICANIZATION OF EVERYWHERE
By WILLIAM ECENBARGER
From the back seat of a cab whiz-banging from the airport into
downtown Bangkok, I peek at the speedometer and try to
convert 127 kilometers into miles per hour. The driver doesn't
speak English, but he is lip-syncing along with Ray Charles,
whose voice is coming from a speaker inches behind my right ear.
"Just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind." I reach
for the seat belt, but there isn't one.
The driver raises a hand in exasperation as he is forced to slow
down near an accident scene. Shards of glass glitter on the
roadway, but the vehicles and their occupants are obscured by a
group of men who are standing around hang-jawed in disbelief
over how this could have happened with all these careful drivers
around. My driver sees a small hole between two buses, and -
whoosh! - he zips between them by the barest of margins.
As we approach the city, the traffic (the world's worst, average
speed 5 mph) congeals, then thickens malignantly and finally
stops. The driver uses this break in the action to hand me a
small album containing Polaroid photos of Asian beauties, which
presents with a smile and a lift of his eyebrows that promises
unimaginable delights. I remember someone told me that in
Bangkok all the women are pros and all the men are cons. I smile
back and shake my head negatively. He shrugs
philosophically, lights a Marlboro and hooks up with Simon and
Garfunkel. "What's that you say, Mrs. Robinson ..."
We stop for a traffic light. A red Daihatsu makes a move to
squeeze in front of us, and my driver pulls forward to block the
intruder and then shoots him a look that sticks two inches out
his back. I roll down the window and peer into a haze of
uncombusted petrol; the air smells like the inside of a
Two young Thai boys, wearing Mohawk haircuts and Guns N' Roses T-
shirts, are standing in front of a Pizza Hut, bartering
with tourists in English over pirated music cassettes. Paula
Abdul is going for $1. Across the street, there's a long line
get into the latest "Rambo" epic.
Then I spot it. A boy, maybe 13 years old, is wearing a sweat
shirt. I can't believe what it says. No way. That can't be.
Over the last several years, it has been my good fortune to
travel through much of the world, and two things have become
inescapably clear to me: First, the global village forecast just
30 years ago by Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan is
already here, and, second, the vehicle that brought it here is
the United States of America.
The world has literally become a Mickey Mouse operation. For all
its industrial problems, the U.S.A. reigns supreme as an
exporter of music, film, television, sports, food and hundreds of
consumer products ranging from Levi's to Pampers to Barbie
dolls. America, winner of the Cold War, is now that Great
Communicator, world role model, global disc jockey. Essayist Pico
Iyer has dubbed the process "Coca-Colonization."
Indeed, Coca-Cola earns more money in Japan than it does in the
United States. And when French farmers protested a farm
agreement between the United States and the European Community
last November, they not only trashed the American
Embassy, they shut down a Coca-Cola plant near Paris. "Coca-Cola
is the biggest symbol of an America that wants to extend
its hegemony more and more," spat an outraged Herve Morizet of
the National Center for Young Farmers.
What's the new world order? It's for a Big Mac and a pan pizza.
The McDonald's in Hong Kong, one of the world's largest,
seats 452. Nearly nine of every 10 people who watched the 1992
Super Bowl on television did so outside the United States.
America produces only 10% of the world's feature-length films,
but it accounts for 65% of the global box-office receipts. And
every week 200 million Chinese watch Mee-La-Shoo - Mickey Mouse,
the world's best-known American.
The sun never sets on the American popular culture empire.
Madonna writhes and jiggles on MTV from Rangoon to Rio de
Janeiro. I visited a Burger King in Kuala Lumpur, a Pizza Hut on
Fiji and a McDonald's in Buenos Aires. I turned on my hotel
television in Taipei to find Geraldo interviewing Elvis
This vast commercial empire transcends all politics. Fidel Castro
does The Wave at baseball games. In the Philippines,
President Fidel Ramos may have thrown out the U.S. Navy, but he
used "La Bamba" and "When the Saints Go Marching In" as
music for his campaign rallies. Third World demonstrators burn
U.S. flags to protest American policies while wearing Nikes and
Levi's. Former Viet Cong soldiers now stand in line wearing New
York Yankee baseball caps, waiting to see movies like
"Platoon." Last November, kindergartners at the Sierra Nevada
school in Mexico City were decorating their classrooms for
Thanksgiving. And Saddam Hussein chose Frank Sinatra singing "My
Way" as the theme song for his 54th birthday party.
Thus we have a global village linked not by political ideals, but
by Madonna and McDonald's. What this all means is open to
Some scholars view rock music, Hollywood films and other popular
entertainment exported by the United States as corrupting
influences that damage the societies receiving them and tarnish
America's image; many, like conservative scholar Irving Kristol,
agree that American culture - with its spirit of individualism
and hedonism - has a "wonderfully corrosive effect on all
and strongly authoritarian regimes." And Ben J. Wattenberg, the
writer and fellow of the American Enterprise Institute, a
Washington-based research center, contends it is nothing less
than "the most important thing now going on in the world."
As far as Americans are concerned, one thing is for sure: Getting
away from it all will never be the same. For no matter where
one goes, no matter what precautions one must take - patches
against seasickness, chloroquinine pills against malaria - there
no escaping the United States of America. Those of us who travel
in pursuit of diversity keep running smack into the
omnipresence of our own culture. So much of the romance of world
travel has vanished.
When in Rio de Janeiro, do as the cariocas (that's what the
locals call themselves) do. It's a rainy day, and everyone's
the Barras Shopping Center, which is surrounded by a lake of
shimmering cars. Inside, the Muzak is colonizing my ears with
show tunes. "Memories, all alone with my memories ..." Except
that people are speaking Portuguese, this could be the mall in
I cruise past furniture displays with lavender walls and lemony
sofas, past trendy kitchen shops where the pot calls the kettle
turquoise, past electronics stores offering the latest miracles
of the silicon chip. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are everywhere.
Hardware, software, wash-and-wear, ready-to-wear. All's well that
At the video store, American films are on sale. One example:
"2001: Uma Odisseia No Espaco." At the Drogosmil, cariocas
stock up on Colgate toothpaste, Pampers diapers and Duracell
batteries. At Radio Shack ("America's Technology Store"),
Latin America guys are watching highlights from the National
Basketball Association - Charles Barkley has just dunked one -
on large-screen TV.
The music store lists the Parado de Successos, and No. 1 on the
list is "Achy Breaky Heart" by Billy Ray Cyrus. Bausch &
Lomb lentes de contato are on sale at Di Occhiali, which has its
window lined with Ray-Ban sunglasses. At Garson Appliances,
a fast-talking salesman is explaining the wonders of the GE Space
Center refrigerator to a rapt couple. Best sellers abound at
the Curio Livraria, which is awash in Stephen King, Sidney
Sheldon and Danielle Steele.
A dios, frijoles; hola, Big Mac and Whopper. All over the world,
kids who grew up on rice, beans and fresh vegetables are
turning to burgers, fries and greasy chicken. Most of the big
American fast-food chains earn just under half of their total
revenues from overseas markets. Of the 193 new restaurants opened
by McDonald's last year, 143 were outside the United
States. The golden arches now stretch from Moscow to Manila -
about 13,000 stores in 63 nations. In addition to the familiar
fast-food giants, America has sent over 100-flavor ice cream
chains and chocolate cookie boutiques.
In many Asian and Latin American cities, hanging out at the local
American fast-food restaurant is part of the trendy youth
lifestyle. Conspicuous consumption takes on a new meaning in
Bangkok, where the McDonald's restaurants have
floor-to-ceiling windows - the better, I was advised by a local
doctor, to be seen. Dunkin' Donuts stores in Asia, unlike their
U.S. counterparts, do the bulk of their business at night, where
they are a gathering place for young professional men out to
impress their dates.
To be sure, each American enterprise has a local touch. They put
pineapple on the pizza at the Kuala Lumpur Pizza Hut, and
the McDonald's there featured fried-egg sandwiches. Dunkin'
Donuts are filled with mangos in Djakarta, and Burger King's
Whopper comes topped with shredded beets and a fried egg in
And in Manila, McDonald's offers - as a low-price alternative to
beef entrees - spaghetti.
I visited the Asiaworld Department Store in downtown Taipei,
which has a Coca-Cola boutique with Norman Rockwell
posters, stationery, lunch boxes, pens, pencils, looseleafs,
address books, beach towels, tote bags, clocks, sneakers,
rafts, life preservers. All over Latin America, people are
picking up the new 2-liter Coca-Cola when they go to the
supermercados because the plastico retornable is mas conveniente.
The road dwindles from macadam to gravel, then peters out into
mud and dirt, and now the notice posted back at the Fiji
Visitors Bureau tugs at my sleeve: "MOTORISTS SHOULD CONSULT THE
POLICE OR THE PUBLIC WORKS
DEPARTMENT FOR ROAD CONDITIONS BEFORE VENTURING INTO THE INTERIOR
OF THE ISLAND."
I am on the island of Viti Levu in the nation of Fiji - a cluster
of dots on the globe - 300 or so islands scattered in the western
South Pacific with a total land area about the same as New
Jersey. I am, however, about 7,000 miles from New Jersey, and I
haven't changed times zones so much as left them entirely.
I had driven into the remote Sigatoka River Valley in the late
morning. This is the salad bowl of Fiji, and families were busy
their teitei - vegetable patches - behind their huts. Many of the
homes still have thatched roofs, though corrugated metal is
rapidly gaining favor because it is more likely to survive a
hurricane. They grow lettuce, cassava, corn, cacao beans, tobacco
and other vegetables that are floated down the river on bamboo
rafts called bilibili to the markets at Sigatoka town.
At Tubairata, the next village, a man is coming toward me with
two oxen yoked to a wagon. He is carrying a lantern, and I
realize that it is getting late. The afternoon is burning down
into evening, and shadows are stalking the countryside like gray
People are walking briskly, with intent, and I ask one of them
where he is going.
"Oh, we have just gotten our television, and it comes on at 6. I
don't want to miss any of it.
"What is your favorite program?" I ask.
His eyes narrow in thought, then go wide with discovery. "I like
'Night Court' and 'Cheers' about the same,' he says. "They
make me laugh."
Television, the eternal rectangle, has uplinked and downsized the
globe. Couch potatoes are sprouting up along the Amazon, the
Nile and the Ganges. From Togo to Tegucigalpa, people are doing
the same thing: sitting in front of their televisions watching
American programs and American commercials. There are now more
than a billion TV sets, 50% more than there were just five
years ago. Only half of all Mexican households have a telephone -
but nearly everyone has a television.
Half of all the top TV shows in Italy are American; Danes are
regular watchers of "Cheers," "Golden Girls," "L.A. Law" and
"Roseanne." Argentina's top-rated TV show is "Los Simpsons."
"MacGyver" is a hero throughout much of Asia. They love
Vanna White in Paris, where "La Roue de la Fortune" is a hit.
Just 10 years ago, only two nations had access to Ted Turner's
Cable News Network; the latest total is 142, and CNN is
capable of sending its signal anywhere in the world except the
North and South Poles.
The latest news from Bernard Shaw and Wolf Blitzer is watched in
areas of China where the land is tilled just as if it were
10,000 years ago. And recently Ali Ahmed Rashed, a Bedouin sheep
farmer in the Kuwaiti desert, was found in his tent
watching CNN on a television powered by a generator left behind
by U.S. troops.
Even local television takes its cues from the Americans. The
local news in Taipei is delivered by blow-dried mannequins who
confuse the substantive with the merely photogenic. Just like the
Americans on action news, they exchange quips, give the
temperature at the airport (the last place anyone needs to know
the temperature), and at the sign-off pound their stack of
8-by-11 papers endlessly into the table.
Also wrapped around the globe like an extension cord is MTV,
which has become nothing less than the defining influence of a
new international youth culture. MTV has 50 million American
subscribers but at least three times that number in the rest of
world. Last year, MTV - with all its nymphets in underwear,
screaming guitars and guys with earrings and gold chains - came
India. And when they tore down the Berlin Wall, East German
youths hoisted MTV flags over the rubble.
Unlike Detroit, Hollywood has found a product that neither the
Japanese nor the Germans (or anyone else) seem to make better
- or at least any more popular. A recent worldwide survey of top
films by the American Enterprise Institute showed that 76% of
them were American. One advantage the Americans have is the
massive English-speaking market throughout the world - giving
them gigantic potential audiences compared to, say, a German or
Swedish film company.
All five top box-office films in Switzerland recently were
American; in 1990, "Pretty Woman" was the No. 1 film in Germany,
Sweden, Italy, Spain, Australia and Denmark.
The freighter Aranui anchors in Omoa Bay off the island of Fatu
Hiva well before dawn. From the deck the sky is a vast dark
lake pebbled with stars. There is a faint reek of diesel, and the
odor of blossoms and citrus comes seaborne from the shore. For
about an hour, the only sound is the lullaby of the waves surging
up the beach and subsiding with a sigh. Then a dog barks,
demanding the day. At first, the light is barely perceptible - as
though there is some doubt the day will arrive.
Fatu Hiva - moist and fecund - is the first stop for rain clouds
that have been driven thousands of miles by the southeast trade
winds; the island's deep green vegetative slopes come down to
meet a sea made green by masses of plankton that thrive on the
minerals washed down from the brittle rocks.
Fatu Hiva is part of the Marquesas archipelago, which is the most
remote - meaning farthest from any continent - island group in
the world. The Marquesas are 12 coral specks in French Polynesia
875 miles northeast of Tahiti. Only six of the islands are
inhabited, and about 6,500 people live among the ruins of their
It was Fatu Hiva where Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian explorer,
came with his wife in 1936 seeking "a speck which the world
had overlooked, a tiny free port of refuge from the iron grip of
civilization." They built a bamboo cabin, dressed in native
ate breadfruit and struggled against insects, rain and disease.
They found that living in a state of nature is not easy and
only a year.
It's easier today, for the world no longer overlooks Fatu Hiva.
The 343-foot Aranui comes here once a month, bringing the
wonders of American popular culture. The arrival of the Aranui is
the occasion for a holiday as families three generations deep
gather to watch the unloading of the cargo. Since there are no
docks on Fatu Hiva, the delivery is unfailingly exciting.
Everything is winched from the Aranui's hold, often with a sweat-
glazed, tattooed sailor riding atop the load, out over the water
and then down onto 25-foot whaleboats (cars and trucks require
two whaleboats). The load is then taken through the roiling
surf and onto the beach. Catastrophe seems just one wave away,
but it never comes.
It takes about half a day to bring everything in. Coca-Cola and
7-Up. Whirlpool refrigerators and GE microwaves, Marlboros
and Luckies, Wrigley's Spearmint and Hershey's Kisses. No TV
signals reach here yet, but many people have TV sets - so they
can play American videos, and this month the Aranui brings "Rocky
IV," "Le Blob," some John Wayne epics ...
Even in countries where the American government is disliked,
there is a reverence for American things. At the Eliezez
school, a Jewish school in the upper-class Laranjeiras section of
Rio de Janeiro, I came upon 17-year-old Daniel Fuqs, who
was leaning against an iron fence in front of the school. He was
wearing Levi's and loosely laced Nikes, and smoking a
"We like American cigarettes, American music, American clothing.
The poorer Brazilian kids can't afford Nikes or Reeboks, so
instead they buy baseball caps with the names of American teams.
Anything to tie yourself to America.
"We resent American imperialism, but there is no other way."
The red-and-white Marlboro chevron is as familiar as Coca-Cola
signs in nations with large numbers of smokers, like the
Philippines, where the entire city of Manila smells like an all-
night poker game. Little girls all over the former Soviet Union
Barbie, who appeared last year for the first time in Detsky Mir,
Moscow's most famous toy store. Tony the Tiger is pitching
Frosted Flakes in two dozen nations, and for their birthday
parties, Mexican children want Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle
Gillette is on the cutting edge of the world's shaving market -
so much so that in some countries its very name has come to mean
"razor blade." With 70% of the European market (80% in Latin
America), Gillette sells five times as many blades abroad as it
does in the United States.
The new management at Campbell Soup Co. is out to convince the
world that its products are mmm-mmm-good. The
red-and-white cans are sold in about 120 countries, and in some
places Campbell's is tailoring itself to local tastes. Its
ducks-gizzard soup already is a big success in Asia, and now it
is working on a lotus-root soup. But Asian consumers also are
eager to taste such Western favorites as chicken noodle and
As corporations become multinational, and tariffs give way to
free trade, corporate America - General Electric, Mobil,
Caterpillar, Citibank - is clamoring to do business in places
like Vietnam. Chinese television carries commercials for Head &
Shoulders shampoo and Contac cold capsules.
I have just flown over the Rift Valley, where Darwinists believe
mankind began at least 2.7 million years ago, and now I sit in an
outdoor restaurant in a small market town near Nairobi, sampling
grilled wildebeest and smoked impala with my Kenyan host.
Around us the market throbs like a helicopter. It is a thicket of
humanity, and everyone is talking earnestly, rapidly. The
cacophony is like an overpopulated marsh. We are interrupted by a
young boy, who extends toward me a wood carving of a
"He wants to trade you," says my companion.
"What does he want?"
He talks to the boy in Swahili and then answers, "He wants
anything from America. A T-shirt, a cassette, a baseball cap. As
long as it's from America." In my bag I find a gray sweat shirt
that says "New York Giants." The boy's eyes widen in
appreciation, and we make a deal. Later he comes back and takes
my picture with a Polaroid camera. And then he offers to
come to the United States and work as my "assistant."
Our young people are absolutely daft about America," says my
host, a Kenyan of English ancestry. "It is said that Kenyan
children hope for two things: to go to heaven, and to go to
Buying American products is one way to share in the American
dream - a fact that is not lost on advertisers.
As Europe moves closer toward economic unity, advertisers are
seeking universal themes that will work in all member nations.
Italian motifs don't necessarily work in Britain, and some French
themes don't play in Germany. But run America up the
flagpole, and everybody salutes. Thus American themes and images
dominate European advertising - not just for American
products, but for European products, too.
Advertisers have found that basic consumer desires, such as the
desire for a more attractive complexion or a drier baby, are
pretty universal, and so with the aid of satellite-delivered
television networks, dozens of companies now market to vast
of the world as if these geographically diverse regions were a
Indeed, last year one message was broadcast that blanketed the
Earth and reached millions of viewers in more than 100 nations:
Drink Coca-Cola. The one-minute spot, which carried images of
different people from around the globe, seemed to suggest that
man's common bond was Coke. In the years ahead, global
advertising - using the same message in South Africa and South
Dakota - is expected to become commonplace. Such advertising
doesn't merely sell a product - it transmits a system of values
and homogenizes cultures.
"Advertisers are playing a role very similar to the role of the
church in the past," says Stuart Ewen, professor at the City
University of New York, who has studied the history of
advertising. "Rather than being perceived as having another way
people in other countries, especially less industrialized
societies, are seen as people wanting to be ushered into the
very much a missionary thing."
Some American advertisers don't even bother to dub their spots in
the local language, figuring that English is understood in many
places, and even if it's not it carries a certain snob appeal.
The workers of the world have united - and stand shoulder to
shoulder behind American capitalism.
Oh, the kid in Bangkok? He was wearing a sweat shirt that read:
LINDENHURST HIGH SCHOOL. That's my high school,
on Long Island, from which I graduated decades ago.
I leapt from the cab, ran after him, tapped him on the shoulder
and gushed, "Where'd you get that shirt?" He looked at me
blankly. Desperately I looked around for someone to help me over
the language barrier. Bystanders were eyeing me
suspiciously. Before I could detain him further, he ducked into a
It was showing "Terminator 2."
The New York Times
October 31, 1997
Paris Journal: AH-lo-een: An American Holiday in Paris?
By ROGER COHEN
In one of the stranger manifestations of globalization,
Halloween fever has abruptly gripped the French, sending pumpkin
prices soaring and sorely testing the Gallic ability to pronounce
"trick or treat."
Every last rampart against things American seems to have fallen
as more than 8,000 pumpkins have been spread across the
Trocadero esplanade in Paris, stores have filled with ghoulish
masks and inflatable pumpkin costumes, at least one champagne
has adopted a special pumpkin label, bakeries have begun selling
"Halloween cakes" and villages have adopted Halloween
Just a year ago, Halloween -- pronounced "AH-lo-een" by the
French -- was virtually unknown here. The only things selling
briskly on the eve of All Saints' Day were the chrysanthemums
traditionally taken to cemeteries to be placed on graves. But the
progressive Americanization of French culture, the realization
that Halloween is a useful marketing ploy in the hollow period
before the Christmas season, and the seeming thirst of an
economically stagnant society for a moment of festivity seem to
combined to create a sudden Halloween obsession.
"I must tell you that all this is absolutely bizarre," said
Marie-France Gueusquin, an ethnologist at the Museum of Arts and
Popular Traditions in Paris. "I suddenly started seeing pumpkins
everywhere in my local Monoprix supermarket and I had no
idea what was going on. This is emphatically not a traditional
French festival, and my only explanation is that we have
discovered the power of marketing."
Certainly, the national telephone company, France Telecom, which
sold shares to the public this month for the first time, has
decided the pumpkin plays well with the French. Its mobile
telephone, the Ola, is being advertised with orange billboards
announcing the pleasures of "Olaween." The five truckloads of
pumpkins now at Trocadero were placed there by the company
to back this campaign.
"Halloween is in the air," said Frederic Queret, a spokesman for
France Telecom. "It's festive, convivial and it's a great way to
sell a product. Commercially this period is usually very calm,
and Halloween fills the gap before Christmas."
As the fever has risen, pumpkin prices surged 12.5 percent this
week, to reach 2.50 francs a kilo (about 25 cents a pound) at
the Paris wholesale market at Rungis. Most flower stores in Paris
now have pumpkins on display, and Hallmark has started to
sell Halloween cards in France for the first time.
"It was weird," said Anne-Marie Carluis, a spokeswoman for
Hallmark in France. "We suddenly began to get requests from
stores for these cards. We've shipped thousands. A new festival
has been born in France."
So has some hobgoblin or fairy slipped into France and spirited
away the country's traditional resistance to cultural invasion by
the "Anglo-Saxons," leaving it strangely vulnerable to every last
excess of "le marketing" in its most aggressive American form?
Not quite. French newspapers have pointedly noted that the
origins of Halloween, or All Hallows' Eve, are European rather
than American. It was in ancient Britain and Ireland that a pagan
festival was observed on Oct. 31, the eve of the New Year in
both Celtic and Anglo-Saxon times, and the souls of the dead were
said to revisit their homes.
These pagan practices influenced the Christian festival of All
Hallows' Eve, and Halloween became associated with pranks,
demons and the supernatural. But it was, of course, in the United
States -- where immigrants, particularly the Irish, introduced
the customs -- that Halloween flourished. The pumpkin was
introduced as a symbol, and the festival was firmly linked to
children through trick-or-treating.
"Before it became American, this was a European festival, so I
don't see why we should not celebrate it in France," Claude
Thieulin said as he gazed at a selection of Halloween offerings -
- trick-or-treat balloons, jelly beans, masks and inflatable
pumpkins -- at the Galeries Lafayette department store in Paris.
"It's an extra excuse to have some fun, and, believe me, we
Some villages holding Halloween festivals, like Muy in southern
France, have also contended that Halloween and its
accompanying pumpkins are not particularly American in that the
pumpkin (la citrouille), which is also grown here, has long
played an important part in the local cuisine.
Nevertheless, it seems clear that French Halloween is merely
another sign of the growing power of American culture in France,
where fast-food restaurants, American movies, reversed baseball
caps and American basketball stars play an ever larger part in
national life. Attempts to defend French language and culture
have proved increasingly vulnerable to this onslaught.
"For us, Halloween is a real discovery, a wonderful marketing
exploit," said Laurence Tankere, a spokeswoman for Galeries
Lafayette. "I think it is so successful because people are
longing for an excuse to have a good time. It is interesting that
sold as many articles for adults as for children." She said the
Paris store's sales of Halloween merchandise was worth about
$2,000 a day.
Anna Ocampo, 13, and Pauline Coyac, 14, were shopping for
Halloween goods today at Galeries Lafayette. They discovered
Halloween for the first time this year and have already adorned
their homes with pumpkins and masks.
"It's a festival of the dead, I think," Anna said, "but it's a
lot of fun."
Asked if they knew about trick-or-treating, they looked blank.
"Treek au treeting?" Pauline said.
But Ms. Tankere, the spokeswoman, was already familiar with this
American refinement of Halloween. "I am sure it will come
to France," she said. "It is like door-to-door selling, I think,
and it's wonderful!"
Los Angeles Times
December 27, 1990
COLUMN ONE: AMERICAN LOOK SELLS IN EUROPE;
U.S. MOTIFS ADVERTISE EVERYTHING FROM COOKIES TO CARS. IN THE
CRITICAL YOUNG PEOPLE'S MARKET, AMERICAN POPULAR CULTURE IS MORE
DOMINANT THAN EVER.
By RONE TEMPEST
A current television commercial for Dutch radios is set at a
railroad crossing in the Arizona desert. A French TV
advertisement for cookies features nubile, giggly American girls
on a beach somewhere in the United States.
Razor blades are being hawked on French television by European
actors wearing American football helmets. Meanwhile, a line
of French cars is being promoted these days in a highly stylized
TV commercial filmed on a lonely highway in Southern
California. The accompanying music for the car commercial is the
classic American pop tune, "On the Road Again," by Canned
A visitor to Europe these days might be astonished to see how
American themes and images dominate television and movie
commercial advertising. From cookies to razor blades, boom boxes
to beer, America increasingly is employed by Europeans to
sell European products to fellow Europeans.
American advertising icons such as the Marlboro man and the
clean-cut Coca-Cola youth have been familiar faces on European
screens for decades. But the widespread use of American settings
for European products is something new.
The main reason for the "America sells" trend is simple: In the
critical youth and young adult market (ages 15 to 25), the
American popular culture is more dominant than ever.
"The movies they like best are American," said Claire Hakmi,
television product director for a French ad agency. "All the
sportswear they want is American or modeled on American styles.
The sneakers they wear are American. The sweat shirts they
wear are American."
The fashions are dictated by the powerful American communications
industry, but they also represent a casual, open quality that
offers a break from the strait-laced dress and behavior
strictures of traditional Europe. "It's the cote nonchalant --
attitude -- of the Americans that attracts them," said French
advertising executive Jean-Jacques Sibille.
But there is also a more subtle factor behind the Americanization
of television and movie trailer advertising on the Old
Continent. As Western Europe moves closer to the dream of
creating a single unified market in 1992, advertisers are
to find universal, pan-European themes that work in all 12
European Community countries.
Experience has shown them that Italian motifs do not necessarily
sell soap in Britain; with some exceptions, French themes do
not work in Germany.
"The German doesn't really want to hear what the French guy has
to say about razor blades," said Barrington Hill, an American
advertising executive based in London. "But he will listen to an
Using American themes lets European advertisers bypass historical
nationalism and enmities.
"If you borrow an American atmosphere," explained Mathieu Lorja,
director of European advertising for Phillips, the Dutch
electronics giant, "it neutralizes the typical European cultural
differences. If you filmed a commercial in Italy, for example, no
matter how hard you tried to be 'pan-European' you would still
probably end up with some Italian influences that might make it
difficult to sell something in France or other European
Lorja supervised one of the most blatant uses of Americana to
sell European products: a recent television and movie
commercial for electric shavers, filmed in the American
Southwest, that even features an American flag.
The main message of the commercial -- which, ironically, might
easily be considered too nationalistic to air in the United
-- is that America is the "Land of the Free" and the new cordless
razor grants its user "freedom" from electric cords.
Pervasive American culture has been adopted as a kind of bridge
language among European cultures.
All the major European countries have American television series
on their private and public networks. American cinema is
popular everywhere. With global cable networks like Atlanta-based
CNN, many Europeans even have regular access to
American accents and perspectives.
As French television commentator Christine Ockrent said
ironically: "The only truly pan-European culture is the American
In addition, the ambivalence and resentment that once marked
European attitudes toward the United States, particularly during
the Vietnam War, have largely evaporated.
"The United States remains a myth that makes people dream --
especially the young," said Eric Barenton, the executive in
charge of a recent campaign by Peugeot, the French automobile
manufacturer, the one filmed in Southern California and using
"On the Road Again."
The commercial was directed by Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Mondino,
the rock video specialist who also directed the recent
controversial Madonna video "Justify My Love." Filmed in black-
and-white, the commercial opens with a young man driving a
Peugeot 205 Junior car down an empty stretch of road near
Victorville, in San Bernardino County.
The young man stops to pick up three beautiful women dressed in
studded black leather motorcycle outfits. As soon as the
women get in the car, the young man sees in his rearview mirror
that a trio of ominous motorcycle gang members are
approaching. The women turn to him and say, suggestively: "Now,
let's see what you've got."
He steps on the gas and zooms off toward the limitless American
horizon to the driving strains of Canned Heat, leaving the
motorcyclists in the dust.
"We wanted to create an atmosphere of adventure with some tough-
looking girls -- the atmosphere of a modern Western," said
Barenton, with the Paris-based ad agency Havas, Dentsu &
Masteller. "It's for a young public with a soft spot for the
myth. We wanted a notion of wide-open spaces, freedom --
A recent commercial for Saab, the Swedish automobile, adds a
twist to the "On the Road" theme by never actually showing the
car on screen, only a succession of American highway scenes,
including a moody freeway approach shot of the Dallas skyline.
Commented Christine Celle, a buyer for Chevignon, a chain of
trendy French stores that sell American Southwestern furnishings
and clothes in France: "I think what fascinates the French about
America is the space -- one has the feeling of escape there.
France is a beautiful country but small. In the States, you have
an impression of diversity. It's a dream. It's magic."
In fact, the America that is being used to sell things to
Europeans is a mythological America of the past, without many of
contemporary complications and problems.
A pioneer in exploiting this mythic theme -- in fact, the trend-
setter of the recent series of similar European ads that fall
is being called the "pickup truck genre" of commercials -- was
the London office of the New York-based agency Bartle, Bogle
Beginning four years ago, the agency launched an innovative
European campaign for Levi-Strauss, the jeans manufacturer. The
current commercial features a young man in jeans driving a
battered pickup down a typical two-lane American highway, circa
The commercial was filmed in Southern California using American
actors but was designed for exclusive showing in Europe.
Indeed, it probably would not meet American TV standards, since
the main character, a James Dean look-alike, wins the girl,
an Olivia Newton-John look-alike, by stripping off his pants and
using them to tow another car.
"European attitudes toward the use of the physical person are
different," said Stephen Gash, account director for the Levi's
campaign, choosing his words carefully.
In short, sex and nudity can be used more openly in Europe than
in the United States.
Many European commercials -- like Italian Sergio Leone's
"spaghetti Western" movies -- represent American myth filtered
through European lenses to make them acceptable to Europeans.
For example, a recent campaign by the French pen and razor blade
manufacturer Societe Bic features scenes from an
American-style football game and locker room. However, all of the
action features European actors with chiseled cheekbones
and thin, wiry frames. Dirt is painted on their faces like makeup
to provide an aesthetic allure.
But to anyone remotely familiar with the sport as it is played in
the United States, the images are absurdly pristine and tame -- a
National Football League interpreted by the Comedie-Francaise,
the classic French theater troupe, or a group of Riviera beach
Despite its virtues in the pan-European context, the use of
American images is not a foolproof way to attract customers.
"Just borrowing American imagery and shoving it at their heads is
not going to work," said Gash, who recalled a disastrous
campaign to sell a European hair product by using a Cadillac and
a typical American car wash. "For some reason, the woman
drives her Cadillac through the car wash and comes out the other
side nicely coiffed. It didn't make any sense."
In contrast, Gash said, the Levi's campaign using the American
highway imagery has been a phenomenal success, at one point
boosting sales so high the manufacturer was forced to cancel
commercials until new supplies could be brought to the Continent.
The campaign is now rolling in France and Italy.
Noting the success, several European companies have mounted
similar campaigns. Phillips used an Arizona desert setting near
Phoenix to film a commercial for its portable radios.
In the Phillips commercial, a young, attractive American woman
sits on the hood of her classic-model red Corvette as a freight
train passes slowly in front of her.
A handsome traveler (a spruced-up, impeccably neat, European
version of a hobo) is riding in one of the open freight cars. He
spots the woman and catches her eye. After the train has passed,
he is left standing on the tracks in front of her, holding his
Not all of the American images used to sell European products are
entirely positive. Quite often, when Americans are
represented in the European commercials, they are portrayed as
naive and stupid.
In one of the more unusual of the recent American-theme
commercials, Societe Lu, the French cookie manufacturer, shows a
French adolescent on a French beach. Peering through a pair of
magic binoculars, he spots a group of nubile American girls on
a beach in the United States. He launches a box of French-brand
"Hello" cookies into the air, and, magically, it lands on the
sand in front of the girls. Peering through their own set of
magic binoculars, the American girls sight the French boy.
"It's a French guy," bubbles one of the girls in heavily accented
French. Bouncing up and down, the giggling American girls
ecstatically chant "Hello" over and over again to attract his
The French youth observes this with an air of worldly European
"Too bad their conversation is so limited," he says, before
walking off the beach.