Cultural Imperialism: A Boon or a Bane?

Posted: October 24, 2010 in COM 101 current issues

Cultural imperialism is the practice of promoting a more powerful culture over a least known or desirable culture, whereby one way flow of international messages or media products, especially news and television flows, from a few metropolises, has led to the dispute over cultural dominance.  More specifically Electronic colonialism refers to the dependency relationship established by importation of communication hardware and foreign-produced software with a set of foreign norms, values and expectations that may alter domestic cultures and socialization process.

Let’s take a look at the ever expanding, profit maximizing, cultural imperialist, wonderful world of Disney…

So how does Disney use technology to dominate globally?

In 1923 a young cartoonist called Walt Disney from the American Mid-West created a character called Mortimer Mouse.

On his wife’s advice he changed the name to Mickey, added a voice, and created the first fully-synchronised sound cartoon.

Mickey Mouse was the first figure in a fantasy world Disney created during the dark years of the American Depression, a world where the baddies always lost and the goodies always won.

Mickey, Pluto, Donald and Goofy were part of a business whose success grew out of Disney’s inventive animation.

By this time Disney had made classics like Pinnochio, Fantasia and Bambi – but he had another goal, the Disney theme park.

But the seemingly unstoppable rise of the Walt Disney idea has not gone without criticism…

There could hardly be a better summation of the opportunity that American pop culture companies like Disney are enjoying overseas. With the end of the Cold War, the opening of China, and the worldwide triumph of American-style capitalism, the brand-name purveyors of American food, fashion, and entertainment have never had it so good. Hardly a city on the planet is without McDonald’s and CNN and Levi’s and MTV. American films are omnipresent and in some markets dominant, accounting for nearly three-quarters of movie admissions in Western Europe.

For many countries, especially in the developing world, the ever-growing presence of the US culture industry is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the pervasiveness of Americana can be seen as a sign of progress. US brands are symbols of wealth and modernity and freedom. Drinking coffee at Starbucks or taking the family to Disneyland signals the rise of a worldly middle class. On a more concrete level, Western companies often bring a measure of quality and service that are both a boon for local consumers and a prod for domestic firms to raise their standards.

At the same time, the enormous popularity of US brands overseas can pose a threat not only to a nation’s domestic industries but to its cultural traditions and sense of identity. In the developing world, cultural imperialism has long been seen as the handmaiden of political domination, another way for strong countries to take advantage of the weak.

No company conveys more powerfully the image of a conquering cultural army than Walt Disney. Its founder was a true-blue patriot who saw himself as a proselytizer for the values of the American heartland. The company’s products and services – unlike, say, fast-food hamburgers or sugary soft drinks – are not merely symbolic of the American way of life, but contain as part of their essence a set of beliefs about good and evil and human aspiration. Disney, moreover, has throughout its history been extremely shrewd about building mutually reinforcing products across many different kinds of media, with theme parks and TV shows, movies and merchandise, all working together in service of the Disney way.

The Disney Empire frequently stands accused of cultural imperialism, and of being a ruthless global business.


What do you think?

Do you think the influence and the ever growing presence of US- based companies like Disney in developing countries is a boon or a bane? Do you think it is a sign of progress, symbol of wealth, stimulates the economy and improve the standards of living of developed nations


 Merely a threat to its cultural traditions and sense of identity? More so exploiting the natural resources of developing nations?

  1. Jaspreet Singh Narula says:

    Thanks Manveena for this topic.You bring out the best of topics.I think the influence and the ever growing presence of US- based companies like Disney in developing countries is a boon. I personally feel as though having a US- based company in developing countries is a must. For example,Singapore.Singapore however is a developed country,but getting to be developed,they turned not just towards the world but mainly to the US for its Carl’s Junior. Today,Carl’s Junior is a major hit in Singapore. It may be considered the more uptown Mc Donald’s but the price for their meals attracts not just tourists,but the locals as well. Just like Singapore,if a local were to see a tourist entering a brand new store or restaurant, they will follow to see what is all the hype about. As,if a country were to just merely focus its economy on local companies, hardly any tourists would want to visit and the locals will not get use to other countries life style while staying in their own country. I do think it is a sign of progress, symbol of wealth, stimulates the economy and improve the standards of living of developed nations such as Singapore.As for developing countries, such as Afghanistan , Colombia,Liberia, Barbados, and many more,they should look at how to improve their quality of their country’s lifestyle by looking at developed countries. Yes i do agree with you on how it could be a treat to cultural traditions and sense of identity. But a country can keep that under controlled if they at least try.

    • soni1220 says:

      Absolutely agree, take for example Singapore has many influences by other nations and countries.However,the citizens of Singapore still remain in racial harmony trying and learning more about local and different racial cultures,that i think is simply marvelous.That today is very hard to find in a developed country.More ever, i do think that influences and presence of US and other country companies are a boon for not just developed countries but developing countries as well.

      • Jaspreet Singh Narula says:

        Yes,Singapore is a very good example on how a developed country should be.The thing that really shocks and makes me like Singapore is the fact that the country has racial harmony.In today’s world,VERY few countries do not have this.They do try to have racial harmony but fail.Singapore has been doing and continuing this for years.So for the locals in Singapore they are comfortable with both their local cultures and they are eager to find out about other cultures.This way,companies from other countries can easily adapt and sustain themselves in Singapore.

  2. Madison says:

    I would think it is mostly a boon for developing nations, but like anything else in the world it is not a perfect mechanism in terms of helping the economic of a nation. I’m sure Macdonald’s experiences the same backlash as well for being a mega industry that’s so ubiquitous in the world as to be synonymous in most countries with the colours red and yellow and food pairing of a burger and fries.

  3. Khasim says:

    Since the time immemorial the world has always had a craving for the western products and western style of living. It can be possibly reflected to the proverb “grass is always greener on the other side”, but there has been a conflict in the heads of the people when it comes to choosing of the local to the global way of living. Even after the presence of MC. Donald’s in Singapore, people have not forgotten their authentic chicken rice and curry chicken. Disney has a large share in the entertainment market but any business can not stand long enough if it tries to exploit the cultures of the target lands. When MC. Donald’s it adapted the Indian way of naming their products and doing business because it is essential for the business to adapt. This adaptation comes in picture just to secure the cultures of the target markets.

    • soni1220 says:

      I agree with you Khasim- even though with global presence and cultural influences from western countries singapore have not forggoten their authentic chick rice. In a country that encompasses a good mix of East and West such as Singapore, it is undeniable that US media is prevalent. As more television shows, radio programs, movies, news channels, internet websites and magazines are being produced in the United States, the same soaring amount of products are being introduced to this society. Despite this, however strong the influence of American media, the values and traditions of this country are twice as powerful. Although US media does arguably affect and influence the general public to a certain extent, it does not threaten Singapore’s national identity.
      Recognizing the fact that even though there are positive aspects of importing US media into Singapore, there is also a responsibility in ensuring the stability of and reinforcing the nation’s values and principles.

  4. Sara says:

    I beleive Cultural imperialism is inevitable- it’s just another form of globalization. We can’t condemn globalization. Born and raised as a korean I feel the presence of global industries in my country has benefited my country, obviosly there are two sides to a coin, just like a double edge sward, we can’t achieve something without sacrificing another- but the advantages by large outweigh the disadvantages. Hence I beleiev it is a definate boon with the presence of cultural imperialism. Moreoever, without companies like Starbucks or McDonalds in my country- it would be very appauling. As long as we still remain our identity and regulate the presence of multinational comapanies, using the quota system- my country would not have to be a victim of loosing it’s culture or national identity.

  5. soni1220 says:

    Sara, correct me if I’m wrong..but i beleive
    In these modern days, all goods spread out all over the world. Imports and exports are necessary to keep the globalization and commercialism. The two main examples are the United States’ McDonalds and Starbucks. There are so many McDonalds and Starbucks over the world, and most of people would have heard of and consumed them. This proves the U.S’s cultural imperialism, trying to penetrate into other cultures and instill their own culture in other foreigners. However, McDonalds are not all the same; they are different in each country. In order to succeed in foreign countries, McDonalds had to follow foreign cultures as well. For example, in Korea, there are many McDonalds, and they are very popular. They are fast food restaurants and are not familiar to Koreans who enjoy sitting down with a group of people and spend a long time during meals. Also, as foods are all American styles, McDonalds create some Korean style of burgers in order to attract and get close to Koreans. Thus, what they created is “kimchi bulgogi burger” which has kimchi and bulgogi, one of traditional Korean foods, in burgers. These burgers are still very popular and succeed in collecting consumers and profits. Therefore despite the influence of the American culture, there is still the presence of local adaptation i.e. in terms of food to suite the local’s need hence still remaining a sense of national identity and not beign totally Americanized.

  6. suhel manchanda says:

    To begin with cultural imperialism topic, its a boon for many developing nations around the globe. Heinz ketchup a classic example established in early 19th century became a globalized product. With the power of media, advertisements spread like wavelength across the world map. Everyone became familiar with the brand heinz, and slowly it became a neccessity household product.

    Similarly western culture like clothes, accessories, technology has vastly spread aorund the globe. Developing nations have been readily accepting and adapting to the western countries. This could be seen through the brand awarness, mobile phones like iphones and blackberry, zara women dresses etc. Surprisingly developing countries have also been shocked that their traditons and cultures is slowly vanishing. Media power with the help of capitalism have impacted drastically over people’s livestyle. Shifting trends from traditonal to western customized livestyle has been observed through past few decades. Its bane from the other side of the coin. Naturally its upto people to decide, media power is just the medium.

  7. Jeevan says:

    I think the influence and the ever growing presence of US- based companies like Disney in developing countries is a boon.Being a developed country,America is looked at for inspiration.With their economy and power,America has many companies.For their companies to be introduced to a developing country,that will not only develop the country’s economy but it will be known to many tourists.Tourists may want to actually visit.That will make the country’s rep grow.However it does have its downfall on how the locals may forget their local cultures and get used to foreign cultures instead.But there are ways for foreign companies to market their products in a way that the locals are affected.In that way they are not loosing their companies ways but also attracting income as locals will want to come to smth new but not different.

    • Ram says:

      I agree with you Jeevan.Me being an indian,living in India,a developing country,we have alot to look forward to when a foreign company opens up in India.As we not only get to experience something new but get to see what other countries are doing as well.However,we indians are very particular about preserving our local ethics and cultures.I have seen personally how foreign cultures have influenced and changed many of my friends.They forget where they come from and who they are and become someone totally different.There are many pros and cons to having a foreign company set up here.I agree and hope that companies market their products so that locals may not forget their own cultures.As who you are is very important.

  8. Arthur says:

    As for your question on if i think it is a boon or a bane,i think it is a boon.Pizza!of course the original comes from Italy,but you can find pizza everywhere you every country.even if it is with odd toppings,it is still considered pizza.This is what foriegn companies like pizza hut has done to the world.they have brought people together wherever they are,they can have pizza.A dish the the world loves.I honestly do not think it is a threat at all.I find foreign companies setting up in either developed or developing countries the most good thing.They make the economy grow and also the country is known to be a local country to foreigners as they can adapt well.

  9. Govind says:

    Interesting topic to be debated…
    However there’s not going to be a Right or a Wrong as such topics can only be viewed from one’s opinion. Nevertheless, the insides of this fact rests under the assumption that the world is getting ‘globalized’, but not for the Good. Well, we’ll have to come back at it later since its still in its early stage.

  10. KDH says:

    I feel it’s a good thing to bring in other companies. Like in India, for example, bringing in Carls’ Jr. it brings in more tourists, increasing their economy.

    However, like how India sees the cow as a holy figure, it may cause them to forget their culture. There are always a good and bad in everything. However, it is important for the people to NOT forget their roots.

  11. ssm says:

    From an optimist point of view, everything that the western culture does is a boon, as we are all born and bought up under one vision to bring betterment for all mankind. So that tells us alot cultural imperialism.. May be you wanna share your point of view?

  12. Poonam says:

    It’s the fusion blend, every socialite is lifestyle conscious. No one talks less than prada bag or channel watch. Brand freaks I would say people have turned in the past few boon or bane all is cool when it comes to satisfying lifestyle demands!

  13. Eddie says:

    An excellent article with cultural imperialism clearly defined.
    It could be both a boon and bane depending on how you look at it.
    So what if US is really using cutural imperialism, does it cause any harm?
    If not for the trade with US the country may be even poorer, the inevitable cultural imperialism that comes with international trade is worth the trade off of prosperity.

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