Invasion of the Culture Snatchers?

The specter of ``Americanization'' haunts the world. Its consequences are demonized everywhere, sometimes going as far as to draw on the metaphor of a (need I say American) science-fiction movie entitled Invasion of the Body Snatchers, within which hostile aliens imperceptibly take control of our bodies and our minds. But hyperbolic rhetoric about invasions misses the complexity of the cultural change taking place all around us.

Neither side in the debate about Americanization offers a convincing explanation for the phenomenon. Those who argue that Americanization is a virulent form of ``cultural imperialism'' apparently see it as a product of growing market domination by American media concerns. However, many giant cultural corporations - Japanese-owned Sony, Canadian-owned Seagram, Murdoch's empire or Germany's Bertelsmann - are no longer American, even though they promote American cultural models.

Even if the media were American-owned, it is too facile to say that consumers of culture the world over are mere clay in the hands of skilled marketing experts. It makes more sense to assume that there are some elements of social, psychic, and aesthetic gratification that explain the resonance of American cultural models, and provide for their commercial usefulness.

The other side in the debate over Americanization emphasizes the liberating, anti-authoritarian power of American popular culture. At times, this may be fitting: in 1950's Germany, for example, American youth culture had a strong anti-authoritarian component that helped to undermine authoritarianism and contributed to the process of postwar democratization.