One topic that is dear to my heart but which hasn’t come up much on this blog is, to use that misnomer and euphemism, Globalization.
I term it a misnomer because the world is if anything becoming less "international"–one-way cultural exchange is a contradiction in terms, and that’s mostly what happens today–and less cosmopolitan under this baleful process thanks to the relentless drive to homogenize the world in the image of Western and especially American upper-middle class WASP sensibilities. Euphemistic for the same, and because what we’re really talking about most of the time is basically neocolonial economic development patterns of low-end services and low-end commodity cultivation that ensure the continued dependence of developing countries on outsiders.
One of the main culprits in this story is tourism–meaning the culture of contemporary travel, not travel itself–and the way in it imposes the values and ignorance of outsiders onto other societies. The market and "global" popular culture ruthlessly stamp out non-sanctioned forms of diversity or cultural difference.
Anyway, came across an article ("What’s the craic?") that hints at some of the harmful affects of modern tourism for Ireland, a nation whose problems most developing countries would love to have.
It’s a fairly tame and toothless analysis, I think, but it hints at the forces of external ignorance and stereotype the cultural landscapes of much of the rest of the world. Especially when you consider how much worse the situation must be for societies which lack Ireland’s towering cultural cachet, warm and fuzzy glow in Western popular culture, and relative prosperity.
If pretigious, beloved Ireland must change itself to avoid disappointing the shallow expectations of tourists, imagine what countries in less known (or appreciated) parts of the world must do to keep their "life blood" of tourist dollars coming.
Here’s a snippet:
Dr McGovern said tourism had been one of the largest growth areas in the Irish economy in the last decade and was set to become the most prominent sector of the economy in the next three to five years. A key feature of selling Ireland as a tourist destination has been its unique night-time culture. Tourist policy and literature focuses on Irish dance, music, conviviality and conversation.
But Dr McGovern said that focus, along with the rise of the Irish theme pub, has led to a ‘commodification’ of Irish identity and culture.
He said: "It has an impact on the perceptions of Irish people
in general, but cultural activities are also affected by having to be reproduced to satisfy the tourist market."
Dr McGovern said the traditional Irish session, where people would perform music or dance in a pub setting, has been changed as a result of the demands from tourists.
He said: "Something like 40 per cent of tourist visitors to public houses in Ireland are to ‘singing pubs’, where
there is entertainment put on for tourists in a very particular way. Irish traditional musicians and dancers are becoming cultural workers like they never were before.
"I’m not suggesting that this is necessarily a problem – in many ways it has created employment in the performers’
home locations. But I am arguing that aspects of the session are being changed by it.
"What was a participatory culture, where everybody would do a turn, is becoming much more of a player-audience situation."
"Also the range of cultural performance has lessened because [clueless foreign –Svend] people don’t recognise the nuances and variety of different styles.
Dr McGovern was inspired to carry out his research by the emergence
of Irish theme bars in the early 1990s.He said: "The Irish theme bar has been a global phenomenon. I wanted to explore the reasons why that developed, the form it was taking and the relationship between that and the expectations of people from abroad when they went to Ireland.
The absurdity of it all is captured in the last line of this paragraph.
"What has been coming through is because the theme bars portray Ireland as a traditional society, and the people as fun loving and friendly, people expect Irish pubs to look and act like theme bars when they come to Ireland. The result has been a growth of Irish theme bars in Ireland."
Gadzooks. Even Ireland must contend with the Orientalizing gaze.
Imagine if the exigencies of the global economy required all Americans to not only wear cowboy hats, but don chaps and spurs in order for the American economy to remain on track. And for large chunk of Americans to study square dancing instead of engineering or other practical disciplines that, unlike most service sector professions, have lead to self-sustaining economic activity because that’s where all the money is. That’s the dead end that, contrary to the relaxprop of pro-Globalization Pollyanas like Thomas Friedman, much of the rest of the world is mired in.
Like women whose professional and social prospects–and even
self-perceptions–are undermined by the constant, uncompromising gaze
of men (e.g., "The Beauty Myth"), the developing world must constantly change itself to meet the arbitrary ill informed and often inconsistent expectations of outsiders.
Granted to some extent small concessions are inevitable thanks to human psychology. There’s a reason that food companies add the color orange to orange juice. Think about that. They add color to the substance that defines the color itself to make it seem more "authentic" and "pure" to consumers.
It needn’t be so extreme, though. People would still enthusiastically consume orange juice if were not quite so vividly orange.
Were they not accustomed to Hollywood’s instinctive whitewashing of the universe, they’d be willing to watch movies about other cultures and races without that most odious of all plot devices, the white hero whose presence in the "jungle" of a non-Western society makes the stories of brown folk suddenly worth hearing (a few recent examples: "Amistad", "The English Patient", "The Last Samurai").
And surely people would still travel the world (and enjoy doing so) if every stereotype and irrational expectation arising from ignorance weren’t slavishly catered to and if it were understood that part of traveling is, well, traveling. And, practically speaking, does having a McDonalds within walking distance on a "world tour" really enhance even the most provincial of traveler’s experience?
We’re just used to everything being geared to the lowest common denominator. Increasingly, this is the American way, alas. Call it intellectual and cultural mob rule, actively abetted by megacorporations eager to consolidate their product lines as a means to maximize efficiency and profit (those other sacred values of contemporary American life).
But I digress more than a little. Back to Finals Week. Ugh.