China S Big Mac Attack Media Essay

Modified: 1st Jan 2015
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American companies are charged with exporting American culture along with their products. This is not a new occurrence as this charge can be traced back to the sugar and tobacco trades of old. To further explore this accusation I will review two writings that attempt to tackle the subject, although from totally different perspectives. The first is an essay by J.L. Watson called China’s Big Mac Attack which takes a laissez-faire look at the events that lead up to China’s love affair with the fast food giant. The second writing is a book by Benjamin Barber titled Jihad vs. McWorld that presents a much darker look at multi-national corporations and their diabolical plot to capture the world. My contention is that neither extreme is correct, the truth lying somewhere in the middle as is the case with most complex issues.

According to Watson in China’s Big Mac Attack (2000), fast food restaurants have made considerable inroads into Chinese culture; consequently, he asks the question: “Is globalism – and its cultural variant, McDonaldization – the face of the future?” (Watson, 2000) – An essential inquiry as we begin our examination of western influences on the rest of the world.

First Watson professes to review the writings of the theorists who “argue that transnational corporations like McDonald’s provide the shock troops for a new form of imperialism that is far more successful, and therefore more insidious, than its militaristic antecedents” (Watson, 2000). But instead of academicians, he analyses op-ed writers such as Ronald Steel and Thomas Friedman, who has noted that no countries with McDonald’s have ever fought each other in a war (Watson, 2000).

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To further examine the riddle of the successful inroads made by fast food corporations, Watson next delves into the history of McDonald’s in Hong Kong (a British consulate where McDonald’s was “promoted… as an outpost of American culture” (Watson, 2000). Because of transformations in family life and traditional family values in China, Watson observes that McDonalds has taken advantage of a budding focus on the “needs and aspirations” of the modern Chinese family, especially given the “lavish attention” bestowed upon the single child, the “little emperors and empresses” who are particularly defenseless to the amusement of “Uncle McDonald” (Watson, 2000). Although, there are those that will disagree, Watson points out that McDonald’s has become a target for public protests against America, which has amplified the “symbolic load” borne by the golden arches (Watson, 2000).

McDonald’s has countered by “disciplining” its employees and its customer base, and by doing so, has attracted an “elite” group flourishing within the modernized, consumer-based cultures that are emerging in markets around the world. McDonalds has ingeniously entrenched itself into the local cultures in such a way that “it is increasingly difficult to see where the transnational ends and the local begins” (Watson, 2000). The changing of cultural norms because of western “impositions” is further illustrated in Watson by discussion of “the line” which is first mandated by managers but later self-enforced by “regular customers” (Watson, 2000); ironically, public civility is now associated with western norms in Asian cities like Beijing. The cultural contrasts between fast food establishments in America and Beijing becomes more apparent, however, in Watson’s discussion of how “consumers” in the Far East have turned the fast food restaurants into community centers where they can safely visit, read, or entertain (Watson, 2000).

Like James Watson, Benjamin Barber acknowledges in his book Jihad vs. McWorld (1992), that the concepts associated with multinationals such as McDonalds, Disney, and Coke are more powerful than military force: “What is the power of the Pentagon compared with Disneyland? Can the Sixth Fleet keep up with CNN? McDonalds in Moscow and Coke in China will do more… than military colonization ever could” (Barber, 1992, p. 12). The first part of the book involves “McWorld”, the ever- growing service sector of the international economy, mainly as it manifests itself in what Barber calls the “infotainment telesector,” American in culture if not always in name. He sums it up in a score of brand names and pop icons: Disney and Paramount, Nike and Reebok, Madonna and MTV, Coke and Pepsi, Homer Simpson and Batman, Kentucky Fried Chicken and, needless to say, McDonald’s. These multi-national corporations are, according to Barber, “relentlessly promoting its ideology of fun at the expense of local institutions and folkways, this virtual economy of images and lifestyles promises to become nothing less than a world “monoculture”” (Barber, 1992, p. 58). For civic life, this is particularly bad news, Barber contends. Manipulated by “promotion, spin, packaging, and advertising,” citizens lose awareness of public matters, falling prey to “passive consumption” and devoting themselves exclusively to the satisfaction of their consumer wants.

According to Barber in Jihad vs. McWorld we face “two possible political futures – both bleak, neither democratic… [either] a Jihad in the name of a hundred narrowly conceived faiths against every kind of …social cooperation and civic mutuality, [or] one commercially homogenous global network: one McWorld tied together by technology, ecology, communications, and commerce” (Barber, 1992, p. 315). Barber indicates that “the forces of Jihad and the forces of McWorld operate with equal strength in opposite directions” so as to create a “centrifugal whirlwind” that competes with a “centripetal black hole” (Barber, 1992, p. 315). Neither version is presented as a desirable outcome.

Barber asserts that McWorld has “eroded” national boundaries because “all national markets” have become “vulnerable” to free trade and international banking / currency exchanges that allow and privilege transnational and multinational corporations and entities like the World Bank. On the surface, peace is fostered by open markets. Religious and racial markers become less important when the more important characteristic of being human is seen as being able to shop and consume. (Barber, 1992, p. 16).

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Furthermore, no one country can sustain itself as an “”autarky” anymore; we are all interdependent. Even wealthy countries like the United States depend on resources (like oil) found in other areas of the world (Barber, 1992, p. 372). The flow of goods is paralleled by the flow of ideas across boundaries because of modern developments in science and technology, particularly in the integration of “computer, television, cable, satellite, laser, fiber-optic, and microchip technologies” that have given us access to information and people all of the time in all places (Barber, 1992, p. 108).

Barber warns that capitalism and democracy “have a relationship, but it is something less than a marriage” (Barber, 1992, p. 126). Principally in ecological and environmental matters, capitalism has created “greater inequality” because the modern world cannot afford to allow developing countries to consume natural resources at the progressively more devastating rate that we see happening in the current consumer markets.

The U.S. is experiencing, through increased immigration and more socially liberal views, a shift in family values. As the manufacturing base in the United States continues to be shifted abroad, the western culture remains the last “product” available for export. As we have already seen in discussions of changing families and values in the U.S., globally, these changes are taking root in many parts of the world, so that these debates between being a consumer or a citizen take on global implications. Six billion people consuming at the same rate that Americans now consume would inevitably lead to environmental destruction and disputes would lead to wars over natural resources. As Watson acknowledges, the question is no longer simply “whose culture is it” that dominates; the more important question is what will be the outcome of “adventurism associated with rising affluence” (Watson, 2000) as markets are opened and imports (and the Internet) make shopping a world-wide event?

The question of prevention hinges on whether this phenomenon should be halted or prevented in the first place. The more alike all individuals are as a global people, the less reason there will be for wars. Most wars today are fought on the basis of differences. The difference in question may be religion, politics, race, or culture. Differences and diversity may be great if these items are dragged out on holidays or practiced in private. However, when these cultural or religious differences invade the work-place or the government, it is a recipe for disaster and exclusion. If Wal-Mart, McDonalds, and the American media can bring about this homogeny…more power to them.

 

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