Thursday, March 25, 2010

Google: Changing the Dynamic Between State and Private Enterprise

While the Los Angeles Times seems to be criticizing Google for their decision to stop censoring their websites in China, I, for one, am Google’s biggest cheerleader. The company has risked virtually all of its business in China in order to take a stand against censorship, redirecting people from to the uncensored website in Hong Kong. It also has decided to open a Twitter account in China against Chinese laws, emphasizing their willingness to fight against the unfair laws of the government preventing the Chinese people from accessing useful information.

The risks that Google faces go far beyond simply being banned from China as a search engine and an email server. Google’s ventures in the country are numerous, following Google’s mission statement to “to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.” With these ambitions, Google had brought to China many of the same information-sorting technologies that we enjoy here in the United States, including the incredibly popular Gmail with Googledocs. The company also had high hopes to introduce a line of smart phones that many Chinese are increasingly relying on for surfing and searching the Web. Google has even been giving away its Android technology to cell phone makers in order to establish their presence in this market and to pass the savings onto producers. However, many of Google’s Chinese partners have been put under pressure to pull out of deals with the search engine company since its refusal to abide by Chinese laws of censorship. Some have described this as a “tightrope act” with Google balancing laws with business ventures, working around Chinese regulations but still trying to maintain a hold on the smartphone market in the country.

Google’s tactics have drawn the attention of business people and political minds alike. It has been studied by Douglas Paal, vice president of the Varnegie Endowment for International Peace and a senior advisor on Asian affairs in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. It is also a topic of debate in the White House circles. According to National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer, Google had informed the White House of its decision to end its own censorship in China. While many hoped that Google would simply pull out of China in order to maintain a more positive relationship, the fact that Google has decided to play hardball and fight against Beijing should send a much-needed message to the Chinese government that it is simply “too difficult to do business in China.”

But this is not simply a fight over business practices. This is a battle that has been fought between nations in the past, between the people and their governments for decades. This is the fight to free speech and freedom to information. Classic novels such as Animal Farm and 1984 have demonstrated to the Western world the importance of information and its power over a people. Whoever holds knowledge, holds dominion. In mainland China today, the government controls what information its people have access to by controlling the channels of information. With restricted access to search engines and news sources, as well as to social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter, mainland Chinese are unable to learn credible information about current events – especially those involving the government. In a recent move, Google has opened up a Twitter feed on their webpage that lifted the 9-month hiatus of accessibility to the micro-blogging website. According to the LA Times, “The tweets do not show up for all searches, but only for terms that appear to be popular on Twitter. On Thursday morning, that included discussions on such taboo subjects as how to circumvent China's Internet firewall, why Google decided to exit China and a vaccine scandal unfolding in central China.”

Thanks to Google’s information organizing, citizens of mainland China are getting a taste of what sorts of information are out in the world that they have been kept from them by their government. This is a tremendous moment in history. A business corporation has decided to take on one of the most powerful nations in the world at the core of their domestic policy. Google’s attack on China, while it may prove to be detrimental to their business ventures in the country, challenges two important aspects that make China so successful on the international stage. First, it attacks Beijing’s ability to manage the lives of each of its citizens in a way that is both efficient and beneficial to the country as a whole. As a communist government, Beijing has the ability to organize Chinese citizens and to keep them from revolt and revolution by controlling the information they receive, as well as controlling their access to income and social change. This seems like the sort of thing we find in fiction, but the Google vs. China battle has brought to light what has been overlooked for centuries. China’s ability to maintain its Great Firewall and other harsh restrictions on businesses is possible because of its attractiveness as a market. With such a large population, the opportunity to operate in China is a tremendous benefit for any multinational corporation. Many would sacrifice, as Google had, on their normal business operations just to get a share of the Chinese market. However, what Google has done by fighting back is it has shown the world the difficulties of doing business in China. Perhaps now, others will not be so willing to make the necessary sacrifices to cooperate with Beijing.

The wake of Google’s stance has already begun spreading to other companies., one of the largest internet webpage servers in the world, has decided to stop offering new China domain names. Will other companies follow their lead soon? Who will be daring enough to take the stand that Google has against one of the more powerful governments in the world? The steps already taken have begun to pave a new path at the intersection between international relations and global marketing.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Marketing, Corporate Social Responsibility, and Globalization: A Return to Blogging With a Focus on Coca-Cola and South Africa

It has been nearly a year since my last blog post, and I feel that it is high time I started my studies once again. In the ten month hiatus between this post and the last, I have continued my studies at the University of Southern California in international relations and global marketing, focusing on the relationship between the two disciplines by studying the effects of multinational corporations on the countries in which they operate. By approaching this topic from its two opposite sides (the first being from the perspective of the marketers working at multinational corporations, the second being from the perspective of the countries affected by the entrance of multinational corporations), I have had several advantages in my studies. As a global marketing student, I am more informed on the social issues and politics affecting business transactions than my peers. As an international relations scholar, I bring a kind of optimism about the spread of cultures across the world into classrooms that are caught up in the negative aspects of globalization. As such a contradictory pupil, I hope to bring my unique appreciation of this topic to A Global Opus, so that viewers may understand both sides to this coin.

With this in mind, the focus of this blog post is on the international corporate giant, Coca-Cola, and its current business ventures in South Africa. Coca-Cola is the number one most valuable brand in the world according to Interbrand. It operates in practically every country, bringing with it the taste, feel, and design of an American product and the functionalities of an American-based business. In each of these countries, Coca-Cola focuses on making its products relevant and appreciated by the local residents. Whether this means changing the pronunciation of the name in Asian countries so that the characters represent the ideals of the company, or simply changing the name of their product to be “Coca-Cola Lite” instead of “Diet Coke,” Coca-Cola marketing managers are hard at work maintaining a global brand.

Part of this global branding process involves promoting a positive image of the company itself. As many individuals around the world are suspicious of the spread of Western companies into their unique cultures, it is the responsibility of marketing managers to create solutions to this problem. In other words, it is no longer enough to simply sell a product in another country – you have to stand up to harsh criticisms with evidence of genuineness and positivism. One way that many multinational corporations are responding to anti-globalization protests is by developing programs for Corporate Social Responsibility. According to their published fact sheet, “In 2007, The Coca-Cola Company and The Coca-Cola Foundation made charitable contributions of $99 million to community initiatives worldwide.” Among many of their recent initiatives include a worldwide approach to sustainability and decreasing environmental impact. In separate countries, such as China and Greece, Coca-Cola has held separate regional programs to address more local needs.

As masters of global marketing, the Coca-Cola Company recognizes the advantages of international events. The one that seems to spark their interest as of late is the FIFA World Cup to be held in South Africa this summer. With undeniable presence in the region already, Coca-Cola is maximizing this opportunity by working alongside the Special Olympics to host the Unity Cup. To be held on the same pitch that hours later will host a FIFA World Cup quarterfinal match, the Unity Cup will bring football (Americans, read: soccer) legends and other celebrities to the field to play alongside Special Olympics athletes. The moment will truly be a special one for Special Olympic athletes and their World Cup counterparts alike.

Coca-Cola’s strategic relationships have been a key part of their success. Since 1968, Coca-Cola has worked in partnership with the Special Olympics. They are also official sponsors of the FIFA World Cup, with advertising at every game. It seems only good business sense to sponsor these events. Among the reasons why Coca-Cola has chosen to participate in football tournaments is the game’s ability to, “bring together people from all walks of life,” according to CEO Timothy Shriver. Thus it would seem that the Coca-Cola Company promotes togetherness and unity across all borders, whether they be country borders or social segmentations.

Still, there are many who view Coca-Cola and other global brands as damaging to the cultural fiber of their countries. Companies who share the blunt of these criticisms are McDonald’s and the Walt Disney Company, who seek to spread their influence across multiple continents. Yet all of these companies engage in corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs to improve their relationship with the countries they enter and to attempt to gain the trust of their consumers. Do these programs work? Or are they a waste of money? It would seem that spending this money would improve the brand image, but does it really make products sell faster? Ultimately – does sponsoring an event like the Unity Cup mean that your company is socially responsible and cares about its consumers, or does it simply mean that you are using the plight of others to advertise yourself in a positive light? Can CSR measures be seen as anything but selfish?

Regardless of the implications of CSR practices of multinational corporations, many of these efforts do make a positive difference in local communities. Coca-Cola’s partnership with the FIFA World Cup helps bring countries together through athletics. Their work with the Special Olympics helps make these games possible and allows people with disabilities to be able to compete athletically and to accomplish something incredible. Other companies also have positive impacts. Take for example the McDonald’s Corporation. They work with the Ronald McDonald House Charities to improve the lives of children around the world. While it is true that not every CSR program put in place is as successful as those mentioned above, it cannot be denied that some of these programs are actually beneficial. So while it may be simply a way to generate a positive brand image about the company, if the company puts in the crucial effort and funding to make these programs effective and successful, it can be argued that this is proof of the genuineness that they seek to portray.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Peace by Piece

I invite anyone interested in my writing and in world politics to discover a new blog that I am starting regarding the pursuit of peace in modern world politics.  While I am pleased with my work here on "A Global Opus" and will continue to write, my new webpage titled "Peace by Piece" will focus more on the politics that affect peacemakers.  For anyone interested, I have included below my opening post, as well as a link to the website.  It is my hope in creating this new blog that readers will interact with me and with each other in order to create a useful and more substantial dialogue on the subject of peace.

The world in which we live today is one of great opportunity and of even greater challenges.  With the question of nuclear proliferation and supremacy constantly underlining relations between nations and the growing threat of terrorism complicating international security, today's leaders are granted the unique opportunity to communicate with one another to negotiate peace and to resolve conflict.  However, this is no simple task.  As United States President Obama recently experienced, states which we have struggled to keep from proliferating since the Cold War era have begun to challenge the will and might of the world's great powers.  Particularly in the case of North Korea, much of the President's decisions rely on Russia and China, as well as inform other nations of how the United States might respond to their own aggression in the near future.  This intertwining of decision-making and the growing complexity of conflict reflects the need for a new approach to peace in the twenty-first century.

While several organizations have come forward with their ideas on the subject of peace, each of them brings a different flavor to the table.  Think tanks like the Council on Foreign Relations (hereafter referred to as CFR) bring scholars together to discuss mounting tensions overseas and the direction that politicians should take in dealing with issues such as nuclear proliferation, human rights issues, and environmental sustainability.  Other organizations stick with one ideal for peace.  Organizations like Soka Gakkai International and the African Diaspora Foundation work hard to influence change through peaceful methods and emphasize a humanist approach to peace.  One common thread runs through each of these organizations: the ability to learn from one another, to teach one another, and to share knowledge across borders.  This approach to peace through education may be the change that this world needs in order to fully embrace these challenging modern times.

Monday, April 6, 2009

It Affects Us All: Feminism as a Transnational Cultural Movement

In this week’s blog post, rather than primarily studying particular areas of popular culture and their effects on international relations, I have decided to focus on an issue which I have not touched on before, and which both affects and is affected by all areas in this field. The topic to which I am referring is feminism. While I do not personally consider myself an avid feminist, I am a modern woman in America, whose upbringing has been sprinkled with teachings about equality and women’s rights. As such a writer, my blog today explores two interesting posts on the topic of feminism. The first post refers to a news article found in the Washington Post about an Ultra-Orthodox newspaper in Israel that used the Photoshop program to remove images of ministers Limor Livnat and Sofa Landver from the inaugural photo of the Israseli Cabinet (see photo below), in which I discuss the disparities between the accepted rights of women that are demonstrated by their positions in government and the societal disapproval of their prominence in politics and media. The second post, The Modern Girl Around The World: Consumption, Modernity, and Globalization comes directly from a blog titled Feminist Review whose posts deal with issues regarding women’s rights and gender equality. In this post, writer Claire Burrows reviews the newly published book The Modern Girl Around the World, which she says, “demonstrate[s] that modernity is not a Western creation with foreign copycats, but rather a simultaneous movement.” In my response to Ms. Burrow’s post, I analyze this quote, and its significance to scholars of international relations, westernization, and globalization.

Orthodox Paper Photoshops Women Out of Israeli Cabinet

Thank you for drawing attention to this matter. While I am not going to specifically respond to your political views regarding Foreign Miniser Avigdor Lieberman, I would like to comment on the fact that the topic of this post is particularly shocking to those of Western cultures who are accustomed to a more equal treatment of women. For a form of public media to go through so much trouble to remove and replace the images of two women in a government photograph, it seems that there are extreme feelings of distaste for these women and their prominence coming from the editors of Yated Neeman. According to the Washington Post article you linked to in your article, “Ultra-Orthodox newspapers consider it immodest to print images of women.” I find this to be especially disheartening because these women have risen out of a culture that is not traditionally accepting and encouraging of feminine participation in politics and media publicity, only to be erased from the archives of history because a newspaper felt that their pictures were indecent. This act goes to show that while women have accomplished so much in being recognized for their efforts and their talents, there is still a long way to go in some places before equality can really be accomplished.

I recognize that this is a very Western opinion, and that there are many who disagree with my position on gender equality. From the perspective of the Ultra-Orthodox writers for Yated Neeman, it would seem that I advocate globalization and the spread of Western cultures into other areas of the world. While I cannot deny that I support learning things from other peoples as a positive way to improve oneself and one’s own global understanding, I sympathize with the fact that some of the things Western countries consider to be essential clash with the religious and traditional cultural foundations of others. However, I would simply like to point out the irony presented by this post: women are allowed to lead and to hold office, but cannot be published in photos doing so.

The Modern Girl Around the World: Consumption, Modernity, and Globalization

Thank you for posting an article regarding such an interesting publication, and for acknowledging the fact that while this was printed by an academic press, its appeal stems to anyone interested in gender related studies. In this age where gender equality is fast growing as a global discipline, it is crucial that popular culture joins in this global movement. You mention in your review that, “the authors demonstrate that modernity is not a Western creation with foreign copycats, but rather a simultaneous movement.” While I have yet to read the book to understand this comment, it seems that such a statement is broad and seemingly dangerous. How do you define the modernity to which you are referring? If this modernity entails women coming into the public eye, opening their mouths, and stepping away from tradition, is it possible that this movement could have happened independently of Westernization? Is it possible for women in other countries to realize their worth without the encouragement of western thought and popular culture? While I do agree that it may be possible that the modern feminist movement is independently expanding in other countries, I have to argue that popular culture and the spread of Western democracy is essential in planting the seeds and ensuring that women are supported in the global arena. Without the constant reminder that women in other countries are struggling through this battle as well, it would seem that the goal might be lost in discouragement. It is through publications like this one, as well as more subtly through TV shows, films, newspaper articles, and the Internet that women are empowered to move into the modern.

I was, however, pleased with your recognition of the extreme interconnectedness that defines our present world. You state in your post that, “We live in a global world, and this compilation recognizes transnational trends.” It is important for scholars in any discipline to recognize that the situations are widespread that have truly domestic implications without some sort of international ripple. With media readily accessible to wide numbers of people through the Internet, television, and radio, these “transnational trends” support each other. Thank you, again, for reviewing such an interesting and currently relevant publication.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Out of the White House: President Obama Interviews with Jay Leno

In today’s world, political leaders from around the globe utilize unconventional media channels to reach a wider audience beyond their typical followers. Knowing that people will usually support those they appreciate and connect with on a personal level, President Barack Obama recently appeared on The Tonight Show with host Jay Leno, where he discussed “politics, the economy and adjusting to his new lifestyle." While others have obviously turned to television shows for publicity during their candidacy or after their term in office, Obama is the first sitting president in the United States to appear on a talk show, and for good reason. The appearance of a figure as prominent as the President of the United States of America on live national television is risky – it leaves the interviewee open to countless amounts of criticism, while at the same time providing an incredible amount of publicity. The President, however, chose to embrace this challenge in order to achieve his political goals of gaining popular support for his current projects in Washington.

President Obama’s objective with this particular interview was clear from the onset as he demonstrated his desire to connect with the average American. From cracking jokes about the White House and the slow manner in which Washington takes care of business to teasing about picking winning teams from swing states, the President holds no bars in trying to side with the American people about the current state of our nation. Even his choice of which talk show would be best indicates that the President had a wide range of individuals he intended on reaching with his message, as the program has a regular audience of approximately 5 million viewers from practically every demographic in the United States. One critic has even argued that, “The White House move is every bit as calculated as a Hollywood studio’s campaign for a new blockbuster.” The President utilized his easygoing personality and pleasant sense of humor as he took this publicity opportunity to explain aspects of the country’s current financial crisis that are difficult concepts to grasp for someone not educated in economics and creative financing. Clearly aware of his audience, the President broke down the crisis into simple terms, gearing viewers’ understanding towards a more accepting point of view of the policies of his administration. Obama’s comments steered those viewers that happened to be on the fence in their opinion on the President’s direction with the financial crisis to take a more favorable view and hold fast to their faith in his plan. As some critics have noted, it seems as if President Obama attempted to lengthen, or at the very least, to continue, his honeymoon period with this interview.

The positive attention and welcome reception of TV audiences is one of the many positives to this type of publicity. Audiences from coast to coast see the President talking one on one with someone they are already comfortable watching on a nightly basis, discussing not just politics and economics, but also his own day to day life. In this sense, the President becomes a real person, rather than an out of touch, elitist figure in Washington. Furthermore, the audience that he does reach is extremely diverse. Obama’s message about patience and endurance which he carries over from his inauguration speech reaches not just those viewers who regularly tune in to political news shows and the State of the Union address, but people from every age, ethnicity, background, occupation, and status across the nation. And in this interview, he demonstrates that he has a personality, and an infectious one at that. In his discussions about his family, his free time, his dog, and his athleticism, the President shows his likeness to the very people he leads, giving him credibility with those who would like to see more of their own in leadership. There is, however, a considerable amount of criticism for the President’s decision to appear on The Tonight Show. Mary Kate Cary, former speechwriter for President Bush #41, writes in her blog that the type of public appearance that President Obama chose has the tendency to decrease his political legitimacy. Cary argues that, “As much as President Obama would like to be a man of the people, a ‘regular guy,’ he's not anymore.” She states that his duties are to be the Commander-in-Chief and the leader of the Executive Branch of the government. Cary feels as if Obama’s appearance on Leno’s show makes him, “just one more talk show guest, a celebrity on the circuit promoting his latest movie or book.” Cary and other politically minded Americans feel that the President should pay his respect to the office and the position that he holds, and stop attempting to devalue it to make it a more casual, down-to-earth process.

Cary’s attitudes are shared by many others that are not part of the inner circle in Washington or any part of the political arena. In responses to her blog, as well as in responses to other posts written about the Presidential TV appearance, viewers expressed their disappointment with the President. Many focused on specific quotes that they disagreed with, particularly focusing on Obama’s comment about the Special Olympics. Quoting directly from the interview, the President said, “I bowled a 129…It's like -- it was like Special Olympics, or something.” The joke was meant to be all in good humor, with Obama teasing himself, and was not meant to be demeaning to disabled or handicapped citizens. Many took the joke to be offensive, or simply found it to be an inappropriate comment for a President. While some focused on specific quotes, others were angered by the very idea of Obama taking the time to do this interview, just as he takes the time to do other leisurely activities in his free time. One person said, “the Economy is in shambles.....and he's picking out his Basketball final four? He's working on his bowling? AND NOW HE'S LAUGHING IT UP ON THE TONIGHT SHOW????!!!!!! For all of you out of work that happened to watch the's your confidence in our Prez now?” Viewers that agree with this statement feel that the President should be doing more to fix the country’s financial problems rather than taking the time to fly across the country to appear on a television show, much less taking the time to watch sports on TV and practice playing basketball with his assistants.

Obama’s publicity technique of sharing his infectious personality and upbeat sense of humor publicly on a talk show is not a typical one for American Presidents. The harsh criticisms of his audience are the risk that he took when he decided to do an unscripted, unprompted live television interview on a comedy talk show. He left himself at the mercy of the American people. He was required to be funny in order to win the hearts of his citizens, but he took the chance knowing that not everyone would think his jokes were humorous, nor would he win unanimous agreements. The type of interview he did had little to do with policymaking; its purpose was more to make the American public fall in love with him and to maintain the honeymoon period of the beginning of his term in office. Mary Kate Cary, on the other hand, feels that this appearance has the opposite affect on the President’s popularity. Cary contends that this interview will actually lessen his honeymoon period because it will diminish his reputation with elite government officials who are looking very critically at the President’s every move. Her ideas were also supported by several comments to her post, which express views that this publicity move is mainly about being a celebrity instead of being a policymaker.

In plowing about the blogosphere, however, it becomes apparent that those who criticize Obama now are those who have always criticized him. The most adamant members of the opposition to the President have been so since the beginning – they were the ones who did not vote for him, who have consistently argued against him, and who have been very vocal about their disagreements. The politically conservative, like Cary, disagree with his approach to the White House and prefer a more traditional, formal type of policymaking process, rather than Obama’s more casual and down-to-earth methods. Events like the appearance on The Tonight Show add fuel to their fire: they see publicity moves like this as wastes of taxpayer time and money. However, these are not necessarily the people that Obama attempted to reach with his appearance on the talkshow. The most impressionable audience for the President’s charm correspond with the audience of The Tonight Show. They are people who are not necessarily politically-minded, who may not have know an extensive amount of Obama’s background, and who typically turn to the media to help them form their ideas about politics. Along with these people come those who have been uncertain of what to think of the President and his first few days in office, as well as those who started out as supporters but have begun to doubt. This audience, as opposed to those who already have a bitter taste in their mouth for Obama, is a more receptive one. The President’s requests for patience, endurance, and understanding from the American people are geared towards these viewers that are willing to listen to what he has to say and are not opposed to taking a liking to the President if their hearts allow. Thus, President Obama’s methods are effective for his purpose – he wins over those who have yet to be won over, and remains consistent in his methods of managing his job as President of the United States.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Alcoholism Abroad: Government Responses to Growing Epidemics

The use of alcohol has been a part of numerous cultures for thousands of years. Even our Stone Age ancestors were discovered to have primitive beer jugs that held fermented beverages. The substance means different things to different people. In some places, it is an integral part of a traditional ceremony. In France, wine is a way of life, served with most meals and commonly enjoyed by people as young as twelve. In many countries, however, alcohol has been assigned a negative stigma. In the United States, for instance, alcohol abuse accounted for 3.5% of deaths in the year 2000. While there are many reasons for this, one of the major arguments is that the presence of alcohol in media, such as in films or commercials, accounts for an increased likelihood of a person to try alcohol. In other words, test subjects “watching films portraying alcohol drank more alcohol themselves.” In an age of increased globalization and media connecting people across countries, the portrayal of alcohol as a key part of popular culture is spreading from countries like America into more conservative countries like India. Alcohol abuse has become so prevalent in these countries that their governments are beginning to impose more strict alcohol laws prohibiting their selling and usage in an attempt to reverse the damaging societal effects of its abuse. Several questions arise when these types of laws are seriously considered. How much governmental intervention is necessary to prevent substance abuse from becoming legitimately damaging to a culture? How much intervention is too much? While some debate that it is the responsibility of the government to protect its citizens from health hazards, others argue that it is the responsibility of society itself, using parents, media, teachers, and religious leaders as agents of change.

In this week’s post, I explore these questions by commenting on two blogs that address the issue of alcohol laws in other countries. The first one is entitled The Vulnerable Will Always Pay the Price by Paul Charnley, in which the author discusses Scottland’s policy that increases the price of cheap alcohol by setting a minimum price per unit. The second post is Alcohol, Hooligans, and India by Sukesh Kumar. Kumar tackles the moral issues behind India’s decision to implement alcohol laws.

The Vulnerable Will Always Pay the Price

Your post is very intriguing because you speak from experience – “I was one. I would beg outside a train station, asking for 50p on the pretence that that was all I needed to meet the fare,” you say. Such a personally compelling argument against this initiative is crucial for outsiders to understand the complexity of these laws. While at first glance, it might seem to the non-drinker that these laws would be effective in decreasing the amount of people that begin drinking, it does nothing to assist those who already suffer from alcoholism. As you have stated in your post, “Price will never matter to the addict, the user, regardless of the drug, regardless of regulation.” Increasing the price on cheap alcohol is designed to decrease the growing phenomenon of binge drinking. However, this “target market” consists of those who can afford to do so. They are not the alcoholics that are highly dependent on cheap alcohol to, as you say, “escape reality.” Therefore, those who are affected are those who are alcohol dependent, and who will only be forced into alternative means of achieving the money necessary to purchase these substances.

However, I have to agree with some of the previous posters that argue that this initiative is aimed at preventing alcoholism from being started in the first place. While it may not be one hundred percent effective, as people will still find a way to pay for alcohol if they really want to, it at least makes it more difficult for people to keep up the habit. The law also states that, “promotions, such as three-for-two offers, are to be banned, while the display and marketing of drink is to be restricted to specific areas in shops,” which are crucial steps to changing the prominence of alcohol in marketing. Thus, it will tend to have more long-term effects that are beneficial in preserving your country’s social fabric.

This is not to say that I do not agree with your position on this law – more needs to be done to truly help those who suffer from alcoholism, instead of just raising the amount of money they need to acquire to feed their addiction, which could lead to more illegal and dangerous lifestyles. It might be effective for the government to supplement this law with social responsibility measures. For example, instead of just increasing the prices of alcohol or prohibiting it, perhaps your community would gain from programs assisting those who are already suffering from alcoholism. It is ultimately the responsibility of society as a whole to encourage the responsible use of substances and to pass on its own moral traditions with the assistance of the government. Thus, the government cannot stand by and do nothing – it can at least aim to shape the long-term effects of its policies to directly help the formation of its culture.

Alcohol, Hooligans, and India

Your post brings to the forefront some very important issues that are often overlooked in the fight against alcoholism. You argue “that if there are restrictions/reservation about alcohol in religions of some families, then also, it lies with parents to guide their children about proper way, not with some third party with sticks in hands.” It seems that it is your opinion in general that people should be responsible for upholding their own standards about alcohol consumption in order to preserve their own culture, rather than relying on a “third party with sticks in hands.” Furthermore, you say “it’s a shame that we like to call ourselves liberal because it is favored by America and have forgotten our very own culture of tolerance.” Do you blame the spread of western culture and politics for the rise in pub culture in India? It would seem that you would not blame globalization itself in this case, but that you would place the responsibility on the affected people themselves not to become heavily influenced as a population and to hold onto their traditional values. But is it possible to hold on to tradition in a world where adopting western political ideas also leads to liberalization that was not possible in the past? With new freedoms and newfound access to other cultures, it is not only nearly impossible, but also seems unwise, for a nation to not at least attempt to embrace the customs of other countries.

I find your section about “the excuse” to be most intriguing – you state that it is easier to blame the people that engage in alcohol abuse rather than providing the proper environment to teach moderate consumption. In your opinion, would you rather see government programs geared towards alcohol education rather than alcohol prohibition? Making alcohol less available, though it is designed to have long-term effectiveness in preventing people from starting to drink in the first place, is not necessarily beneficial in stopping consumption altogether: instead, it is apt to create a black market for alcohol, promoting more illegal activity and more dangerous subcultures. Therefore, going along with your argument that it is ultimately up to people to take responsibility for their own actions, I feel that it is the government’s responsibility to provide information to its people that allows them to make educated choices.

Monday, March 2, 2009

McDonaldization: Examining the Effects of the International Fast Food Industry

In my last post, I chose to explore the blogosphere and to comment on fellow scholars who have written recent entries regarding popular culture in the international community. One of these articles included “Finding Hanoi in Paris,” a piece which described a Vietnamese restaurant in Paris’s 13th arrondissement, to which I responded with a commentary on the ways Western countries tend to take bits and pieces of other cultures rather than experiencing them as a whole. This week, I have chosen to continue this exploration, while also examining the role that the American food industry has had in developing popular culture in other countries. My journey began as I studied the basic facets of American culture that accounted for the rapid development of the fast food. Since its inception in the 1940’s, the fast food industry has boomed. The business of providing quick, tasty meals with the utmost convenience has been a top priority for entrepreneurs like Carl Karcher and Richard and Maurice McDonald. By the 1970’s, separate fast food chains each had hundreds of restaurants open across the United States. However, domestic success was not enough to satisfy these companies – not in a constantly changing world that continued to grow more globally connected each day.
These fast food establishments, both in America and abroad, fill a specific niche in the market: they satisfy the needs of a country that is constantly in pursuit of wealth. They cannot be blamed for making the most of their opportunities. Companies like McDonald’s are simply trying to make a profit while offering a product that is useful to its consumers. However, the problem that most anti-globalizationists see with the growing fast food movement in other countries is that it is becoming a lifestyle there as it has become in the United States, rather than simply providing a once-in-a-while fix.

Such is the environment in which our modern story begins. In this age of rapidly increasing globalization, the fast food industry has capitalized on the movement of Western cultural values into other countries. The McDonald's Corporation has restaurants in over forty countries including Yugoslavia, Japan, Peru, and New Zealand, to name a few. Part of the rich strategy employed the McDonald’s Corporation is its ability to adapt its menu to suit the specific tastes and wants of each region into which the company expands. For example, in India, customers can order the Chicken Maharaja Mac (pictured to the right), which features chicken or lamb, because most Hindu people do not eat beef. Thirsty Germans can enjoy a beer with their burger and fries, while the Japanese sip on Green Tea-flavored milkshakes. McDonald’s takes into consideration the most popular food trends and the stereotypical cultural eats, finds ways to quickly reproduce their own versions, and makes them available in a convenient location at a low price.

Although personalized to match the cultural differences of each country, these restaurants feature the same facets of American fast food that make the industry so successful: self-serve facilities that offer meals at affordable prices that are ready whenever customers are ready to eat them. This type of restaurant originally catered to those that were constantly on-the-go and did not have the time to even stop their car to get food from Carl Karcher’s hot dog stand. The typical fast food consumer was also the image of the average American in the 1940’s. People worked hard to pursue the American dream of being wealthy and successful while at the same time raising healthy families. These people continue to be the target market of fast food chains today. It seems, however, that the very existence of “fast food,” not just in the form of McDonald’s or Taco Bell but also in meal replacement shakes and microwavable dinners, has made this type of living on-the-go not only possible, but commonplace. In America, the average person works approximately 45 hours a week, while some executives clock in about 70 hours. In busy areas like Los Angeles and New York City, an employee has to leave early and often in a rush to beat the morning traffic to make it to the office on time. Then after work, parents drive to pick up their kids from school, take them to soccer practice and tutoring, and countless other activities. It is no wonder that Americans spend so much money on fast food: it is easier to swing by on the way home and pick up a hot meal than to go to the grocery store, purchase all the ingredients to a recipe, then spend over an hour making the food oneself. In a world where fast food is available at every street corner, instant gratification provides a much more efficient way for Americans to try to fit everything possible into their day without having to sacrifice the luxury of time.

Along with the cultural standards of speedy, instantly gratifying meals comes the deterioration of food quality. Restaurants like Taco Bell, for instance, take the most stereotypical aspects of a dish and mass-produce them in an assembly line fashion. No special family recipe that goes into making a Chalupa Supreme. Their tacos feature ground beef that is supplied frozen in bulk from a warehouse and cheddar cheese with hot sauce that is nowhere near the authenticity of something like Tapatio or homemade salsa. Taco Bell’s food has been tested to appeal to the masses: there is nothing extreme about it – it is designed to be enjoyed by as many people as possible. McDonald’s has done no less in other countries. They takes the most popular food trends, strips them of their intricacies, and waters them down to their shells. For example, in feeding off of the traditional Chinese rice consumption habits, McDonald’s in Hong Kong (pictured below at left) sells Rice Burgers in which meat is sandwiched between two rice patties instead of burger buns. In Greece, their burgers are made of patties wrapped in pita bread. All in all, multinational fast food corporations promote mass-consumerism that is modeled after the American capitalist market.

Evidence of the cultural infection that globalizationists so avidly protest is manifesting in two very prominent aspects. First, companies in other countries are tapping into their people’s obsession with the fast food industry by opening their own chains modeled after their American counterparts. In Hong Kong, for instance, entrepreneurs opened the restaurant Little Sheep, its own version of fast food. Little Sheep, along with other recently opened chains, continues to grow and influence the way the Chinese eat their meals. The fast food industry itself is growing so much that it is suspected to be about worth about $66 million. The second piece of evidence indicating the rapidly increasing prominence of fast food in the international sphere is the existence of a strong counter-movement. Not only are anti-globalizationists against the pressured spread of American cultural influences into civilizations abroad, but there now exists a “slow food” movement that developed as a way to bring people back to the cultural roots of their food and maintain their traditions and values. Slow Food is an organization that was founded in 1989 “to counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.” Today, they focus on starting movements in countries where the fast food industry has taken hold and trying to revive the cultural importance of food and revive people’s interest in what they eat. Their very existence is proof that the fast food industry’s move into the international community is a significant one.

But is it possible for the fast food industry to exist while cultural values persist? It seems that the success of the industry not only promotes a faster-paced lifestyle and the adoption of the modern in exchange for the sacrifice of tradition, but also that it is indicative of the growing trend towards a more global market in which consumers prefer an increasingly commercial and universal norm rather than one that is individualistic or regionalized. It is no longer enough to be popular in one’s own country – the true measure of success in this modern world is by becoming globally recognized and appreciated. Thus, I predict that it will become increasingly difficult for real culture to perpetuate itself as it falls victim to “McDonaldization.”

Monday, February 23, 2009

Into the Modern: The Spread of Middle Eastern and Asian Cultures into Western Communities

This week, I chose to explore the blogosphere looking for stories connecting Western Europe with cultures from the Middle East and Asia. What I found were several articles that talked about different areas of culture, but all of which described the spread of Asian cultures into Europe. Some, like the presence of Vietnamese restaurants in Paris, remind us of the connections these countries once shared in colonial times. Indeed, Paris’ occupation of Vietnam in the mid- to late-19th century contributed greatly to Vietnamese culture, from their food to their economics. We see in Edwards’ blog that the cultural mixing continues as Edwards, a business traveler, takes comfort in the 13th arrondissement and its restaurant offerings. Other areas of Asian influence in Europe have taken form in a different, and extremely creative, way. In London, two art exhibits have recently opened that feature Middle Eastern artists and “the emergence of a global altermodernity.” The exhibits usher in this new form of art with style. It is said that in order to see the entire display would take about twenty-four hours due to the complexity and number of interesting pieces. Shocking works of art are not just about a stationary sculpture; one of the pieces, for example, features local musicians that play politically themed songs on a giant accordion. Both the art exhibits in London and the restaurants in Paris remind us that the effects of globalization are not one-way, although they are certainly held in a more negative light in areas of the world that experience Westernization. What we come to realize is perhaps the countries that do the majority of the influencing can pick and choose what they take from others: in Paris, they take the restaurants and the authentic food, yet they do not recognize the importance of a building in which a controversial political leader once lived. In London, art exhibits make a huge impression. But what does it take to awaken Europeans to the idea of the Middle East? Modernity, a change, and controversy that is displayed directly before their eyes. Below, I have pasted copies of my comments on each of the blogs. The first blog I explore is "Finding Hanoi in Paris" by Erin G. Edwards. The second is Pam Kent’s "In London, Two Exhibits, Each With a Message." Both posts are part of the Globespotters blog of the International Herald Tribune.

"Finding Hanoi in Paris"

I thoroughly enjoyed your post and share your appreciation for the presence of Asian cultures in Western contexts. It is interesting that you mention the presence of a large Asian community within the Parisian atmosphere. Although your article centers on the Vietnamese culture represented, you also mention that the 13th arrondissement is typically referred to as Chinatown. The grouping together of these two cultures, which are very distinct in their own way, demonstrates a certain disregard by Western societies for the intricacies of Asian culture. It seems that here in the United States as well that there are communities that come together to share their food, their clothing and their music but that become amalgamated with other Asian civilizations. For example, Chinatown in Los Angeles also features one of the better Filipino restaurants in the area. The two cultures are completely different, yet what they have to offer is grouped into one category by Americans – they are Asian countries, not separately the Philippines and China. From what you mentioned about the previous residence of Ho Chi Minh, it causes me to wonder if the French do something similar: do you feel that Europeans pick and choose parts of other cultures that they want to experience and overlook the rest? Ho Chi Minh’s former home, which should be at the very least recognized by a plaque of some sort, remains hidden in the depths of Chinatown. What drives Parisians to want to erase this part of history from their city? It could be that Parisians and Europeans in general are hesitant to acknowledge the presence of someone historically remembered as being the ultimate opposing force to their democratic and capitalistic lifestyle. However, it could also be the fear of their own past: Western cultures fear their contribution to the evil that has taken place in history. We, as victors in previous conflicts, erase evidence of our negative influence, and pit our past selves directly against those whose ideas seem contradictory to our own. As I mentioned before, it seems as if we Westerners make selections as far as what we choose to enjoy from other cultures without actually embracing the culture as a whole.

"In London, Two Exhibitions, Each With a Message"

I appreciate your post on these exhibits and desperately wish I could get to London to visit them myself. From what you have described in your post, it seems that these works of art are shocking and revolutionary. Furthermore, their presence in the European community is essential to another message: the Middle East has a voice in the international community, and they want us to hear it. You mention in your article the emergence of a new era of art, the era of Altermodernity. The presence of this new era is crucial to understanding the development of international culture over the past few decades. You quote a press release which describes the transition of the global art movements as changing from 20th century Western focused modernism to post-modernism shaped by multiculturalism and finally altermodernism that is “expressed in the language of global culture.” In such a short period of time, it appears that the focus of art and culture is gravitating towards the implementation of global influences to reflect the modern struggles and temperaments of a given community. It is my opinion that in this time of transition in the international community, art is reflective of the cultural effects of political policies that increase relations between countries.

You also mentioned in your post that many of these artists are now currently working in Europe and the United States. In light of the touchy political climate between the United States and the Middle East, how do you feel these artists can make a difference in perhaps changing the attitudes that many Americans have towards their cultures? It would seem, from the perspective of the United States, that many Americans lack a rounded understanding of Middle Eastern cultures and are given only images of war, terrorism, and fear. It is my hope that exhibits like this one can change this perception and help cultures to understand one another better instead of taking from each other only limited amounts of information.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Rooting for the Under[slum]dog: Slumdog Millionaire Makes a Splash in the International Film Industry

On February 22 at 5 pm Pacific Time, the self-proclaimed “biggest movie event of the year” will take over television screens across the country. The 81st Academy Awards, one of the world’s most prominent film award ceremonies, has not only maintained a constant buzz around the United States over the past few months, but has also gained plenty of press coverage worldwide. And so it should.

Over the past few years, the Academy Awards has paid particular attention to the international community. From award categories such as Best Foreign Language Film to British director nominations, Oscar winners and their country of origin play an essential role in the awards ceremony. One particularly special film this year that has aroused interest in prominent film circles worldwide is the unexpected Slumdog Millionaire. What is it about this independent film that has made such an impact on the international community?

Slumdog, a film directed by Britain’s Danny Boyle and centered in the Indian city of Mumbai, single-handedly captures the spirit of multiculturalism. The film itself is created from the minds of several different traditions. Danny Boyle, famous for films such as Trainspotting and 28 Days Later, is frequently recognized in his home country of Britain. The fact that Boyle chose to direct a film about the struggles of a subculture of a foreign country demonstrates his own appreciation of other cultures. In an interview with Cinematical, Boyle talked about his experience in India and how it changed his own perceptions of himself. “All the world is all the world at the same time. It's all inclusive -- the rich, the poor -- they're all living on top of one another. Most of our cities are growing, and we're going to have to learn to do that as well -- to share and somehow find harmony all living together. And they have that, really. You have to admire that. They may not have some of the infrastructure that we do, but they don't need it in order to get along,” he says.

The Indian culture that Boyle came to know and appreciate is reflected throughout the film. Slumdog Millionaire tells the story of Jamal Malik, a young man who spent his youth in the slums of India struggling to make an honest living while at the same time being pulled down into the underground struggle of survival. A twist of forbidden romance is tied into this story as he meets Latika who also strives for survival in the crime-ridden slums. Their tale captures the essence of an Indian subculture that is not often reflected in local film, let alone in the international film industry. While some prominent critics declare the film to feed off of “poverty porn” that is designed to arouse its audience than to enlighten them about the plight of its main characters, others appreciate a film that shows more than dancers in elaborate costumes dancing and singing through tales of epic romance.

The India that is portrayed in the film is not that of a completely traditional culture, however; it is clear that Slumdog Millionaire is a film created in the 2000s. The plot of the film itself is based on Jamal’s participation in the Indian version of America’s hit show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” – a definite sign that Western media has reached its Eastern counterparts and spread into their cultures. The nature of this TV show also has particular significance: it offers a chance for anyone, regardless of their background, to win instant fame and fortune. This dream is one that Western cultures, Americans in particular, have come to cherish, and one that is reflected in other aspects of American life including the lottery, the stock market, and the constant string of infomercials offering immediate debt solutions. While the character of Jamal in Slumdog Millionaire is not one that simply scrounges off the wealth of others, his involvement in “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” after years of struggling for any opportunity to get out of the slums is the story of the underdog that has also permeated Western cultures. Jamal represents the typically idolized Western character that goes from rags to riches by relying on the strength of his moral center – while at the same time prevailing in a seemingly impossible love battle. Slumdog’s audience-pleasing plot is one that demonstrates the influence of the West on Eastern culture.

The success of the film itself demonstrates Eastern culture’s effect on the international film industry. Slumdog Millionaire has already won 60 awards through various institutions in America and abroad. Some of these achievements include Screen Actors Guild Awards for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture, the British Independent Film Award for Best British Independent Film, and BAFTA Film Awards for Best Film, Best Cinematography, and Best Director, among many others. Slumdog has achieved acknowledgment in prominent filmmaker circles worldwide through international film festivals and global audiences. People from many different cultures have come to appreciate it. Critics from different backgrounds and with distinct styles and tastes have all come to realize the brilliance of this film – an achievement for a British filmmaker and an Indian cultural tale.

Some argue that the film’s recognition at the Academy Awards this Sunday is the most significant of Slumdog’s achievements. In one of the most prestigious and widely recognized film awards ceremonies in the world, an international independent film has attained 10 impressive nominations with a significant possibility of winning the most coveted award of Best Motion Picture of the Year. With awards yet to be won, Slumdog Millionaire has displayed a level of prominence that is significant to American culture and film industry itself. Such a film, an underdog itself, transcends cultural boundaries and brings British filmmaking to American audiences and places Indian society at the forefront of American popular culture. In essence, the reality of Slumdog Millionaire’s story mirrors its own plot: the unlikely hero, originating from humble beginnings, rises from the depths to conquer the limits of cultural understanding to bring hope and a greater sense of unity to the global community.

Monday, February 9, 2009

A Foundation for Creation: Building Research on Substantial Resources in Modern Media

With the internet available at the click of a mouse, viewers are exposed to endless amounts of information from all corners of the globe. This growing interconnectedness through modern media has evolved and changed the ways in which countries relate to each other by forming societal bonds through the sharing of popular culture. In constructing a blog to discuss this modern phenomenon, I sought first to find the most appropriate and useful resources on the internet. Rather than relying heavily on journals and academic writing, internet resources provide up-to-date and easily accessible information from around the globe. This quest for the most effective resources began with various searches on Meta-Engines Dogpile and Metacrawler which turned up websites for organizations dealing with global popular culture including International Food Information and the International Music Network. The search continued through several directories including the Open Directory Project, Arts and Letters Daily, and Artslynx. The three directories provide ample resources, most notably the Journal of Popular Culture, which gathers scholarly articles on a regular basis that deal with popular culture in a global context as well as country-specific cases. The directories were also particularly useful in providing precise topic searches. Included in this linkroll are websites that deal specifically with different aspects of popular culture, from film to radio, dance to tobacco use. A deeper look into these websites uncovered links to other related and vital sites such as the International Food Council Foundation, which provides information on customs, regulations, food news across the globe.
While the research proved fairly successful in ascertaining links to valuable websites, it also turned up many websites whose aspirations were larger than its capabilities. One particular challenge when writing about and investigating popular culture is that the subject itself is opinionated and easily accessible to everyone. Therefore, many websites failed to be efficient and effective in their delivery of information. In order to choose the best sources possible, the Webby Awards criteria were applied to each website. These criteria evaluate the content, structure and navigation, visual design, functionality, interactivity, and the overall experience of the websites. Thus, readers can be assured that the websites chosen for my research on this topic are of the highest standard and provide information that is relevant, accurate, and precise, and it is my hope that this blog will be equally as effective in the online community.
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