Cultural Hegemony

Cultural hegemony is the theory that one nation or culture, either by direct intent or merely by its dominant position in the world, exerts an inordinate influence into how other cultures should conduct themselves, both in terms of values and political and economic aspirations. The idea of cultural hegemony was promoted by the writings of the Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but he did not originate the concept. A ruling class social structure has existed throughout human history in many regions. Examples can be seen in the dominance of Roman values over five centuries of rule by the Roman Empire, the dominance of Chinese culture over its smaller Asian neighbors that has continued to exist into the modern era, the dominance of European cultural values over Native American societies as North America was widely settled by European immigrants in the 1800s, and so on.

The United States is uniquely concerned with the idea of cultural hegemony, in large part because the promotion of its social structure around the world is an inevitable byproduct of the expansion of US multinational corporations into emerging markets, and due to its far reaching willingness to intervene militarily into the affairs of failed or failing states. American culture is also centered around a thriving and diverse media industry. Through movies, television, music, and print entertainment, as well as the marketing of products through extensive advertising, American culture has an inordinate influence on the values of many nations where people aspire to a more consumer-based lifestyle. This influence is often seen in a negative light, as it has the potential to suppress local cultural expression to the point where diversity in many forms is lost.

Banksy (2004)

In 2004 Banksy produced a provocative work featuring Ronald McDonald and Mickey Mouse merrily holding a terrified, naked girl’s hands on each side. The image of the girl was reproduced from a photograph of a napalm bombing of a Vietnamese village in 1972, which provoked worldwide horror and condemnation at the conduct of the war.

One of the main arguments against cultural hegemony in many forms throughout history, and which offers a singular defense of the spread of American culture, is that it is wrong to assume that smaller cultures are forced to take on the identity of more dominant ones. They do it by choice, and often go to extraordinary efforts to obtain access to foreign cultural ideas and products, despite an attempt to suppress this by their own governments. Another main argument against the concept of cultural hegemony is that, while dominant cultures may spread their influence to diverse regions, these regions tend to not abandon their own values and interests, but merely incorporate the new ones into a broader view of the good life.

The philosophic concept of one dominant ideology supplanting others sometimes fails to take into account what is occurring in reverse. As a dominant culture introduces its products and values into the lifestyles of others, those products are often modified to suit local tastes and interests. At the same time, local culture is incorporated into the dominant social structure, making both groups more culturally diverse.

A simple example of merging cultural interests can be seen in the introduction of a popular American devil’s food cake dessert mix by a large US corporation into the Indian marketplace. Not only did Indians widely accept the product, but they altered it both in content and advertising to suit their own local values, by substituting the traditional cake mix produced by the company for one that used rice instead of standard wheat flour. The mix was also changed so that it could be used to make products other than traditional American cake, such as dosas, idlis, and vadas, which are Indian fermented crepes, savory cakes, and donuts, some of which stretch back over one thousand years to 920 AD in Indian cuisine.

– Morrissey – ‘Bengali in Platforms’ from the LP Viva Hate (1988). Clips from My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)

The Inuit inhabitant of the Arctic Tundra are, arguably, suffering from the process of ‘cultural hegemony’. RCI posted this:

While the language is still strong in the eastern Arctic, in many western Arctic communities the predominant language has become English.
Many Inuit youth are no longer able to speak their language and this has educators and politicians concerned.“The English language was, and is still today, quite dominant in our everyday life,” says Simon Awa, Nunavut’s deputy minister of Culture and Heritage. “Inuit elders, those with the traditional knowledge, especially the language, are disappearing. “
New legislation ensuring Inuit language education in schools and enshrining people’s right to use the Inuit language in government are important building blocks to revitalize the language across the territory, Awa says.
But Inuit living in Nunavut must stay vigilant in order to ensure the language is passed onto the next generation, he says.
“Losing your language is losing your culture,” Awa says. “In order to keep our culture alive and strong, all the Inuit should be able to speak their language.”

Globalization is a tremendous and complicated process that affects various aspects of human life with both positive and negative consequences. While many consider globalization as a “powerful wave” that will destroy the cultural identity of all human beings, others oppose to that opinion by stating that cultural identity will not be affected by any changes in our society. Culture is an attribute that people have carried and will throughout centuries.

Culture the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society. It is a concept that has occurred and developed since the ancient times. While the Earth underwent a variety of historic changes, cultural heritage was expected to be destroyed at some certain historical moments. But, no matter how hard some opponents of cultural traditions tried to disrupt them, there were always people who cling onto their cultural traditions and values and subsequently passed them onto future generations. Moreover, with the rapid growth of science and technology people around the world have been granted windows and avenues to explore not only their cultural roots but also recognize other foreign cultures. One should be allowed the chance AND choice to determine their cultural identity. Globalization has given people an individual right to choose which culture they would prefer to belong to.

In this vast globally connected world in which we live in there has been a process whereby the world has been “shrinking”. A metaphorical term used to explain the growing number of “switched on” countries and regions which facilitate a constant stream of information. Communication, performed by the means of the Internet and other technologies, allows people to get delve deeper into knowledge of other cultures and widen their horizons. Though people are afforded access to new technologies more easily, it does not mean that using computers impacts their identity. Technologies assist living; making strenuous tasks simpler, but they should not set one’s life on an entirely different course and change our way of thinking thus causing one to lose their cultural identity. Au contraire, with new technologies people possess the ability to learn more about their own culture as well as foreign cultures, using different resources and having access to a large amount of materials stored online.
Globalization has drastically impacted life in a variety of aspects. But, the main strategy of human beings is to succeed in both cultural and educational development. Globalization broadens horizons, while cultural identity remains a vital part of life that acts as a reminder of ancestors, values and aims in life.


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