We are all affected by the culture we are naturally immersed in and, thinking in terms of creativity and originality, it appears to be impossible to live in the world, experiencing various encounters, without being influenced by our surroundings, whether this is a conscious or subconscious act.
I am very briefly covering a large period of time, looking more closely at the last 250 years, which is an era so packed full of inventions and progression that it, in turn, is full of progression within the modern world and the creative practices we are so used to.
Key stages within this time period start with the arrival of the industrial revolution. The new-found mobility of this era attributed to a significant lifestyle change and people would no longer have to be confined to a locality for their whole lives. From the mid 1800s, those who would become entrepreneurs could do so freely, with the emphasis of Capitalism being on the acquisition of capital i.e. making money and thus, contributing to changes in the class system that would otherwise only be a birthright.
These Capitalist ideals led to an ever increasing impact on consumerism, written about in the late 1800s by Thorstein Veblen in his ‘The Theory of the Leisure Class’. Veblen talks about the differences between the ‘true’ needs and ‘false’ needs of people and points out the major, but simple, differences between that of industry, a necessary part of culture, and business, a way of making a profit, by combining the theory of sociology with that of economics.
The age of consumerism becomes more apparent when the first Haute Couture designer, Charles Frederick Worth, was recognised as such. He created pieces that can be described as ‘fetishised’ or creating a commodity that is not actually needed, just coveted by many; in essence, a ‘false’ need. This was written about by Theodor Adorno in ‘The Culture Industry’ in the mid-1900s when he argued that popular culture was becoming standardised and therefore more modernist than anything else, as well as how this industry manipulated the masses into becoming consumers, regardless of their social standing or ‘class’.
This industrialisation and standardisation of modern culture, developing into the world of consumerism, is fuelled further by the way in which the world appears to have ‘shrunk’ in terms of mobility and accessibility. For example, the implementation of mass broadband and the shortened travel times, with each providing the ability to reach any corner of the globe quicker than ever before. The world now appears much smaller and this, in turn, creates a global culture of, not exactly standardisation but, cultures that are more intertwined and therefore less discernable than when first discovered or introduced into other global cultures.
This can be viewed as a benefit to global culture as styles are introduced to the west, for example, that had never been seen before. This relates also to the way in which we view the world from our individual cultures; the west is left to right with a horizon line, whilst other cultures view the world entirely differently. As a relevant aside, before the mid 1800s, Japan was a nation entirely cut off from the rest of the world, much like North Korea has been more recently, and so Japanese culture is something of a relatively new introduction to the west.
Other side effects of this global village include: impacts on the intercommunication between two cultures, e.g. Japanese art and Disney films. The lead character in Mulan looks neither eastern nor western and so the visual gender representation becomes blurred as both cultures play a tennis match of influencing the other. But, this has a negative impact on the world, as we risk uniformity and making one standardised, global culture. Wow, that statement sounds Modernist and Communist, as opposed to Post-Modernist and Capitalist. George Ritzer coined the phrase ‘MacDonalidisation’ as a way of standardisation and making everything the same, regardless of global location.
Simply being aware of other cultures and therefore natural infiltration of ideologies is not the only way in which we risk standardising the world. Hegemony or ‘Cultural Imperialism’ are other risk factors, in which one culture dominates all others and wipes out any ideologies it does not hold itself in favour of it’s own. The first power that comes to my mind is America, as a globally dominating force politically, ideologically, economically and culturally. Although, we must consider that Britain cannot be left out of the equation when talking about global dominance as Britain was very much an Imperial force during colonisation.
Sidenote: it’s really only possible to distinguish between Cultural imperialism and cultural fusion from a personal viewpoint with reference to the culture one lives in (where we are placed in the world and our natural/nurtured, cultural understanding), simply because our subjectivities are inherently moulded right from the start.
The media has had a great impact on us truly understanding other cultures as we have only been subjected to this information when they decide we need to see it. Once an atrocity or event has graced our television screens, online news channels, or newspapers, we presume it to be over and this is very rarely the case. This is a perfect example of hegemony as the audience is largely kept passive and they are fed with mediated versions of reality through the media. Now we have social media, we have infiltrations of ‘fake news’ on our timelines as well as news that has been touched by the trickle down effect; with the source being the media-at-large, and the various tributaries, the interpretations people have made. More about our Ethnocentric views and understanding of other cultures can be read in ‘Culture and Imperialism’ by Edward Said.
So why do we consume things we don’t truly need? Boudrillard has written about our false needs eclipsing our true needs as created by Capitalism. Symbolic value of these items is arbitrary. This consumption of false needs is taken further into the realm of the internet with false versions of reality or simulacra. We create versions of ourselves with added extras that we wished we had, but that might not be even physically possible.
Combining the accessibility of the world with, entrepreneurship, industrialisation, marketing and advertising leading to consumerism, we have taken this one step further as a culture which is now aiming for the consumption of things that are not even achievable, even within our ever modernising global culture.