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Globalization and the resurgence of cultural identity

Posted by Anoushka Zaveri
May 31, 2017

NOTE: This post has been self-published by the author. Anyone can write on Youth Ki Awaaz.

In 1980 a movie came out that drove a significant amount of people to accept that globalization poses a threat to cultural identity. “The Gods Must Be Crazy” highlights a simple way in which that globalization threatens cultural identity. In this movie, the Sho tribe of the Kalahari Desert believes that it has been gifted with a special treat when an empty glass Pepsi bottle falls from an aircraft flying past the area. Because the Sho are a resourceful people, they find many uses for this bottle. Unfortunately, the Sho are not accustomed to having a limited resource. Their belief is that everything that had been given by the gods was sufficient for everyone. The existence of a single bottle, symbolic of globalization and its influences, threatens their cultural identity as jealousy, anger, and the concept of personal possessions and greed begins to infiltrate their tribe. Even violence, inexperienced by this tribe for years together, creeps into their hearts as they fight over the single Pepsi bottle. By its very nature, globalization does require some compromise of cultural identity. This is as true for tribal cultures as it is for us. This movie demonstrates how tribes can be affected by the infiltration of the outside culture.

In the modern or urban context, so to speak, it has become strangely fashionable to see everything through the lens of “globalization”. It means the “end of history” for some, or the “revenge of history” for some. Beyond the immediate impacts of the emerging communication systems and infrastructural technology, the term globalization has come to mean almost any process in which a contrasting community, who possess unique languages and lifestyles, are being integrated into a wider humanity.

The world is not yet a global village and in all likelihood is not going to become one. There are pockets of people across the globe who are of the opinion that globalization is overshadowing their cultural identities and that the traditional way of life is losing its valor. The critical question is, and will remain: will people surrender to the mighty forces of globalization or assert the importance of and preserve their cultural identities? Will globalization be the motivation of cultures to defend themselves or be the downfall of them altogether?

The Internet is exploding with the promotion of cultural identities. Leave alone creating a global village, the Internet seems to be advocating further cultural diversity. An example of this phenomenon is as follows: Technorati tracked blogs in 81 languages in June 2008. Brands like Google, Facebook and YouTube have enjoyed stellar growth, mostly because they offer local language sites. However, this has not prevented local brands from holding their ground and standing tall in the face of such an invasion. Baidu remains the search engine of choice in China; Youku for video streaming. MIXI is the most widely used social network in Japan. These brands remain well-established and unshakable not just because they are pioneers in their respective fields but also because they are perfectly aligned with the local culture. These are not the only instances where local cultures have stood their ground against global giants.

In the fashionable Dong An shopping Centre in the Wang Fu Jing district of Beijing,one will find a small boutique called Mu Zhen Liao. Here, young, discriminating and elite Beijingers come to choose clothes, not from the designer labels of the West, but ‘classical’ Chinese clothing: elegant qipaus, cheongsamsand finely tailored jackets in beautiful silks and other traditional fabrics. These clothes, interwoven with immense detail and finesse are the same as those worn by the wealthy Manchurian elite in the Qing dynasty of the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. Thus, they reflect an ancient cultural history. But they are not in any simple sense ‘traditional’ clothes. The young women wearing them in the streets will turn as many heads amongst the locals as amongst the western tourists. The fact is that ten or fifteen years ago, a shop like Mu Zhen Liao would not have existed in China. A chain store with branches in many of the provincial capitals – exists, in cultural as well as economic terms, as a consequence of globalization.

Hollywood must probably be making more profit from television-watchers outside of America than in it. It sells costly, high production value, glossy programmes at discounted prices to the television networks around the world. If it costs India or Pakistan $100 million to buy an episode of X Files, they are getting a product that cost $5 million to make. Thus it is impossible for Third World countries to produce local programmes of the same quality and financial value. Although television pushes the youth of Asia to venerate global icons and superstars, one fact remains. The biggest audience is always for local shows! Cheap and cheerful Singaporean, Malaysian, Indonesian or Indian programmes are preferred over Friends, Star Trek and Suits. Eventually, we all want to look in a mirror and see ourselves.

In the Indian context, too, cultural globalization is considered as an agent of keeping cultural traditions alive. Increasing access and exposure to media helps in bringing more awareness about cultural diversities and promotion of local cultures. Globalization also encourages the propagation of certain Indian cultural elements. The new means of communication empower local communities to cultivate their respective cultural practices so that they can be showcased to the entire world. In addition, there grows a number of cultural entrepreneurs in India who undertake the marketing and spreading of cultural resources and goods to the external world. As a result, Indian food, herbal products, handicrafts and art objects are popular and available in all corners of the globe. Indian traditional medicine or Ayurveda, health care systems (yoga), classical songs and music as well as dances are gaining a tremendous popularity in the global scenario. In the restless world outside, the Indian philosophy of ‘non-violence’ and ‘peace’ is gradually spreading throughout the world. Indian film industries, especially the Bollywood films, have made a significant contribution to the global entertainment market. Nowadays, Indian film actors and actresses as well as the experts from the Performing Arts and other cultural fields are gaining a global following.

Reviving culture may take more than just preserving or propagating it. Handing down the culture of one’s community in a pure, unadulterated manner may depend on certain social institutions and agencies. The “Salad Bowl” Theory is a way to reduce the threat of globalization towards cultural identity. An immigrant family may choose to teach their child the native language and rely on local school systems to teach the child English. This helps the family maintain an important part of their cultural heritage – language – while still ensuring their child receives the benefit of living in another culture. Globalization does affect cultural identity. However, it does not need to threaten it. Each culture can choose for itself what it wants to keep and want it wants to share. In this way, every culture might find itself benefiting from exposure to other cultures.

In the new age of globalization, people are becoming more and more concerned about the uniqueness and singularity of their own culture. Cultural identity has begun to provide global significance to local consciousness. A sense of self, community and nation is emerging. Cultural identity has begun to answer questions of “Who am I?”, “Where are we going?” and “What do we Have?”. It is being subtly understood that “I” actually emanates from “We”. Since people derive their identities through their cultures, they will defend them. In an understated manner, globalization brings with it, an awareness of cultural identity. If truth be told, globalization enhances cultural identity and people become more keen on preserving the sui generis nature of their beloved cultures. Globalization leads to a feeling of “togetherness” and unity and a sense of “deeply-rooted-in-one’s-culture”.

Globalization is not simply homogenization. When we view globalization in terms of culture, we must notice that people are not passively accepting the influence of globalization. They have great subjectivity and freedom to change and create culture. Globalization, in a deeper sense, promotes cultural identity. With the development of science and technology, people are in closer contact than ever before. They become much more concerned about their cultural identity. They are constantly searching for their cultural roots and defending them. If we can respect the diversity of people and their cultures in this new era, it can lead to a global community that is entrenched in the value of “unity in diversity”. Cultures may no longer be local in the traditional sense, but still different and constantly evolving. Hopefully, this may lead to a new variety of globalization that will not be synonymous with homogenization.



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