NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

American Culture is Not as Dominant as Some Claim

February 17, 2003

There are many cultural guardians growing hoarse from their warnings against the dull global "monoculture" being imposed by American capitalism. But mounting evidence suggests that all this fulmination has been entirely pointless and that cultural pessimists have been as clueless about the processes shaping the world as were their social, economic and political forebearers.

In January, for example, the New York Times ran a front-page story reporting that exported American television programs had largely lost their appeal for overseas audiences. In brief, the foreign broadcasters chose neither to whine about nor to spin theories about American culture but rather to compete with it.

  • As of 2001, more than 70 percent of the most popular shows in 60 different countries were produced locally.
  • There are still popular American shows on foreign TV sets (especially movies), but as one European broadcaster told the Times, "You cannot win a prime-time slot with an American show anymore."

An even more dramatic shift may be going on with theatrical films. According to Indian filmmaker Shekhar Kapur.

  • In 2001 "business for American films overseas fell by 16 percent against local product."
  • The biggest success in Japan, Germany, Spain, France and India were not an American film, but Japanese, German, Spanish, French and Indian films.

Kapur believes that "American culture has been able to dominate the world because it has had the biggest home market." But the growing commercial importance of Asia -- China, India, Japan -- along with the larger markets of the Mideast and North Africa will change that, he argues.

In other words, cultural globalization is far from a recipe for American dominance; it is an opportunity for other cultures and markets to assert themselves.

Source: Charles Paul Freund, "We Aren't the World: American Culture is not Dominating the Globe," Reason, March 3, 2003, Volume 34, No. 10.

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