The Mixing Bowl of Modern Culture

Is MacDonalds contributing to the homogenisation of cultures around the world?

Travelling around Europe last year I was fascinated to discover that several of my friends differentiated capital cities not by their defining landmarks or historical monuments, but rather by the fond memories of the ‘golden arches’ they had visited. Rome’s colosseum was overshadowed by the stuffed ‘Pizzarotto’, The Eiffel Tower melted into the background of Paris when budgeting Australian tourists caught wind of ‘le Croque McDo’. McDonalds: the one stop fast food shop for apprehensive travellers. A universal icon, global corporation and prime example of globalisation in action.

However, while on the surface McDonalds may reflect standardised international tastes in a global mixing bowl of cultures, national menus containing products and flavours specific to each country display that societal traditions continue to defy cultural homogenisation. Cultures have merely embodied the concept of hybridisation-the mixing of the old and new, the traditional and the modern, in an attempt to make imported products relatively unique to a local place.

This cultural hybridisation extends beyond a culinary lens to encompass all aspects of popular culture; from films, to sport, music and lifestyle. Dr April Henderson’s article Dancing Between Islands: Hip Hop and the Samoan Diaspora explores the “cross-fertilisation” of hip hop from its origins in urban California to many locations where Samoans have settled. Following their original involvement in street dance and rap in California in the 80s, Henderson explains that Samoan dancers developed a calibre of “popping” equal to that of the US form. Bonnie Tamati, a young Samoan woman who took part in the female popping competition at the 2000 Aotearoa Hip Hop Summit in Christchurch, reinterpreted Samoan dance moves to the beat of a heavy bass funk.  Her performance received enthusiastic praise and recognition from the audience who appreciated how Tamati had tied both traditional and modern art forms together, breaking down cultural barriers in the process (Henderson 2006, p 189). As is the case with the global transmission of McDonalds, the hybridisation of two seemingly opposing cultures in this scenario demonstrates the coexistence of both traditional and modern culture and the intrinsic formation of new identities.

Closer to home, The Warrumpi Band were the first Indigenous musicians to release a rock song in the Luritja dialect of the Aboriginal language, marking an important step in hybridising Indigenous and modern Australian culture.

Today we all know Gurrumul as a prominent figure in Australian music. While his highly emotive songs are sung in the traditional Aboriginal languages of Galpu, Djambarrpuynu and Gumatj, they also contain an “extraordinary combination of traditional Aboriginal culture, modern and gospel church music and other musical influences” in a style that has journalist Tony Cornwell has described as having the ability to “transcend cultural barriers”.

From these examples, it is clear that globalisation is leading, not to the extinction or homogenisation of traditional cultures; but rather, just as with any process of evolution, a unique combination and mutation of both the new and old in a move that is redefining cultures and identities around the globe. I wouldn’t be surprised if the next time I visited my local McDonalds, kangaroo kebabs were at the top of the menu.

 

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