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.

 

Chasing the Roos From the Backyard

From the sunburnt centre scarred by the walk of time to pristine beaches that embrace the coastal fringes, Australia seems like a ‘bloody’ great place to live. While our country may lack documented relics of ancient civilisations, the unique and varied natural beauty of Australia is consistently employed by tourism campaigns in a beckoning call to foreigners.

Such stereotypical advertisements demonstrate how we identify ourselves on an international front. And not just as a country, but also as a people. From an outsider’s perspective, this ad suggests that the typical ‘Ostrayan’ is a surfing, beer drinking, camel-riding, laid back larrikin, unfazed by the casual kangaroo in the backyard or a sneaky shark in the pool. We are an open, friendly and accepting people. It is little wonder that many international students are attracted by the idea of an education in Australia in exchange for the promise of permanent residency in the land of the fair dinkum.

And yet, a recent SBS documentary, A Convenient Education, reveals that life in Australia for international students is a “far cry from the perceived wonderland” promoted in tourism campaigns. Exploitation in the workplace and housing sectors, safety and security concerns and visa issues are highlighted as common difficulties faced by foreign students. As if the language barrier wasn’t enough. Furthermore, findings from a transnational project designed to enhance the Australian experience for international students demonstrated that despite “images of the bushman and Crocodile Dundee…dominating impressions of who Australians are”, many students felt as if Australians did not want to know them and made little effort to understand their culture and countries of origin (Kell, Vogl 2007).

Exacerbated by the racial controversy following a series of attacks on Indian students in 2009, the image of Australia as the ‘lucky country’ is no longer in sync with reality, at least not in relation to international education. Resounding consequences of such crises continue to affect tourism, education and trade, and have cost Australia billions of dollars and thousands of jobs, according to the Beyond the Lost Decade report.

For a country which endeavours to present a picturesque view of diversity and multiculturalism coupled with a relaxed lifestyle, it seems as if the way in which we are perceived by the rest of the world has strayed from the true ‘Straya. In a world of interconnectedness and interdependence promoted by globalisation, we need to seriously consider how we both identify and present ourselves as a country and a people. We are, after all, pitching to a global audience. We need to ensure that our promises align with reality, and that international students and in fact any foreigners, feel as if they are getting a fair shake of the sauce bottle.

The Power of Word(press)- Convergence in Action

“Words can light fires in the minds of men”. – Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind

As the key to expression and the conduit for discussion, the importance of words cannot be understated.

The power of words cannot be understated

The power of words cannot be understated

Amongst other things, this blogging exercise has been a learning curve in mastering words. Just like a window-front should display a store’s most appealing items, a blog needs a catchy title and engaging hook to draw in potential consumers. Clever emotive titles and hooks in the three posts I consider to be my best, Heralding a New Dawn, Spellbinding- The Magic of Transmedia Storytelling and Thinking Global, Acting…at all?, encouraged viewers to read further. Furthermore, incorporating unique and quirky experiences in the introductions of Heralding a New Dawn and Spellbinding- The Magic of Transmedia Storytelling allowed my personal voice to carry through with strength.

However words are just one piece to the complex puzzle of blogging. As I have learned, incorporating a diverse range of videos, quotes, pictures and examples into a post are vital to engagement. Mastering convergence in action so to speak! Heralding a New Dawn was the first piece where I effectively combined these things, while I consider Thinking Global, Acting..at all? to be my most successful post in this respect. For a subject in which the content can be very theoretical, it were these three posts that addressed issues relevant to my own future and interests; journalism as a profession, my continued childhood obsession with Harry Potter, and the changing face of activism. One of the most eye-opening discoveries I made was that journalism is not as straightforward as it once was and that it is essential to master online skills such as blogging to succeed in its developing digital age.

This exercise has raised many important issues that our generation faces in a rapidly evolving convergent environment. Furthermore, it has equipped me with the necessary skills to deal with these changes as I head towards a career in media and communications.