'We Are the World'

Thirty years ago, the British punk-rock band The Clash recorded a song called "I'm So Bored with the USA." Of course, The Clash weren't really bored with all things American. They toured with Bo Diddley and Grandmaster Flash, and, in an earlier incarnation, Clash singer Joe Strummer had actually called himself "Woody" after the great American Guthrie. In the song, Strummer was very specific about the object of his boredom when he yowled, "Yankee detectives are always on the TV because killers in America work seven days a week."

The Clash song could serve as the anthem of a growing global movement to stop the extension of "free trade" principles to the realm of culture. When The Clash wrote their song, the process of corporate globalization had barely begun. U.S. cultural products—from Kojak to Time magazine—still had to be physically transported across the ocean before they could reach British or Japanese consumers. Now Desperate Housewives or The New York Times can be bounced off a satellite for local viewing or printing in Moscow or Macedonia. And international trade agreements treat culture as a commodity, like toothpaste. So countries are forbidden to, for instance, protect their local music scene by putting quotas or tariffs on Justin Timberlake imports.

Increasingly, the result is a world in which everyone watches the same stories and sings the same songs. The common wisdom 15 years ago held that globalization would be a benign engine of progressive multiculturalism. In this view, the cultural vehicles of globalization—mainly the Internet and satellite television—would spread ideas and information across geographic and political barriers. But contrary to globalization's multicultural promise, it is in fact creating a global monoculture, dictated by the overwhelming economic power of the United States.

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Sojourners Magazine May 2007
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