Thursday, December 3, 2009

Transnationalism, banal massification, zombies

Halle says, "Goods, people, and ideas follow the paths opened up by the global capital, drawing disparate people into greater contact with each other, expanding productive capacity to satisfy their material needs, and thereby universalizing their human interdependence. Yet this cosmopolitan form and its commodity relations threaten to reduce specificity, and the human interdependence instead of universal elevation threatens to become a banal massification addressing the needs of the least common denominator."

"Banal massification"? Interesting wording. "No need exists anymore," Halle continues, "to justify the opening of another McDonald's in Beijing as an act of civilization."

This is a pretty negative view of globalization, and one I might be inclined to agree with. But isn't this an Americanized cynicism, saying that humans can't retain any semblance of individuality because of all the Wal-marts and McDonald's everywhere? I don't know if Halle is actually American but this seems like a thoroughly American viewpoint, that mass global capitalism, the oppressive sameness of Wal-mart, can consume us so thoroughly that we no longer retain our individuality, our "specificity."

Halle later states that "a culture industry, and specifically the American culture industry, is blamed for diverting individuals away from their real, 'authentic' interests." His suspiciously passive voice and later arguments make it unclear if he supports this view or not, but he seems to be exerting a gleeful malevolence regarding the whole consumer-zombies thing:

"This culture industry 'deals' with consumers' needs," he says, "producing them, controlling them, disciplining them, and as it creates needs and directs desires, it also appears to rise up and to stand against the interests of cultures, effacing difference, leaving only a totalized homogeneous, consuming mass behind: McWorld."

Ouch. Dawn of the Dead, anyone? Surely it's not that bad. I think this analysis is underestimating the power of a strong family-centered and tradition-centered ethnic culture, the likes of which white people in America, unfortunately, are severely lacking. You can put another McDonald's in Beijing but anyone who's ever met someone from China or studied China at all can tell you that China holds a fiercely nationalist and family-based culture, holding sometimes thousand-year old unique traditions in the highest regard (certainly above McDonald's and Wal-Mart).

And China's just one example. Plenty of other cultures have very rich and vibrant cultures that do not seem at any risk to be consumed by McDonald's. Only white people in America are so empty and unfulfilled in their lack of strong ethnic or cultural identity that we seem to be at risk of Wal-Mart zombieism.

-katie dempsey

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