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Exporting Tunes and Fries: American Pop Culture Overseas

As the old saying goes, you are what you eat. This could actually be expanded to state you are what you consumer. In our global consumer society, many of us find our identities transformed thanks to the many items we consumer. In American society, the literal sense is evident in our food choices. American fast food has risen to the level of a past time with multitudes of American companies dominating both domestic and international markets. Actually, many American items are absorbed in significant numbers abroad. Some folks simply can’t get enough of American consumerism and pop culture.

This is evident in both the aforementioned example of fast food as well as in the strong desire for American entertainment. Most notably, there has been a 50+ year fascination with American rock and roll that continues unabated. This leads many to pose the question why? Are not the music and food choices of local regions good enough? To ask such a question in such a trite manner misses the true point of why American popular culture is so popular: it is both distinctly American and universal at the same time. That is why it is important to take a clear look at microcosms of how American pop culture often spawned massive popularity overseas.

This will provide a clear understanding of how American pop culture is able to cross cultural, economic, historical, and even social differences with relative ease. To a great extent, rock and roll music is considered a mostly American invention. Yes, there were many famous and legendary British bands that would make their mark on the music industry, but the world of British rock truly did not evolve until the 1960’s. Rock and roll started in America in the 1950’s where it was eventually exported to other American Pop Culture Overseas – Page 2 parts of the world.

It would become enormously popular in Western Europe and Asia before branching off into other parts of the world as well. The exportation of rock and roll into the Soviet Bloc during the Cold War is interesting to look at in retrospect. One of the biggest influences on Soviet rock fans was Dean Reed. Born in America, Reed would become a rock star in the Soviet Union after a chance meeting with a Russian diplomat. Since Reed shared ideological similarities with communist leaders, he was allowed to tour in the USSR where he opened the doors for an interest in rock and roll. Eventually, this interest would go well beyond ideology.

(Mallon) In general, however, within the Soviet Union, there was a very little love or tolerance for American rock and roll. One of the most humorous examples of the cultural divide was evidenced in the the1980’s when Soviet propaganda featured photographs of the once popular and thoroughly bizarre heavy metal band Twisted Sister with accompanying text that essentially stated the decadence of America is what spawns such aberrations. Of course, it is funny to see how the Soviets took such an absurd heavy metal band as anything serious. Twisted Sister sold a lot of record albums, but they hardly brought down American society.

Yet, many American critics would make the same claims that the Soviet critics did! Yes, there were those in American considered a rock and roll just as a dangerous destructive force as the Soviets did. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that rock and roll music proved wildly popular in the Soviet Union as well as other parts of the world. One of the most famous images in American popular culture is that of a stoic American Pop Culture Overseas – Page 3 businessmen stating “Rock and roll is for morons” and then smashing a record to bits. No, rock and roll was not well received by many in America when it debuted.

This is what guaranteed its popularity. For many in the United States, rock and roll was considered the coming of the great cultural decline. Elvis was a sensation, but his erotic gyrations were considered to risque for American television. When the Beatles first arrived on American shores, the public was thoroughly aghast. Now, this may seem thoroughly obtuse in hindsight. The Beatles were mostly innocuous. They were polite, humorous, and well dressed often appearing in a jacket and tie. Their music was generally benign as well. However, the mop top haircuts were considered too much for the American public.

However, the irony of all this was that the Beatles were mostly influenced by American blues and early rock musicians. This would be true of the Rolling Stones and the vast majority of the British Invasion bands. Humorously, it would seem America’s desire to unleash rock and roll on the world had come back to “haunt” it. Rock and roll musicians would eventually evolve into more shocking and outrageous bands over the years. This would often be to the rage of parents who wished their kids would listen to more wholesome entertainment. It would be this sentiment that would spawn yet another cultural phenomenon: bubblegum rock.

However, the demand for American rock and roll was so strong that it eventually became universal. There is good reason for this. Rock and roll exists mainly because it feeds a universal need: the desire to rebel. American Pop Culture Overseas – Page 4 Part of the reason for rock’s international popularity is that it fills a number of needs. It can provide a sense of rebellion against the establishment. Conversely, it can provide a sense of communal belonging. Most importantly, it can give the youth a voice. Many rock song (or rap songs, or bubble gum songs, etc) speak to their generation about their generation.

This will resonate through many barriers. Even in the Soviet Union during the Cold War American rock found an audience and inspired many home grown fans. The reason for this is simple: the Soviet Union possessed alienated and misunderstood youth as well. Therefore, it is no surprise that American rock and roll would find a welcome audience in such a divergent culture. Examining why American fast food is so popular is somewhat more complex. After all, the food tastes awful, is comprised of saturated fats and refined sugars, and comes will a multitude of health related dangers.

Yet, when the first McDonald’s opened in the Soviet Union, the lines were around the block. Was this the Soviet embrace of capitalism? To an extent, yes; but, American fast food is popular in many systems of government. Again, the question must be asked…. why? There are a number of reasons for this and the need to eat it generally not one of them. Yes, American fast food restaurants do fill the need for (non-nutritious) food, but it is not like these countries never had any restaurants before Burger King and Ronald McDonald landed on their shores.

So, why is there all this love for the fast food industry? Two reasons: it mixes American individualism with entertainment. Fast food is not just about eating. It is about feeling good and these good feelings are delivered in a distinctly American manner no different than the export of rock and roll. This is not to say that American Pop Culture Overseas – Page 5 everyone embraces American fast food culture. In Europe, the menu of McDonald’s had to be modified recently to appeal to domestic tastes. (Werdigier) However, the look, feel and identity of McDonalds remain distinctly American.

When one looks at the image of Ronald McDonald, one sees more than merely at a symbol of the fast good business. One seems in innocuous image of a happy clown. This image does wonders for providing people with the image that McDonald’s means good times and fun for all. While Ronald McDonald was often aimed at younger audiences, many of McDonald’s marketing campaigns were designed to appeal to older demographics. The classic advertising line “You deserve a break today” essentially told people on the go that they could get away from the stress of the world by visiting McDonald’s.

McDonald’s means good times and relaxation; how could such feel good sentiments not resonate with international audiences? Again, this is the true allure of American pop culture. It allows those who live outside of the borders of the United States to enjoy a little bit of what makes American unique. And, yes, this embracing of American entertainment and popular culture extends to the fast food industry. Considering the fact that America is a relatively young country, much of its image is defined by pop culture. This unique image finds its way into the fast food world where its popularity manifests with eager audiences.

Whether it is music, films, television, fashion, or even fast food, there will be a desire to capture the American spirit by many throughout the globe. This is evidenced in the manner in which American popular culture is welcomed on foreign shores. Even American Pop Culture Overseas – Page 6 when American popular culture embodies a number of odd attributes, it still finds its fans. That is why it is popular and why it will remain so for many, many years to come. Bibliography Cooper, Kim, and David Smay. 2001. Bubble Gum Rock: The Naken Truth.

Princeton: Feral House. Mallon, Thomas. 2006. An American who gyrated to a Communist beat. International Herald Tribune http://www. iht. com/articles/2006/07/07/features/idlede8. php (Accessed November 10, 2008). Schlosser, Erik. 2005. Fast Food Nation. New York, NY: Harper Perennial Werdigier, Julia. 2007. Going Native: Mickey D alters its decor and menus in Europe. The New York Times. Reprinted in The Global Marketer. http://www. theglobalmarketer. net/marketingpulse/marketingpulse. jsp? id=104&page=1 (Accessed November 10, 2008).

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