I just read this weekend a telling article in Tech Crunch of the “homogenization” [my term] of modern fashion, gadgets, and consumerism in the modern, present world. I thought it was worth commenting which I will proceed to in my combined semi-historical personal way and lead up to some telling observations if not conclusions. The article is entitled, “Converging consumer values in China and the U.S. are creating millennials without borders.” by Hans Tung.
Consumerism and its ever present ‘sidekick’ marketing/advertising has fascinated me even from my earliest childhood. I grew up with stories of my father “painting his way across Texas” when he drove to El Paso from Huntsville to El Paso in a beat up old car in 1937 or so along with three equally poor friends to enroll at and attend Texas School of Mines as it was known then. They all had the idea that they wanted to be “engineers.” My father had gotten enamored of mining engineering by reading a pulp paper published penny dreadful adventure comic about a mining engineer that he kept a copy of and showed to me when I was about five or six. He had worked in high school as a billboard sign painter to earn money and help his family get by during the Great Depression. Billboards in those days were not printed and glued on in sections or electronically programmed LED light affairs as they are now. they were hand painted. My father was proud of his work and without biased exaggeration, he was very good at it. He painted billboards for just about every business in the Huntsville, New Waverly, Conroe Texas area. Once he misspelled a word and initially did not realize it and his buddies teased him mercilessly about it. He quietly and quickly set about to repaint the word hoping his customer had not noticed it but he had. The purchaser of his services thought it was hilarious and were gratified as locals told him of the mistake and it had the unique small town effect of bringing in more customers who laughingly told the proprietor of the said business of the mistake and of course bought more goods. The proprietor almost stopped my father from correcting it. So I had an early family based to local, small town advertising. By the time our family bought a television set in the 1950’s were avalanched by the big time national Madison Avenue advertising for cigarettes [back when it was legal and routine for tobacco products to be so advertised on tv, for the young reader who may not know that actually occurred once upon a time]. Detergents, washers, car tires, gasoline and motor oil brands, and my favorite Falstaff beer pitched by the famous Dizzy Dean on Saturday afternoon baseball was my favorite since Dizzy Dean almost always comically ad-libbed some hilarious backwoods homily or addition to the advertising script. His most famous that got him in temporary hot water was “But we ain’t got no gallons.”
Then a little later I happened to run across Vance Packard’s books on advertising, its power, and sort of subliminal evil influences. That caught my eye and reading mind. I mulled those concepts over endlessly. It helped me among really many,, many other concepts that economics were a very powerful influence throughout history and especially modern life.
Decades ago I somehow realized, likely through my travels with my family growing up all over the world, that elements of American culture were permeating [sometimes I felt it was a process almost akin to the inadvertent introduction/invasion of kudzu into the South] the rest of the world starting with the more affluent countries, McDonalds, Coke and Pepsi led the way. As the years rolled on and I became inducted into the world of medicine, I began to realize we were infecting the world with harmful American products. The American diet exemplified by Mickey D’s, soft sugary drinks, candies and more. And tobacco was the worst though I think it sprang up into parts of the world autonomous in regions where tobacco was also native and grown such as Turkey etc. But in recent decades as tobacco has become more and more unwelcome in the US, the companies are migrating in an organized and hurried manner to the Far East expanding into markets with far more customers in India, China, and the Far East. And very little regulations like we have had in the US since the initial warnings of packs of cigarettes decades ago. And the rates of breathing and lung disorders, and especially LUNG CANCER have increased in those countries like a reverse ski slope in predictably horrendously rapid rates.
The other side of the coin of American invasion, leaving out American music from rock and roll to jazz, the most American and more popular of American genres [sorry, I have not forgotten such other genres such as American Bluegrass and four or five person American Christian Gospel “Quartet” music which even as a Jew I do love, but those genres are not as popular overseas], is the dreadful American Diet.. And I must echo Oprah’s correct indictment of fat laden American steak and beef as bad or at least not good for us. fatty french fries and all the rest of it, even my wife’s Cherokee fry bread which is good if an acquired taste but full of grease and fat and not good for anyone but a traditional food nonetheless. So America’s obesity epidemic has grown overseas and the evidence of it is there for all to see when we view television scenes of other countries overseas where America’s “foodie” exports have taken hold in a big way. This is not to say the American diet is not the only culprit. The German diet from personal experience is full of fattening favorites, large amounts of beer per capita, and all those fatty meaty wursts of all flavors that I cannot keep straight and other fatty but oh so tasty goodies. And even my other main cultural heritage of Latino food has its unwise but centuries old emphasis on fatty beans, greasy carbohydrates foods that I restrict myself painfully to on a once a month basis or so…
Now we have a new phenomenon in this world of mega companies exporting their not so good products to the rest of the world. Worldwide advertising through television American style has invaded the rest of the world like the “fungus among-us” that can’t be stopped. It is visual, it gets you hyped up and craving-desiring whatever product is being hawked from cereals to iPods. It is a truly essential tool of business large and small and will never go away. But American television somehow apparently got a head start on local programming in other countries and set the tone and paradigms for shows in other countries. I remember once when I turned on the tv in a Latino country where we were living at the time during one of my father’s international consulting mining engineering contracts, re-opening a mine that had an explosion and closed, or sinking a deep shaft through dangerous formations and saw American like programs in Spanish, complete with Let’s Make A Deal like shows, breaks for the usual advertising commercials, all modelled after “Amerikanski” tv as my father used to call it. And the soap operas were just as bad as American ones with every other minute bouts of scripted hysterical crises in all the relationships of actors. I was aghast and fascinated.
In the last two decades, the American invasion has increased. Everybody races their Honda two-door Civics modified to dangerous levels in streets or parking garages in Japan like American teens did with their souped up pre-dragster jalopies in the 1950’s. Clothes are American like. We had the Japanese invasion of little transistor radios briefly in the 1960’s but then American boomboxes [though made in Japan] took over and held sway especially when the hippest of all American teens, the black teens, and gangstas came to the cultural foreground. What capped it off for me has been the recent appearance of Apple’s advertisement for a pair of teens obviously in love and the male is taking adoring pictures of his girlfriend in breathtaking big city settings with the coming iPhone which is supposedly now even better for portraits. And then you realize that it is some Chinese big city and the two Millenials, the young couple are indeed Chinese. It is a good commercial and romantic on a soft, pleasant plane that is nice to watch.
And there we have it. I think it is a culmination of all this American cultural spread/plague/internationally bourne cross-pollination homogenizing many cultures. These cultures were incredibly insular and very very proudly different just decades ago. And now look at them; at times you have to look closely to see their unique differences. No wonder some countries, even with their science and modernization phobias are trying to shut out the Internet. Once you enter into the world of the Internet, you change.