Ready for a pop quiz? What do these things have in common: Punk rock, gyro sandwiches, blue jeans, Sesame Street, and yoga.
Give up? The answer is…Globalization.
So many things that we encounter on a daily basis, things that we think of as average or mundane, began their journey into our lives years before you started going to your favorite Chinese restaurant, or watched your first Bollywood movie. International trade and technology (specifically the advent of the internet) has completely transformed the way culture produces and reproduces itself, and has made it much easier for bits and pieces of culture to travel around the world.
Obviously, the list above is only a small sample of cultural specimens that have been borrowed or modified over the years. But it’s interesting to think of the ways that culture changes along with technology and business. For the sake of brevity, we’ll look at two examples that are near and dear to my heart: music and food.
Punk music is a great example of small cultural practices becoming available worldwide. Even though punk rock was only popular among a relatively small group of people in the United Kingdom during the 1970s, its popularity grew once records of British bands became available in the United States. Today, punk music is widely accepted as an international phenomenon and is sold through virtually all major record labels including Sony Music and Warner Music Group. Consequently, cultural elements of punk rock have traveled internationally as well, so it is no surprise to see people with studded belts or Mohawks in Mexico or Japan.
Food is another way that culture travels. If we think back to our old world history classes, we know that spices were an incredibly important commodity for hundreds and hundreds of years, and that spice trading allowed civilizations to interact and exchange ideas as well as products. Perhaps the way we think about food and globalization is a bit less romantic, but the idea is still the same. A friend of mine had the opportunity to visit the Forbidden City in Beijing, China and remembers being surprised by the Starbucks inside the city walls. Just last week, I had dinner at a Mexican restaurant with a friend in East Lansing, Michigan. Another friend of mine spent a year studying in Germany, and raved about the delicious Döner kebabs that were available on every street. It would have seemed ridiculous only a century ago to be able to find foods like this readily available at reasonable prices.
While ultimately globalization has increased our access to things, it has also increased our exposure to the people and places that these things came from. Imagine what you’d be doing without the influence of international cultures! You certainly wouldn’t be a gyro-eating, blue-jean wearing yoga instructor and, more importantly, you wouldn’t even know what these things were! In a large way, trade and commerce is responsible for bringing these things, cultural specimens, into our lives.