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Cocacolonization is a term that refers to globalization or cultural colonization. It is a portmanteau of the name of the multinational soft drink maker Coca-Cola and the word colonization. The term is used to imply either: the importation of Western (particularly American) goods; or, an invasion by Western and especially American cultural values that threatens local culture. While it is possible to use the term benignly, it has been used pejoratively to liken globalization to Westernization or Americanization.

In explaining the role of Coca-Cola as a universal influence of the ‘American way’ in the Cold War period, scholar Richard Kuisel states, ‘Perhaps no commercial product is more thoroughly identified with the United States… Coca Cola was fast becoming a universal drink.’ The dangers of cocacolonization were evoked after World War II by the French press, which regarded Coca-Cola as an American affront to the French culture. A typical cold war joke stated that, following the moon landing, the USSR leapfrogged the U.S. by painting the moon red, whilst the U.S. retaliated by going back and writing Coca-Cola in white on the red background. Seen as ‘too American’ for Communists, Pepsi was the main exported soft drink to Europe for much of the Cold War.

The expression is also used in medical literature, to describe the lifestyle changes and the associated increase of incidence of characteristic chronic diseases, e.g. type 2 diabetes.

The term has been used at least since 1949; one of the first documented uses is in the warnings in French communist press of that era. ‘Time’ magazine used it in their 1961 review of Wilder’s ‘One, Two, Three,’ calling the film a ‘yell-mell, hard-sell, Sennett-with-a-sound-track satire of iron curtains and color lines, of people’s demockeracy, Coca-Colonization, peaceful nonexistence, and the Deep Southern concept that all facilities are created separate but equal.’

Coca-colonization is resented in many areas of the world, particularly in the Muslim countries, and by some ethnic minorities in the Western world; American brands tend to be boycotted by the consumers there. Alternative products of non-US origin are therefore available on the local markets. The best example is perhaps the range of cola-flavored soft drinks defining themselves as non-American, e.g. Mecca Cola, Parsi Cola, Eram Cola, and Zam Zam Cola.

In 1949, French communists made several attempts to make a law prohibiting importation and sale of Coca-Cola. Many governments attempt to resist the proliferation of American culture, usually by imposing quotas. For example, France was granted a cultural exception during the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) negotiations, despite the objections of the American movie industry; as a result, in 2005 its domestic film market consisted of only 75% of US-originated content in comparison with 90% share of the other European countries. Canada also resorts to cultural protectionism, requiring a minimum share of Canadian content in domestic media. Many countries impose ‘screen quotas’ to protect their domestic film production, a practice started in United Kingdom in 1927; other countries with screen quotas include France, South Korea, Brazil, Pakistan, Italy and Spain.

In 2005, UNESCO’s Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions enshrined cultural exception as a method of protecting local cultures. Sponsored by France and Canada, the convention was passed 185-2, with four nations abstaining from voting. The notable naysayers were the United States and Japan. The United States claims that cultural exception is a form of protectionism that harms global trade.


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