Americanization

Outside the United States, Americanization is a term for the influence the United States has on the culture of other countries, such as their popular culture, cuisine, technology, business practices, or political techniques.

The term has been used since at least 1907. Within the US, it refers to the process of acculturation by immigrants or annexed populations (e.g. the Californios) to American customs and values.

Hollywood (the American film and television industry) dominates most of the world’s media markets. It is the chief medium by which people across the globe see American fashions, customs, scenery and way of life. US-based TV programs are re-broadcast around the world. Many of them through American broadcasters and their subsidiaries (such as HBO Asia, CNBC Europe and CNN International). Many of these distributors broadcast mainly American programming on their TV channels. According to a recent survey by the influential British broadcast media magazine ‘Radio Times,’ ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘CSI’ are among the most watched TV shows, with the latter being the most watched show among the surveyed 20 countries.

American films are also extremely popular around the world, often dominating cinemas. Adjusting for inflation, the highest grossing film of all time is ‘Gone with the Wind.’ Often part of the negotiating in free trade agreements between the U.S. and other nations involves screen quotas. One such case is Mexico, which abolished their screen quotas following the establishment of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Recently South Korea has agreed to reduce its quota under pressure from the US as part of a free trade deal. Many US-based artists, such as Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson are recognized worldwide and have sold over 500 million albums each.

Of the top ten global brands, seven are based in the United States. Coca-Cola, which holds the top spot, is often viewed as a symbol of Americanization. Fast food is also often viewed as being a symbol of US marketing dominance. Companies such as Starbucks, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and KFC have numerous outlets around the world. Many of the world’s biggest computer companies are also US based, such as Microsoft, Apple, Google, Dell, and IBM, and much of the software bought worldwide is created by US based companies.

In Germany in the 1920s, the American efficiency movement was called ‘rationalization’ and it was a powerful social and economic force. In part it looked explicitly at American models, especially Fordism (industrialized and standardized modes of mass production). ‘Rationalization’ meant higher productivity and greater efficiency, promising science would bring prosperity. More generally it promised a new level of modernity and was applied to economic production and consumption as well as public administration. Various versions of rationalization were promoted by industrialists and social democrats, by engineers and architects, by educators and academics, by middle class feminists and social workers, by government officials and politicians of many parties. As ideology and practice, rationalization challenged and transformed not only machines, factories, and vast business enterprises but also the lives of middle-class and working-class Germans.

During the 15 years from 1950 to 1965, American investments in Europe soared by 800% to $13.9 billion, and in the European Economic Community rose 10 times to $6.25 billion. Europe’s share of American investments increased from 15% to 28%. The investments were of very high visibility and generated much talk of Americanization. Even so American investments in Europe represented only 5% of the total European investment and American-owned companies in the European Economic Community employ only 2 or 3% of the total labor force. The basic reason for the U.S. investments is no longer lower production costs, faster economic growth, or higher profits in Europe, but the desire to maintain a competitive position based largely on American technological superiority.

Opposition to US investments, originally confined to France, later spread to other European countries. Public opinion began to resent American advertising and business methods, personnel policies, and the use of the English language by American companies. Criticism was also directed toward the international currency system which was blamed for inflationary tendencies as a result of the dominant position of the dollar. However by the 1970s European investments in the US increased even more rapidly, and there was less talk of the Americans buying Europe.

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