'We don't do McDonald's': America and World Culture

Tuesday 27 October, 7.00pm until 9.00pm, Notre Dame University, London

Venue: University of Notre Dame London Centre, 1 Suffolk Street, London SW1 4HG

Tickets: £7.50 (£5 concessions) per person. Tickets are available from the Academy of Ideas website.

Despite President Obama being heralded as an urbane new leader whose multicultural background symbolises a nation more at ease with itself, much of the world remains suspicious of American culture. For a long-time caricatured as ‘Coca-Colonisation’, the cultural influence of the US is often seen as little short of ‘cultural imperialism’. In 2005 a group of Torino city councillors tried to ban Coca-Cola from city hall before the Winter Olympics, while from Canada to France, many countries impose music quotas on radio stations to help local artists get a footing in ‘an industry that is largely overshadowed by a gigantic American influence.’ From McDonalds to MTV, popular US brands are often interpreted as both a sign of America’s rampant commercialism and its superficial ‘trash’ culture. But is this a fair or full picture?

Accusations that American culture is dumbing down the world are often thinly veiled attacks on popular culture per se. Such snobbery is often misplaced: there is more to US culture than Hollywood blockbusters, with American artists being leading lights in many art forms. From Philip Roth to The Wire, from the Guggenheim to Leonard Bernstein, from F Scott Fitzgerald to John Ford, America’s cultural achievements have broken new ground and many remain monumental. Moreover, America a place where artists from diverse backgrounds have come together to forge new and distinctive art, where two Russian émigrés like George Balanchine and Igor Stravinsky could create ballets that not only defined American dance but modern dance to this day. Shouldn’t this aspect of the American dream be an inspiration to us all?

That said, much American culture has spread around the world not because it is the best, but because of America’s political, economic and military might. Do we really want a homogenous cultural landscape, where innovation, quirkiness and regional identity are squeezed out by Americana? How can we ensure that the world is exposed to the best of American art, while allowing other cultures to flourish too?

Clive Bloom
emeritus professor, English and American studies, Middlesex University; author, Riot City: protest and rebellion in the capital

Peter Curran
documentary maker; broadcaster; publisher; specialising in arts, culture and pop music; recorder, Revolution in the Head

Carol Gould
editor, Current Viewpoint; author, Don’t Tread on Me: anti-Americanism abroad

Angus Kennedy
convenor, The Academy; author, Being Cultured: in defence of discrimination

Alan Miller
chairman, Night Time Industries Association (NTIA)

Patrick Spottiswoode
director, Globe education, Shakespeare's Globe

Dr Shirley Dent
communications specialist (currently working with the British Veterinary Association media team); editor, tlfw.co.uk; author, Radical Blake

Produced by
Dr Shirley Dent communications specialist (currently working with the British Veterinary Association media team); editor, tlfw.co.uk; author, Radical Blake
Recommended readings
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