The Americanisation of Australian Culture
Discussing the cultural influence of the USA
upon our nation's way of life
Anti-Americanisation sticker, 1980s
Americanisation is the effect upon a local culture by the long-term and large-scale importation of elements of a crass consumerist culture founded in the USA. It is a commercial culture of Coca-Cola and Pepsi, Hungry Jacks and McDonalds. It is a television culture of Jerry Springer and Oprah Winfrey, The Simpsons and Mickey Mouse, and "reality shows" (such as Survivor and Big Brother).
The Americanisation of Australia's culture is a sad and terrible thing. It is a process whereby ordinary Australians are bombarded every day with images of American lifestyle, so much that it merges almost unnoticed into their own lifestyle. It is a process whereby our home-grown entertainment industry is overwhelmed by the enormous powerhouse of the American economy, with drastic effects upon the modern Australian nation.
As the USA has a population base of over 290 million, along with a successful economy, it has meant that the American population has a large amount of money that is surplus to basic requirements, and that therefore may be devoted to the luxuries of leisure and entertainment, hence the development of such a huge entertainment industry.
Due to economies of scale, it is proportionately cheaper - and more profitable - for the American entertainment industry to produce movies, television shows, etc., than it is for the local entertainment industry to produce the same in Australia. Once American entertainment businesses have made their money on a TV series, any sales of those productions to overseas markets (such as Australia) is pure profit. Therefore, American businesses can afford to sell TV shows to the Australian TV networks for below-cost prices (a practice called "product-dumping"), effectively undercutting the sale of local TV productions - hence, fewer local productions are made, and fewer Australian shows are seen on TV.
Facing the economic Goliath of the American entertainment industry, our local industry cannot compete. If it wasn't for Australian laws ensuring a certain amount of local content, along with some government funding and tax breaks, Australia's movie and television producers would be in dire straits.
As is the case in much of the developed world, ordinary Australians spend many hours watching TV (especially Australian youth), with the result that we are subtly influenced by its content - whether we want to be or not, whether we are aware of it or not. Due to the massive amount of American content on television, especially during prime time, Australia's culture and way of life is being heavily influenced by American culture and its trends.
Tearlach Hutcheson, an Australian living in the USA, said that
All my life I have been raised predominantly on Hollywood cinema and Hollywood cinema has never taught me to be an Australian. Instead it has taught me to be an American. I do not believe that this is a result of living in the US for many years because these were feelings that I had before I came to the US. I believe that even in Australia my fellow Australians experience a fate very similar to mine.
Since 1918 Hollywood cinema has dominated the world, and even earlier, it has dominated the Australian marketplace. As a result of this hegemony, Australians, through cinematic exposure, have been raised with a U.S. belief system. However, with the reemergence of the Australian film industry in the seventies, and the use of cinema by the Whitlam government to rid Australia of US and British influences, I believe national identity has slowly begun to be re-established for Australians.
The American influence upon our society can easily be seen in our language, fashions, general knowledge, and cultural mind-set.
American words (or common general English words, now laden with an Americanised meaning or application) and American phrases have buried themselves deep within the Australian language, often without our being aware of their origin.
American words: babe, bro, dude, hoe, homies, ok, whatever
American phrases: chill out; like totally; you go, girl; you're so busted
The computer world also brings American influence. Most major computer applications originate from American companies, such as Microsoft, and therefore, by default, encourage the spread of American English in the spelling of words - when computer programmes are set to recognise American English rather than British or Australian English, such as in the usage of our/or and sation/zation (for example, favouring "color" over "colour", "organization" over "organisation"). [Whilst typing this article, my copy of Microsoft Word automatically changed my typing of "recognise" to "recognize" - with no prompt or warning - and it was only by luck (or diligence?) that I noticed the change]. With the youth in Western societies heavily reliant upon computers, such "hidden influences" can only add to the cumulative effect of Americanisation.
Professor Pam Peters (Associate Professor in Linguistics at Macquarie University), noted the results of one linguistics researcher:
younger respondents were always more regular users of the American options, and this, by sociolinguistic principle, suggests the way of the future. The longer term effect is already evident in the considerable number of Americanisms, both popular and professional expressions (from OK to paramedic) which have been absorbed over the last six decades.
As Bruce Moore says,
Contemporary teenspeak comes from the world of teenage popular culture, and this culture is largely American... Listen to a teenager speak, and his or her language will be peppered with Americanisms.
Many people used to slavishly follow Paris fashions (and some still do), however that trend has become more diversified nowadays, and is generally limited to the upper end of the market.
However, the American influence upon street-wear can often be seen; for instance, in the "hip hop" rapper-style fashions worn by many teenagers; along with a profusion of bandanas and baseball caps (especially when worn back-to-front, in the American style).
American influences loom large over the clothing industry, especially the youth market, with brands such as Nike (sport), Wu Tang (hip hop), and Levi's jeans.
Through the saturation of our television networks with American movies, situation comedies, and assorted other TV shows, Australians often know more about the USA than they do about their own country. A minor survey carried out by this author asked Australian-born subjects to list the states, native tribes, and national leaders of both Australia and the USA; sadly, most people could name more of those from America, rather than from Australia. The results were an indication of the deep American influence upon our society. It would be interesting to see the same survey conducted by a major polling company, although similar results would be expected.
It has even been reported that, after having been inundated with a wide diet of American police/crime shows, some people in Australia have dialed 911 (the emergency telephone number in the USA) instead of 000 (the Australian emergency number).
Also, whether via print or via computers (especially on the internet), sorting out the American date system from the Australian date system can also bring its own problems - is 7.4.2004 to be read as "7th of April, 2004" (Australian) or as "July 4th, 2004" (American).
Perhaps most unfortunate of all, many Australians have begun to adopt an American mind-set. This might not be so awful if it was that of small-town America, but instead it is the crass mind-set of the major cities where much of American television and movie entertainment is set and produced: Los Angeles, Washington, and New York ("The Big Apple", which has a reputation for thinking money is far more important than people).
For instance, it is only in recent years that we have seen the emergence in Australia of the concept of "loser"; in the past, someone who had fallen on hard times would be termed as a "battler", implicit in which is a struggle to rise up again; whereas it is quite common nowadays to hear such people referred to as "losers", a nasty and disdainful phrase, implicit in which is the idea that such a person is destined to always be at "the bottom of the pile" and to be somewhat beneath contempt.
The "reality shows" genre, originating in the USA, is another example of crass Americanisation that adversely affects our cultural mind-set. All these shows have a common theme of making people look bad, and of individuals being encouraged to stab each other in the back to win. Exactly what kind of culture, morality, and mind-set is this going to foster in our nation's youth? Certainly not a good one. Is crass Americanisation going to bring about a Western culture that is steeped in selfishness, nastiness, and back-stabbing?
The influence of Americanisation upon our culture is clearly evident:
Our children wear t-shirts and caps emblazoned with the numbers and names of American sporting heroes, many of their favourite stories and characters are American, and the bland fast foods they consume come from ubiquitous American franchises. (Chris Bigum)
Many people have come to feel that a more comprehensive process of Americanisation is breathing down their necks. With the rise of cable TV, Nike-style branding, the profusion of US ads (often revoiced), the distinction between what is inside and outside Australian culture is slipping away.
When, a few years ago, US basketball star Michael Jordan was nominated as the favourite sports hero of Australian teenagers, people began to realise that a fundamental shift had occurred. In fact it was no different to a similar transformation that had occurred in areas such as agriculture. Suddenly we were eating Californian oranges and Chilean apples, while farmers at home couldn't find a good enough price to even make it worthwhile to pick their fruit off the trees. (Guy Rundle)
American output also dominates the local music charts. Like many other countries, Australia is awash with music from the USA - which undermines local music output. As with the situation in television, it becomes cheaper to promote and sell American music rather than promote Australian music.
The African-American influence is strong on the music scene. In decades past, the black musical forms of blues, jazz, rhythm and blues carried much influence, whilst the modern music form of rap influences Western youth, along with a contemporary rap subculture of basketball, break-dancing, and graffiti writing (that is, graffiti in a particular style, including that of "tags").
We can look at an essay by a high school student, Eric Bird, published on the internet:
Globalisation has had negative effects on Australia. A major side affect of globalisation is the Americanisation of Australian culture. American culture is becoming more prominent in our society. A lot of content on Australian TV is sourced from America, and our life styles are becoming more American. Many of the most popular music artists are American. This may result in the loss of our unique Australian culture because of the great influence that America holds over Australia. Teenagers are particularly susceptible to this influence, and now talk and act like American teenagers. Companies like Coca-Cola promote a consumerist culture. They drink Coca-Cola, eat McDonald's, watch American movies and television and listen to American artists. Australian television is threatened by the influx of American culture, and this could have negative affects on the Australian film industry, as American production houses are able to produce shows cheaper than Australian networks can.
Several other writers have linked Americanisation with globalisation:
It is argued that one of the consequences of globalisation will be the end of cultural diversity, and the triumph of a uni-polar culture serving the needs of transnational corporations. Hence the world drinks Coca-Cola, watches American movies and eats American junk food. American culture is seen to be dominated by monetary relationships and commercial values replacing traditional social relationships and family values. (Mary Jane)
Today, commercially and culturally in the western world, globalisation is just a fancy euphemism for Americanisation. Social commentators have noted the gradual blurring of cultural identity in western countries and the emergence of a global, or American, culture. (Rabia Lockwood)
Dr Brendon O'Connor (a lecturer at Griffith University) writes that:
American culture is part of Australian mass consumer culture, like it or not, dude! It dominates our television, radio stations, movie theatres, fashion and our imagination. We are effectively governed from Washington DC with our cultural menu set by producers in Los Angeles and designers in New York... This summary of affairs is, of course, an exaggerated view of reality, although plenty of Australians probably watch American sitcoms, own American CDs and DVDs, and dress in American fashion labels right down to their Calvin Klein underwear.
Global and Australian culture clearly has been Americanised, particularly since World War II. Although put-downs of American culture often run roughshod over the sheer diversity of American cultural output, it is entirely understandable that people worry about local business and art being overrun by American cultural icons such as McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Time AOL and so on.
A letter to The Bulletin magazine stated:
you are fighting a losing battle, just as the ancient Britons had not much chance against the pervading culture of the Roman Empire. Globalisation means Americanisation. Coke, McDonald's, pop music and Hollywood fantasyland have been followed by the infiltration of Halloween and kindergarten kids chanting, "x-y-zee". (Rex Benn)
The problem of cultural Americanisation has arisen in many countries across the globe, not only in English-speaking areas, but in non-English nations as well - from France to Norway to Russia, even into Asia and Africa.
Indicative of many Western countries, one South African stated that her typical countrymen would be:
familiar with many, many American TV personalities and movie stars (Harrison Ford, Brad Pitt, Leo, the cast of Friends, the people on Survivor) and a few South African ones… You might know some British stars (Sean Connery, Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Hugh Grant), but you probably only know them if they got famous by starring in American movies. (T'Mar)
Sadly, as a side-trend, it is not uncommon in Western nations for a small minority to culturally and emotionally identify with America more than they do with their own culture and country.
Like all cultural exchanges, Americanisation does not occur on a one-way street. There are foreign influences upon the USA as well; however, the flow of traffic is definitely in favour of the Americans. It would appear that whilst American influence is flowing outbound to the world on a ten-lane highway, the inbound traffic pedals along on a bicycle path.
American influence is creating an urban Western culture that is much the same worldwide - no matter whether you are in New York, London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, or Sydney. In this globalist world, living in a consumerist climate, saturated by Americanised culture, many people from many different Western nations are now wearing the same style of clothes, eating the same types of junk food, watching the same television shows, and listening to the same music - and this domination by American popular culture comes at the expense of traditional cultures.
The Americanisation of culture, in Australia and across the world, is not a positive development. It is enormously detrimental to our national identity, and is destructive to the cultural diversity of nations worldwide.
Rex Benn (Pymble, NSW)
The Bulletin, Vol. 120 No. 6
Chris Bigum. "Antipodean Dreaming", CPSR News Volume 15, Number 1: Winter 1997
[Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility]
Eric Bird (Year 11, Melbourne High School ). "Australia steps into the global spotlight"
[Centre for Economic Education]
http://cee.org.au/EricBird.doc [no longer on the internet; available in the cache of www.google.com at the time of the publication of this article]
Tearlach Hutcheson. "Australian & Hollywood Cinema, 1906 to the Present, or, A Hills Hoist in the Shadows of a Neon Coca-Cola Sign"
[Australian & New Zealand Studies Association of North America]
Mary Jane. "Globalisation Must be Stopped"
Rabia Lockwood. "Remembering an Australian sound"
Bruce Moore. "Do They Still Roll the Jaffas Down the Aisle?"
Brendon O'Connor. "Does Aussie culture need protection from US cultural imperialism?"
[First published in The Courier Mail, 21 June 2003]
Professor Pam Peters. "How English is English?"
http://www.immi.gov.au/amep/reports/pubs/papers/peters.htm [no longer on the internet; available in the cache of www.google.com at the time of the publication of this article]
Guy Rundle. "Local Drama"
T'Mar. "How to tell if you're South African"