Imperialism in the new millennium has changed from a military to an economic aspect. The United States lead a huge empire not because of their physical conquests but because of their economic expansion. As we will see, this economic development always goes along with a dramatic cultural expansion. James Watson analyzes the reasons why McDonald’s was able to expand and overtake ancient traditions in China. Not only did this American firm invade China, but, most important of all, the whole capitalistic system with all the values and ideologies it implies was able to root there.
In fact, McDonald’s doesn’t only sell the food we all know, it sells a whole life style. For example, it introduced a kind of birthday parties which was totally obscure to the Chinese culture. McDonald’s represents a free place where everyone can sit down, drink a coke and talk or study for hours; such a place wasn’t even conceived by the Chinese people. Moreover, it appealed to several social classes because of its clean bathrooms, fast and clean food, the “exotic” American atmosphere, the acceptance of the “queue”, the self serving method, and for many Chinese it represents a door towards the rich West.
Watson gives the example of some parents bringing their kids to McDonald’s because this should be their first step towards Harvard Business School! What astonishes most of the whole story is to analyze why our Western culture, not only McDonald’s, is finding it so easy to root abroad while Oriental cultures struggle to have any followers here. The economic reasons are clear: the capitalistic model is a “winner” notwithstanding its compromises. All countries are turning towards our cultural and ideological system because of our economic model.
It is clear to everyone that the western Capitalistic system has brought so much wealth that no other system could even think about challenging it. Our system allures individuals also because of its ideals of collective fun making, fiction and extravagances. Many countries are following our model of making the world seem beautiful through cinema, theme parks and all the amenities we have at home. McDonald’s is just the door towards this world. Chinese people go more and more to eat, chat and have fun. People can talk about whatever; they’re not expected to follow certain codes of behavior.
Personally, I believe that there’s a huge need to escape the dull life of working all day; there’s a desire to break the routine of working – eating – sleeping with some fun. McDonald’s, together with other western firms, insisted on these principles and were successful. It is also true that Watson contradicts this one way expansion by pointing out that Oriental culture, mainly Japanese, is invading young western minds. Just think about the Power Rangers, Pokemons and Bruce Lee. On the other hand, it is also true that these characters have been created by following our art of fiction and special effects.
I would say that other countries are producing their own products based on our idealistic inputs. The same is happening for McDonald’s. Watson doesn’t believe in its cultural invasion because the Chinese people consider McDonald’s as their own. The Golden Arches have become a symbol of local culture, rather than American. This is for sure to be considered as true, but, as I said before, the Chinese are only working on the Western input model. They are subtly being deeply influenced by our ideals. For example, we can consider the one-child revolution.
This is a typical “western innovation” which has brought to the creation of a whole new market to exploit. In fact, in such a situation the sole child has the attention of two parents and maybe four grandparents, as Watson point out. Consequently, children are much more likely to have their independent desires and “budget”. McDonald’s insisted on this new market targeting the children’s pockets with colored happy meals along with attractive Disney puppets. We really have to say that McDonald’s is a window on our Western world; I could argue to label it as a door towards our alluring ideals.
The Chinese people seek freedom, fun and wealth. McDonald’s shows these values to every social class. They can achieve these values, mold them and consider them as their own. The framework, though, stays the same, and I personally consider this as a subtle cultural expansion. This doesn’t imply this expansion to have a negative impact, indeed it has a positive effect. It just means that the Chinese are slowly losing some of their ancient traditions. To be realistic, hasn’t McDonald’s changed and is still changing our culture as well?