Cultural Commodification: Mickey in Myanmar

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 10/01/2014 01:30:00 AM
One of the most debated tropes of globalization is that of globalization-as-Westernization. This line of thinking is the McWorld in Benjamin Barber's idea of "Jihad vs. McWorld" or the Lexus in Thomas Friedman's "The Lexus and the Olive Tree." That is, as commercial culture spreads throughout the world along with trade and investment, the distinctiveness of each nation's cultures will gradually disappear as a commodified and Westernized sameness becomes the norm wherever you go. To some this is a manifestation, perhaps unwelcome but unavoidable since the "customer is always right," that tastes will converge on a global standard. In the "hyperglobalist" school of thought, singularity of tastes is inevitable whether you like it or not.

Being one of the last, few relatively large consumer markets untouched by cultural commodification due to years of sanctions, Myanmar with a population of 53 million represents perhaps the last frontier for multinationals. Certainly some markets may become Myanmarized as the application of new sanctions results in MNCs fleeing these markets--think of Russia--but for the most part, there are only a handful of them left largely untouched like Iran. A few months ago I wrote about how soft drink makers are reestablishing a presence in Burma. ditto for Visa. So it is with Mickey Mouse as the world-famous entertainment icon has come to Yangon (Rangoon) shopping malls. It could be a scene out of any other country, except the children and their parents in Yangon seem particularly enthusiastic about the bourgeois mascot's presence.

It's undoubtedly nteresting stuff. Just note though that the capital of Myanmar is the junta-created Naypyitaw, not Yangon. This seat of government was largely created so the generals could conduct government business away from protesters during the years of isolation. Perhaps Mickey will even visit it eventually when it gets a few shopping malls that are up to snuff.