Cultural Imperialism and a Side of Fries

Michael O’Shaughnessy describes cultural imperialism as “the way that one culture spreads its values and ideas through the media, rather than through direct rule or economic trading”. (‘Globalization’, in Media and Society, p. 465)

This argues that due to the globalization of communication, traditional cultures, especially western culture and values, are dominating and taking over the globe. (O’Shaughnessy, ‘Globalization’, in Media and Society, p. 465)

Communication’s and media researchers have found that the richer, industrialized and western nation-states export their cultural products and impose their sociocultural values on poorer and weaker nations in the developing world. Developing nations’ media flow is mostly westernized coverage, whereas developing nations receive scant and prejudicial coverage in Western media. (Kraidy M, 2002, p. 359)

America is potentially the world’s most significant imperialists because of their cultural dominance and cultural influence they hold, all around the world.

Think about how many shows on television are American, or how many songs you hear on the radio are sung and produced by American artists. Think about who designed the clothes you are wearing, and what country the brand is from, or which celebrities are advertising the clothes. Think about the food you’ve eaten this week. Odds are, most of the media, food, and common items you consume in your day to day lives comes from the American Westernised culture.

Food can be a major cultural symbol. When I think of Asian countries, my mind instantly goes to noodles, rice and lots of vegies. When I think of the UK I think of Sunday Roasts and cups of tea. And, when I think of America, I think of burgers and fries and fizzy drinks, especially those I get from my local McDonalds.

If you showed this logo to anyone, anywhere around the globe


Odds are, that just about everyone would recognise it as the ‘McDonald’s Golden Arches’.

In 1954 brothers Dick (Richard) and Mac (Maurice) McDonald opened the first ever McDonalds restaurant in San Bernardino, California. Little did they know that 63 years later there would be over 33,000 restaurants operating in 119 countries on 6 continents.

This snapshot taken from a ‘Wold Atlas’ article shows just how many McDonald’s locations there are around the globe, with huge numbers in Japan and China.

Screen Shot 2017-08-03 at 3.09.08 pm

The influence McDonalds is having over the globe as a ‘cultural symbol’ and as an example of globalisation, is so large that it has sparked the creation of the term ‘McDonaldization’.

So is cultural imperialism a good or a bad thing? Well, depending which country you live in, it can be either.

Cultural imperialism can open the world to new foods, brands, music, lifestyles, entertainment, technologies, traditions and other things associated with different cultures. However, it can also lead to cultural dominance, causing the less dominant, traditional cultures to become lost and overthrown by the imperialists.

The culturally dominant countries benefit greatly from cultural imperialism because of economic growth and great political power and influence.

Bet you weren’t thinking about the enormous cultural power of America last time you dug into a McNugget were you?



O’Shaughnessy, Michael 2012, ‘Globalisation’, in Media and society, 5th ed, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne, Vic, pp. 458-471

Kraidy, M. (2002). Globalization of culture through the media. In J. R. Schement (Ed.), Encyclopedia of communication and information (Vol. 2, pp. 359-363). New York, NY: Macmillan Reference USA. Retrieved from h p://


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