Social Media and Cultural Syncretism

This year Yale Model United Nations introduced an essay contest as one of its new educational initiatives. For this contest, delegates were asked to submit a brief piece examining an aspect of globalization and how it has transformed the modern world. From an incredible selective pool the top three essays have been selected for publication online on YRIS. The following is the Second Place essay by Daniel Alvarez Cavagliano.


Written by Daniel Eduardo Alvarez Cavagliano

Globalization is one of the most influential phenomena of contemporaneity. In this sense, Zygmunt Bauman, the Polish-born sociologist who explored the fluidity of identity in the modern world, globalization, consumerism, and the Holocaust, used to state that globalization strongly attacked cultural traditions (Junge, M., & Kron, T., 2014). Many of these traditions have seen their values and distinctive characteristics diluted, since the new social paradigms dissolve those cultural pillars that for many generations seemed immovable (Bauman, 2003). Furthermore, something that is commonly excluded when talking about the phenomenon of globalization is the fact that one of its secondary effects is the imposition of a culture that follows a kind of pre-established pattern by international standards. This has generated a progressive dissolution of identity, degradation of language, and a detachment from traditions and customs (Universidad Autónoma de Tamaulipas, 2017).

Taking into consideration that physical and political borders no longer represent an impediment to the dissemination of information, culture, and commerce, the progressive establishment of customs and traditions molded by the interconnected international society inevitably adheres to local customs. These new cultures are assumed or assimilated until they become part of local societies. This process is giving rise to a complex form of syncretism, unleashing different processes of acculturation. Above all, culture is understood not only as the features which characterize human groups, but also their lifestyles and coexistence (Spencer-Oatey, H., 2012). In keeping with this, another line of thinkers, such as Ulrich Beck, refer to the term cultural globalization,and with it they seek to highlight the contemporary phenomena in which globalized cultural elements are mixed with local ones to create new manifestations (Robertson, 2003).

To understand this almost imperceptible transformation, especially when taken from an individual point of view, it is necessary to analyze the space-time relationship that is shaped by the consistent technological evolution characteristic of the late 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century. It is commonly argued in the context of globalization and in the knowledge society that the adoption of technology and the use of social networks in non-Western cultures contribute to the loss of values and cultural practices. It is difficult to expect all those involved in the effects of globalization to enter the process of acculturation without falling into deculturation (Ribeiro, 1968).

Through media, which is influenced by international and multinational forces, so-called idols and public figures emerge in such unpredictable bursts that in many cases surpass those figures of local cultures. Over time, cultures tend to evolve, but they tend to keep their core intact. However, in recent decades and as a result of the inlay of media like television, radio and, more recently, the Internet, local cultures are gradually merging with internationalized standards, giving rise to the processes of deculturalization and synchronization of cultures.

Bauman points out that information floats free of its carriers; the translation and positioning of bodies in physical space are less necessary than ever for the reordering of information and relationships (Bauman, 1998). This evolution of communications technology has ended a series of barriers that historically represented an obstacle for international society but served as guardians for the intangible cultural patrimonies constituted by those invisible parts that reside in the very spirit of the cultures; thus, adapting local cultures to international standards until they are molded in a monotonous and homogenous way.

A clear example would be the cinema where we can see how American films have a greater global boom than locally. According to the Motion Picture Association of America: 69% of the income produced by American films comes from non-national markets (Arell-Báez, 2013). In the book “Making Cinelandia” (Serna, 2014) by Laura Isabel Serna, it is evident how American cinema heavily influenced Mexican cinematographic culture, indicating a rejection of the European form. The book gives us to understand how Mexican society and culture would have been different from what they are today, had they not been influenced by the United States’ film industry, which inculcated themes and purposes different from those of Europe, in its essence in terms of crime, a popular subject in American films.

It is here that the apogee of the modern syncretism catalyzed by globalization begins and that intrinsically influences the current international society. Cultural syncretism is known as the process of interaction between cultures through which they assimilate the most significant features of each other. These cultures mingle and fuse, giving rise to new cultural manifestations (Espinosa, 2012). This was what happened more than five hundred years ago with the collision between cultures in the colonial era and what is currently happening in most countries where their cultural consumption is cinema, television, literature, music and even fashion.

Essentially, we approach a world, where individuals and collectivities can no longer be defined as isolated entities with autochthonous manifestations eminently detached from global manifestations. The effects of this fact, whether positive or negative, are yet to be seen, but we can project that both the “good” and the “bad” of local cultures have to be extrapolated to “global” ones.


Bibliography

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Ribeiro, D. (1968). The Civilizational Process. Washington: Smithsonian Institute Press.

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Sheffield, J., Korotayev, A., & Grinin, L. (n.d.). Globalization. Retrieved December 13, 2018, from https://www.hse.ru/data/2013/05/23/1299088719/Globalization.pdf

Serna, Laura Isabel. (2014). Making Cinelandia: American Films and Mexican Film Culture before the Golden Age. Duke University Press.

Spencer-Oatey, H. (2012) What is culture? A compilation of quotations. GlobalPAD Core Concepts. Available at GlobalPAD Open House Https://Warwick.ac.uk/Fac/Soc/Al/Globalpad/Openhouse/Interculturalskills/global_pad_-_what_is_culture.Pdf

Universidad Autónoma de Tamaulipas. (2017). El efecto de la globalización en la identidad nacional. Revista Internacional de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades, 67-92.

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