America’s influence in the world derives as much from movies, hamburgers and video games as military might. Entrepreneurs in South African slums rent time to refugees to play EA’s FIFA Sports 2015; the McDonald’s in Tblisi enjoys a brisk business in Big Macs; and Marvel’s The Avengers grosses $18m in Venezuela. These are all small snacks of love American-style.
America’s newfangled cultural vanguard emanates from Cable TV, YouTube, Ebay and Twitter. Like their forebears, these made-in-the-USA inventions were also incubated in Ray Croc’s home state of California. Collectively, they constitute a giant feed with teats into every wired person on the planet.
So, why on earth is America’s cultural influence losing ratings points?
Rather than expanding its once-dominant cultural hegemony, America’s influence is actually flagging. The culprit is social media, and to a lesser extent, television in all its new forms. Social media is the antithesis of the studio system. Individuals – not media outlets, businesses, organizations or governments – now publish 94% of online content. In the face of this exponential proliferation of media, the power of any single message, country, or even medium, is invariably diluted. America created the plumbing to distribute media; the people firmly control the poop.
Of course, America itself is more diverse. In turn, its cultural export is commensurately less homogenous – pockmarked by homemade 6-second Vines and snaps of X-Pro II filtered Instagram photos as well as sat feeds of The Voice and illegal downloads of CSI: Crime Scene. The impact of social media is the self-organization of people everywhere into narrower and narrower affinities. People do not choose between rock and country anymore, because they boast access to every music genre through Spotify and iTunes. People are alternately defined by none of their media, and by all of it. They smoke; they are not smokers. They ride motorcycles; they are not bikers. They watch Star Trek; they are not Trekkies. Read more