Americanisation of Australian culture

AustLII > Databases > Alternative Law Journal > 2000 > [2000] AltLawJl 56

Berger, Charles - "Americanization and Australia edited by Philip Bell and Roger Bell" [2000] AltLawJl 56; (2000) 25(3) Alternative Law Journal 150

Americanization and Australia

edited by Philip Bell and Roger Bell; UNSW Press 1998; $29.95.

The term 'Americanisation' is often deployed as a sort of conversation stopper. It is a loaded expression: who, other than perhaps some US-Americans, could possibly agree that 'Americanisation' of this or that aspect of a nation's culture is a good thing? Advanced as an explanation, it suggests the unthinking displacement of what were perfectly sensible cultural practices and, more often than not, presumes rather than demonstrates the causality of the shift. Used as a warning, it serves to divert attention away from the merits of whatever is under discussion by drawing on fears of cultural imperialism and the decline of national culture.

The contributors to Americanization and Australia, edited by Philip Bell and Roger Bell, get behind the term and challenge its fundamental premises. Across a broad range of fields, they seek to identify the causal underpinnings of cultural changes in Australia often attributed to US influence and challenge the assumption that US influence, where present, can be equated with mere displacement of local practices.

Several different responses to the charge of Americanisation emerge in these essays. One strand running though many of them is the 'modernisation' thesis. According to this idea, a practice should not be deemed 'American' simply because the US-Americans happened to adopt it first. The concept has a firm place in the social sciences. For example, in response to Weber's thesis tying the rise of capitalism to certain Western European cultural characteristics, Ernest Gellner wrote in 1981:

I like to imagine what would have happened had the Arabs ... conquere[d] and Islamicize[d] Europe. No doubt we would all be admiring Ibn Weber's The Kharejite Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism which would conclusively demonstrate how the modem rational spirit and its expression in business and bureaucratic organization could only have arisen in consequence of the sixteenth century neo-Kharejite puritanism in northern Europe.

Indeed, Bell and Bell themselves first advanced the modernisation thesis with respect to Australia in their previous book, Implicated: The United States in Australia. The idea is repeated in their introduction and developed in several of the essays pre­ sented. For example, in the linguistic context, Pam Peters discusses how some recent shifts in Australian gram­ mar and phonology have 'internal systematic support'. American English, aside from a steady but shallow lexical influence, thus operates at most to 'prompt rather than dictate' linguistic change in Australia.

The problem with the modernisation thesis is that it faces what does appear to be significant US influence, not just convergence, in many sectors. The early US dominance in the film and television media is but one example. Modernisation thus takes a back seat to analyses of influence and adaptation through much of the book.

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