America: Exporting Culture Since 1945

America doesn’t export much. We all know that. The trade deficit is huge, and though there are arguments about whether or not this is healthy for the economy, in general it makes people uneasy. But don’t worry, this isn’t a post about global scale economics and trade; it’s a far more normal post. One thing America does still export however, is its culture. And by culture, I mean the, “pizza and polka,” side of culture (as a Aussie sociology professor puts it). In particular, America is very good at exporting its movies, its music and its television, as well as all of the celebrity culture and gossip that comes along with it. Heck, we even take in other peoples’ celebrities and rebrand them as American. Did you know that Van Damme is Belgian?

Coming to Kenya, I was shocked at how little American culture is apparent here. For all you hear about international corporations and whatnot, the only branding that I recognized was Coca Cola. There is not a McDonalds or Wal-Mart in sight. And of course, being a former British colony, Kenya has followed European-originated sports, leaving the only American-sports branding to be found on the clothing at the market where it has lost all meaning. Where is American culture?

Turns out, a few errant, seemingly unrelated, strains of American culture have made their way into the fledgling, post-colonial, DNA of Kenya. But boy, sometimes I wonder how they got here. So here they are, as I have witnessed:

  • Dolly Parton – People here love her!
  • WWE Wrestling – I have been told I look like one of the wrestlers by all the deaf school children at Paul’s school; how’s that for cultural integration!
  • Campy, 80’s, Action Movies: AH-Nohld, Van Damme, Stalone and the like.
  • Gangsta Rap and Hip Hop, though Eminem is a personal choice.

It’s a bit of an odd list, and always makes for good discussion when PCVs get together.  One of the stories that I never get tired of hearing about is when a trainee shares his or her first experience of their host-family sitting down to a nice dinner… in front of Jon Cena kneeing his opponent in the crotch on the latest WWE match.

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