There I was — walking through a street market in Casablanca, Morocco, absolutely in awe of the beautiful hand-woven tapestries, Pashmina scarves and artisan pottery that surrounded me. Vendors called out to me, trying to get my attention so I would enter their shops. A scrawny cat brushed past me on the cobblestone road and ran ahead to find some food.
It was lovely. Everything was simple and straightforward, and it felt so great to be immersed in this other culture.
Then I heard a One Direction song. More specifically, the One Direction hit song, “Story of my Life,” that topped charts in the U.S., the UK, Ireland and New Zealand last fall.
Don’t get me wrong, I love One Direction (probably more than most college students), but Western pop music is one of the last things I want to hear when I’m in a country as unique and interesting as Morocco.
Prior to hearing that song, I’d lost myself in the Moroccan street market. I bartered with vendors in French and English, I tried out Morocco’s famous Argon oil, I drank mint tea a vendor made me while he negotiated blanket prices with my friend. I felt like I was really getting to experience authentic Moroccan life.
But shortly after hearing the first few lyrics out of Harry Styles’ mouth, all authenticity disappeared.
This instance of Westernization is a particularly salient one that echoes a larger trend I’ve observed in my travels this semester. Nearly everywhere we’ve been, I’ve heard American pop music either on the radio or playing in a restaurant, but I’ve certainly never heard any Portuguese or Dutch music in the U.S. Not to mention the American magazines I saw all over Poland, Spain and Belgium. While I was in Antwerp, I even found the issue of O, The Oprah Magazine that had my name in it from my internship there this summer.
I understand exporting our media to other countries probably provides a huge boost to the telecommunications sector of our economy, and that has clear benefits. But when it comes at the cost of other cultures being eroded due to an influx of American media (and therefore American cultural values), we have to take a step back and reassess just what it is we’re doing.
Sure, the “Story of my Life” example is a minute one. But it represents a larger trend of the U.S. and other Western nations creeping their way into other countries, slowly eroding aspects of the native culture and replacing it with their own.
It might not be a big deal yet, but when the day comes that Moroccan street markets are filled with One Direction t-shirts and albums instead of handcrafted clothing and furniture, we might wish things had been done a little differently.