Empire-building and its days of colonial rule are long over. But the spirit of imperialism lives on. Once upon a time, the British Empire stretched far and wide, across the entire globe. Everywhere from North America to Africa to Asia, spanned the Empire. Among its many expansionary territories were the thirteen colonies in America, India on the Asian subcontinent, and a variety of outposts like Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean and Barbados in the Caribbean.
Fast forward to our present day and the practice of colonizing foreign lands and enslaving the local people have largely fallen out of favor (unless your name is Vladimir Putin and we’re talking about the Crimean Peninsula). But generally, aside from a few notable exceptions, the international community now mostly frowns upon colonizing and enslaving other native lands and indigenous people by force.
So how does one satiate a country’s expansionary impulses and thirst for dominion in the absence of brute physical force? In a word: Globalization. I would argue that America has done it best (though the Swedes –with their Volvo, Spotify, and IKEA– are surprisingly not far behind); from Moscow to Johannesburg to Alexandria, if you visit virtually anywhere in the world, you will find a McDonalds and a Starbucks every few city blocks. (Sometimes, even on a the same block.) If you visit Paris or Cairo, you will find Kentucky Fried Chicken. If you go to Luxemburg, right next to Belgium’s finest chocolatier, you will find a Burger King.
It’s not just fast food establishments either. In Beijing, Tokyo, Milan, and Darwin, the top-grossing movies at your local cineplex have all been installments from Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe for the past ten years. They may be dubbed over in Japanese or Russian or Italian, but there’s Captain America and Iron Man on the silver screen, fighting Thanos to the cheers of young Greek, Chinese, and Filipinos everywhere.
Imperialism, in the form of American culture, lives on to this very day. And it’s everywhere, all around us, all the time. There is no escape. This is the new American World Order.
One can argue that there are many positives about this arrangement. With the internet and The YouTube, the world has never been smaller. And people from all countries and cultures, even if they can’t speak the same language, can all appreciate the adventures of Shrek, the green ogre, or enjoy Tom Cruise (who’s now nearly SIXTY years old), fighting terrorists on the Seine or in the Brazilian rain forest or wherever. That’s all good and dandy.
But on the other hand, as old geezers like me are wont to do every generation, one can bemoan the current state of the world and our apparently inexorable death march, Pol Pot style, towards evermore homogeneity. Is a Burger King in Amsterdam really what we visit the Netherlands for? Is having a slice at Pizza Hut in Rome really the genuine Italian experience? Is that the sum and pinnacle accomplishment of the human species?