Lost in Subtopia
A Different Type of Globalization
By: Mason Jones, Staff Writer
If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are.
Wendell Berry – The Gift of Good Land
The meaning of one’s country is different to everyone who lives in it. Or at least that’s what I’d like to believe.
It’s upon moving homes though that I really begin to think about it. A whole new area; new faces, neighbourhoods, communities and cultures to try and work out. Walking down the high street for the first time I don’t feel particularly out of place though, in-fact I could swear that my feet have pounded this strip of tarmac a thousand times before. With a hunger pang and the rain pouring down I decide to get a bite to eat. The street is busy with all ages and races of people, a familiar sight in any city, which in turn brings familiar commodities. If I’m to follow my gut instinct then all I have to do is clear the rain from my eyes and gaze either way down the old main drag.
Before even having to squint into the distance, it appears before me, its logo glowing with a sense of reliability and normality. Its greasy smell summons me out of the downpour and straight into the checkout. There I don’t even have to think about what I want to order, because I know that whichever meal I choose, it will have that branded taste, that McDonald’s taste.
In critiques of ‘globalization’ we usually hear a lot of things about Third World debt, sweat shops and slave labour; and rightly so. These are indeed global issues; the globalization that I see in this case however, is the loss of place and national identity.
Whether my meaning of England is defined by the local pub, a village green, the canal-side or an old market town, it doesn’t seem to matter. Culture seems to mean little in the face of development, growth, expansion or franchise, and it means even less when toe-to-toe with profit.
The Suburb, the building, the factory, the cinema, the government office, the department store…..these have no frontiers….Manchester might as well be Montreal, Stalingrad; Sunderland…..They are populations rather than persons. They do what their industrial economy tells them to do.
The things that make our cities, towns and villages different from one another, the things that once created a sense of locality or culture are being steam-rolled for the sake of the familiar, the identifiable and the invest-able. Nationality is being eroded and replaced with clean sliding doors and easily polished corporate chrome.
This isn’t a rant against progression, and I’d like to think that I’m not being overly nostalgic. Maybe the fact that I knew the McDonald’s restaurant would be close by shows the ease and accessibility of our modern landscape. Maybe it means we are citizens of everywhere, or maybe it just makes us citizens of nowhere.
Writer H. J. Massingham commented on similar themes in 1946:
The Suburb, the building, the factory, the cinema, the government office,
the department store…..these have no frontiers….Manchester might as well
be Montreal, Stalingrad; Sunderland…..They are populations rather than persons.
They do what their industrial economy tells them to do.
We are faced with a constant predicament; the drive for prosperity and development and also the desire to remain rooted to our natural identity. Whatever country you may live in, walk down any street and I’m sure you’ll see the latter being overthrown and overwhelmed.
A global market requires global tastes, it needs us to like the same things, dislike the same things, it requires us to resist the urges of intrigue and exploration. We must look out of a hotel room window in any foreign city, see the neon signs and always, always, choose branding over culture.