In Mumbai

Discussing consumer culture and consumption in the current world undoubtedly requires a global perspective. Having spent half my life in India and the other in America, I not only gained a more worldly perspective, but also gained the ability to understand America as an American and as an outsider.

Moving around the world multiple times is challenging and at times frustrating, but it requires and further enhances ones ability to assimilate.  Assimilation, a skill all immigrants are attuned to, is also closely linked to consumption as both Garcia Canclini and Michel de Certeau reference. Observably both require adjusting, adopting, and adapting to a culture, community or society and consequently the hegemonic cultural notions and practices.

Understanding assimilation’s role in consumption is certainly of key importance but more importantly is understanding America’s principal and guiding role in the current, global consumer culture. Accordingly, I believe there is a specific and universal desire to assimilate to the tastemakers and perceived “elite” of consumption/consumer culture:  America.

An example of this can be seen by my personal case, India. With a growing population of a billion, India has an extremely rich and diverse culture of its own. The differences and barriers from one state to another, not only range in cuisine, rituals, and religion, but also language. Nonetheless, despite the massive, internal diversity and distance, there is irrefutable uniformity in the consumption practices and rituals of cosmopolitan cities in India and America.

In her blog post, I’m Lovin’ It All Over The Globe, Minji highlighted one such example of cultural leveling, territorialization and reterritorizalition; McDonalds. McDonalds in India and much through the eastern world, is perceived as a cheap and fast eat (as it is globally) with regionalized menus, but its more importantly identified as being part of and allowing participation with American Culture. This understanding of McDonalds is deeply tied to Canclini’s concepts of reappropriation and deterritorialization but also to the influential and global hegemony of American consumption. Therefore, McDonald’s (and other’s like it) success is linked to it’s price, speed, and territorialization but much of it’s powerful allure is tied to it’s defining identity of being American.

India and subsequently much of the eastern world, reapprorpriates American goods and companies as being able to participate and connect to the widely desired consumer culture of America.  Indian consumers have not only joyfully welcomed Starbucks, McDonalds, Burger King, and KFC, but have also adopted consumer rituals of gifting and celebrations of Valentines Day, Halloween, and Christmas. The cultural leveling and deterretorialization in Asia is ultimately reappropriating the “American Dream” through consumption.

Lastly, I must emphasize that this very obsession with American assimilation allowed my numerous moves to become much easier in the past. New York and New Delhi, were and are miles apart in distance and culture, but being assimilated to American culture corresponded to being assimilated to Indian culture, consumer culture in specific, as well.

So this July, as I threw a big celebration for my milestone 21st birthday in New York, so did my friends in New Delhi.  The only difference was as I achieved the right to legally consume alcohol they did not; henceforth, exposing the sometimes comical and meaningless nature of reappropriation and westernization.