In mid May I sat in the common room of my hostel on the Isle of Skye watching a British Broadcasting Corporation segment on globalization. A cursory glance or a reasonable assumption would hardly lead to the conclusion that the Isle of Skye, an island that lies off the northwest coast of Scotland, seethes with the oft-touted destructive consequences of globalization: corporate influence in every cultural corner and a worldwide society that dresses, dines and perhaps thinks in a uniform way.
Virginia Woolf, during her stay on the Isle, sent a postcard to a friend with a Spartan message but a message that still encapsulated the island”s distinct persona: “Skye is often raining, but also fine: hardly embodied semi-transparent like living in a jellyfish lit up with green light. Remote as Samoa deserted, prehistoric. No room for more.”
As for the BBC piece, it was a brief biographical career sketch of Jose Bove, France”s author of “The World Is Not for Sale,” a book that has already been translated into dozens of languages and which outlines the negative effects of globalization as it is presently proceeding. Bove, famous for both the philosophy of his anti-McDonald”s campaign and the action behind that movement he has led groups of farmers in physically destroying McDonald”s restaurants has quickly risen to the position of one of the world”s premier anti-globalization activists.
But what did Jose Bove have to do with my vacation destination? Granted, no yellow arches stood out in contrast to the sharp angles of the mountain tops there are only two McDonald”s restaurants in the Scottish highlands and the closest one from me would be more than a half-day drive. Even so, in spite of Skye”s “Samoan” isolation, the shadow of corporate America still looms in the tiny villages and outposts that dot the island.
The day we arrived there, I took a walk by myself along a riverbed in search of the famed Skye otters. What I found instead was an empty Coca-Cola bottle and a serenity disturbed by the music of Michigan”s own Eminem blaring from a thatched roof cottage just off the path.
Sadly, this American and big business influence in what is a primarily English-speaking corner of the western world comes as no surprise at this stage of the game. Even more than that, it is to be expected. So I had to ask myself what, then, really bothered me about it? It”s admittedly easy for an American to become numb to an American presence abroad. The part that really worries me? I was kind of happy it was there.
In almost every city that I visited during my trip, the friend I traveled with and I would aid each other in creating new justifications for our surrender to Extra Value Meals: the first time, we were only weaning ourselves off of American food, the next time we found an Irish fast food chain Super Mac”s and reasoned that our indulgence in indigenous fast food was a dive into Irish culture. When in Rome, right? By the time we”d hit the United Kingdom we were complacent with our lamest excuse yet: buying fast food left us time and money for the sights that we had really traveled across an ocean to see. Less time eating meant more time exploring, right?
It”s easy to be inspired by the work of activists like Bove who argue, correctly in my mind, that there is something inherently wrong with buying a hamburger in the United States and buying a hamburger in Sri Lanka that tastes exactly the same. But it can be even easier to be persuaded, or to persuade yourself, that there is nothing wrong with searching American fast food restaurants in Edinburgh for a working milk shake machine while passing, and ignoring dozens of local businesses on the way.
Which is not to say that avoiding local, traditional delicacies like haggis (basically every internal organ of a sheep mashed into a block that resembles meatloaf) isn”t sometimes justifiable. But every time that we, as a society, walk into the McDonald”s that we are philosophically against but which is obviously the only “restaurant” in the area with acceptable french fries a little part of our case against that corporation is destroyed. The same happens every time that we figure one pair of Nike running shoes doesn”t keep the sweatshops alive, that the purchase of one shirt made in China in the midst of gross human rights abuses doesn”t directly hurt anybody, that your daily $4 frappuccino from Starbucks is never responsible for putting locally owned, independent coffee shops out of business the list goes on ad infinitum.
And although globalization of this sort is one of the last things that I”d personally want for the world, I have to stand up and say that I have directly funded it.
Johanna Hanink can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.