Main Street Disney World homogenization of americaOn a trip to Oklahoma I arrived at the airport and was taken to a suburban retail area for a meal. Suddenly it occurred to me that I could very well have been back in any part of the United States. Wherever I go in the USA I find the same retail developments with the same cinemas, themed restaurants, and burger bars. Every town has the same big box stores, the same car dealerships, ice cream parlors and pizza palaces with the same artificial and uninspired architecture. Everything is uniform. Nothing is unique. Nothing is unusual. Even our small towns are being “restored” to look like Main Street, USA at Disney World. Our culture is homogenized.

Homogenization is the process whereby the fatty cream in milk is broken down into smaller and smaller particles until it is absorbed by the milk. It seems an apt analogy for the present state of American culture. While one of America’s strengths is that we elevate the common man, this elevation is too often at the expense of the uncommon man. We are suspicious of those who are special. We excoriate the eccentric, expel those who excel and treat as effete those who are elite. With lamentable reverse snobbery we sneer at the sophisticated and laugh at the high falutin’.

As the last thing the fish sees is the water, so the homogenization of America is invisible to us. It is evidenced in the ubiquitous artificiality of the corporate retail culture, but it also runs through our entire culture with the blind fatalism of one’s genetic code.

This indiscriminate egalitarianism feeds political correctness, celebrity culture, mass media and is further motivated by the unrelenting muscle of the almighty dollar. Everything must appeal to the widest possible audience with the widest possible spending power. A book, a film or a play is good if it sells. Political correctness eliminates all differences. Tolerance has become a tyrant. Any hint of superiority must be quashed lest someone be offended by being made to feel inferior. Education’s value is marked not by excellence, but by “good grades” which guarantee entrance to a “good college” to end up getting a “good job.”

The danger in cultural homogenization is that those who are capable of excellence are broken by the system. Rather than exalting excellence, the outstanding are told to sit down. Peer pressure them not to be different or “weird” so they abandon their gifts to fit in. Faux egalitarian ideologues, driven by sentimentality, offer equal prizes to all thereby ensuring that there are no longer such things as prizes at all. Those who gaze at the stars are accused of being stuck up while those gaze at movie stars are embraced as “one of us.”

northstar2One of the underlying drivers for the homogenization of America has been the rise of relativism. If there is no such thing as truth, then it follows that there can be no such thing as a value judgement. If there is no such thing as a value judgement, then one thing cannot be better than another. If one thing is not better than another, one person cannot be better than another, one’s moral choice cannot be better than another, and the only judgement is that there shall be no judgement. Relativism takes egalitarianism to its logical and absurd end point so that we live in a cultural la-la-land where there is no truth, nor true North, no star to steer by, no values to be held, and no standards to be met.

When all is relativized in such a way the only ones who rise to the top are those who are richest and strongest, and this is barbarism not civilization.

The imaginative conservative stands against the homogenization of culture because he believes that cream rises. He knows that value judgments are possible, that there is such a thing as truth, and that some cultures were better than others. Their philosophy was lofty, their literature inspiring and their heroes noble, true and bold. Their art was of a higher order. Their music was superior and their poetry sublime. Their architecture inspired awe, and their religion brought out the very best of the striving and searching human heart. A classical education preserves the best of the past to inform the present and build a foundation for the future.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore

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8 replies to this post
  1. While I agree with most of the sentiments against homogenization, I think the reasons behind the connecting of the dots misguided, as are some of the observations.
    There are some good reasons for standardization. One of which is that it can makes some goods and services more affordable for poor people. Of course, it is pleasing if every restaurant is quaintly original and unique, but fewer people would be able to avail themselves of their services. At best, a mixed blessing.
    Furthermore, there is, for good, bad or otherwise, a considerable movement in the other direction. Not just restaurants, but local breweries, vintners, bakers, etc. are attempting to be unique and different. Rather different, or so it seems, from 10 and 20 years ago.
    And the problem of “political correctness” is not that it fails to make judgments — but that many of its judgments are wrong. Relativism is bad enough, but it coincides with false and superficial judgements.
    Robert Schadler

  2. This article is an encouragement to me as I continue my work in developing study guides for classic films. The classic films visualize the richness of our culture during the Golden Age of film. They show the truth of the natural law in the thoughts and actions of the characters. Your article on Double Indemnity vs. Chinatown showed more of this truth. The healing of our culture is iimpossible without God’s Grace, but with Him all things are possible. Thank you for this helpful commentary..

  3. Reading “Onalee’s” comment leads me to inquire as to the study guides she(he?) is working on for classic films. Sounds exciting, and I would like more information regarding this project!

  4. One of my sisters had an excellent idea when their kids were growing up. On family vacations there was a firm rule that they wouldn’t eat anyplace that they could eat at home. No MacDonalds, no Burger King, etc. Vacations were to see new things and have new experiences.

    Any Android/iOS app developers out there looking for a worthy project? Give us a location-aware app that will tell us nearby eateries and places to stay that are one of a kind, meaning no chains or franchises, but lots of mom and pop cafes.

  5. “One of the underlying drivers for the homogenization of America has been the rise of relativism.”

    I don’t understand the connection the Rev. Mr. L attempting to make. One could just as easily argue that homogenization is the result of many people deciding that McDonald’s is better than the local burger joint. Instead of a variety of approaches to fast food hamburgers, we select a handful of the best. For all I know, there are people who think that Applebee’s approaches the Platonic ideal of a neighborhood bar and grill. In fact, upper management of Applebee’s probably thinks just that.

    Conversely, one could just as easier invoke relativism as a factor favoring particular local or regional differences. For example, one could excuse Jim Crow era segregation in the South by saying something like, “Well, it’s just the way they do things down there–who are we to judge?” That, of course, would be idiotic, but it’s an argument that probably was made.

    “If there is no such thing as truth, then it follows that there can be no such thing as a value judgement. If there is no such thing as a value judgement, then one thing cannot be better than another.”

    If one thing cannot be better than another, then there need be no impetus to make them all the same. Homogenization arises, not from relativism, but from the exigencies of mass consumerism and a wariness that many have toward the unfamiliar.

    After all, one of the appeals of the old Howard Johnson’s (probably the first truly national restaurant chain) was that it was often _better_ than the locally owned roadside restaurants in the early days of the automobile. They were consistently clean, well lit, and people knew what to expect.

    The Rev. Mr. L is awkwardly shoehorning causation in an instance where there is at most correlation.

  6. Yes what a shame, in the land of entrepeneurship, entrepeneurship has been beaten down. In the anti-inflationary economy that seeks to preserve the value of investments at the expense of dynamism, with its technology built mostly for remote-control of property and people, the reward for upstart hard work is clearly not reliable. The only guarantee of staying in business is being plugged directly into a bank to pay losses, and enabling the top folks to simply collect a large salary for sitting in a chair, justified by an Ivy League degree.

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