Pounding drums, throaty voices and electronic pulses rock my CD player. I have entered the world of Oceania, a remarkable musical collaboration between Maori poet and singer Hinewehi Mohi and Jaz Coleman, lead singer of the British post-punk band Killing Joke. Although Mohi characterizes the Maori as “precious feathers” blown about by global forces, her music, which sets traditional chants to a techno soundtrack, celebrates their ability to surf the winds of change.
We often imagine peoples like the Maori as existing pristine and timeless, within a display case at a natural-
history museum. Yet cultures have never remained static or isolated; even in ancient times, war, trade and migration made their marks. Now, rapid transportation and global communication and commerce accelerate change. The anthropologist Renata Rosaldo compares the high-speed transformations of cultures to a garage sale, where “cultural artifacts flow between unlikely places, and nothing is sacred, permanent or sealed off.” We need to recognize the richness, diversity and creativity of this garage-sale culture. Hinewehi Mohi sings in her people’s traditional language, yet to a techno beat, enabling her songs to escape national boundaries and enter the global marketplace.
For decades, critics have depicted the international circulation of Ameri-can goods as cultural imperialism. The United States, for example, produces nine of the top ten box office films screened in Europe each year, undercutting local culture industries. Living off their domestic grosses, the big studios can offer lower rates, maintain higher production values and spend more on marketing than local competition, while the American market remains largely closed to imports.
Those days are numbered. We are no longer the world’s only powerful media-producing nation. African consumers are more apt to be fans of Hindi musicals than MTV. And even American childhood has increasingly been shaped by Asian cultural imports. Most parents now know about the Power Rangers, Tamagotchi and Pokmon, Sega and Nintendo. For the moment, English remains cyberspace’s dominant language, and having Web access often means that Third-World youth have greater exposure to American popular culture. Yet these same technologies enable Balkan students studying in the United States to hear webcast news and music from Serbia or Bosnia. Thanks to broadband communication, foreign media producers will distribute films and television programs directly to American consumers without having to pass by U.S. gatekeepers.