Monday, June 8, 2009

WI-Global Awards for Spring 2009 Announced!

Global Studies and the Offices of the Dean of Students announce the WI-Global Awards for Spring 2009. WI-Global engages UW-Madison undergraduates in issues related to globalization and its impact on the world's communities, cultures, literatures, and languages, as well as on systems of governance, exchange, education, and technologies. WI-Global has two different components: the WI-Global Forum and the WI-Global Paper Award.

Rebecca Screnock (Junior, International Studies) and John Tao (Junior, International Studies) are the recipients of the WI Global Forum Award for best posts on the topic—cultural purity and its discontents—and the way it shapes our understanding of the wider world. Both Rebecca and John will receive a $125 gift certificate to the DoIT Techstore.

We are suspending WI-Global with the completion of the Spring 2009 semester. We will, however, maintain the blog and invite continued discussion through comments on existing posts (which we will continue to moderate).

Monday, May 18, 2009

Thanks again! The Spring 2009 WI-Global Forum is now closed.....

...but once again, the discussion -- we hope -- will continue!

The Spring 2009 Forum has closed but we will still be moderating and posting comments. So we invite authors and blog visitors to continue to read, think, and send thoughts along. WI-Global awards -- both the Forum and the Undergraduate Paper Awards -- will be announced 5 June 2009.

To learn more about WI-Global and to keep up to date on the Forum check back here, visit our website, or email us.

Our best wishes & thanks,
The WI-Global Team.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Culture and Nationalism

The Nazis put a large emphasis on culture and the best way to utilize it in order to move the German people to support them. They used culture to try and create a sense of unity as a nation, they tried to use it to show the world how great of a nation Germany under the third reich was. Culture can be used to mobilize the people to support the nation, culture can be a driving factor to creating nationalism.

In our rapidly globalizing world, it seems that even the structures of nations which we have been working with recently are beginning to crumble. National power is being erroded away for different forms of power. The international political scene is changing from what we have known in the past couple of decades. We have seen the weakening power of the US on the global scene, we have seen the rise of powerful institutions such as the EU which require a degree of national sacrifice in order to join.

It seems that culture has been reflecting these changes, or perhaps driving these changes. We are starting to live in a society where it is not uncommon for people to watch Bollywood movies-- people you wouldn't think. For example, people from rural Wisconsin areas. (Sorry for the Bollywood references of late, it seems to have come up everywhere I go). Our culture is blending with other cultures more rapidly than in the past, and it is... something that is just adapting to the times. I don't think we can attach a negative or positive value to the changes, it's something that is happening and while we're in the process of its evolution we don't have the right perspective to judge it. Perhaps one day we'll be able to talk about how "good" or "bad" the cultural changes were in the US, and the world. But until then, I think it's best to wait, and watch. Who knows where the movement of globalization will take us?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

small U.S. Market for translation

Every form of media in the United States, not just books but radio, television, and magazines have reached their saturation point where there is more available to watch/read than you have time to watch/read it. That leads to high competition in media markets for a finite amount of consumer dollars. The lack of foreign influences in U.S. media reflects the increased cost/benefit risks for publishers to bring materials stateside. For example, take anime. For the longest time, anime was not imported to the U.S. because there was no perceived market other than a few nerds. Once anime picked up and became popular, many American publishers sprang up to import anime. Now you go into Best Buy and find a whole isle that is just anime and it is all over network television. American companies will pull material from any part of the world if it is profitable, but it first needs to be seen as a safe investment. Any product with high sales will see expansion and diversification- point is, if there is a profit in something, American media and publishers will pay to have it translated and edited regardless of its origins or cultural influences/impacts. Americans have never been shy to take good ideas or products from anywhere and anyone. So if you want to see more foreign literature, go out and support if with your hard earned cash. The cost to companies may be higher to bring it to the states, so you just have to show them that the benefits ($$$) can match the increased cost.

Monday, April 13, 2009


Aviya Kushner has an interesting piece in the Winter 2009 issue of the Wilson Quarterly titled "McCulture". You might think you know what she's referring to -- the spread of a Disneyfied and Kentucky Fried version of America abroad -- but you'd be wrong.

Kushner is, instead, writing about the way America brings the world into the United States through literature. In particular, she's exploring the role of translation and bilingual writers in the American publishing industry -- and as interpreters of the world for Americans. There are, Kushner points out, very few translations published in the United States each year.

It's not that Americans aren't interested in the world at all. It's just that we seem to want someone else to do the ­heavy ­lifting required to make a cultural connection. As the ­Peruvian-­born writ­er Daniel Alarcón ob­serves, Americans would rather read stories by an American about Peru than a Peruvian writer translated into English. "There's a certain curiosity about the world that's not matched by a willingness to do the work," Alarcón said in a phone interview from his home in Oakland, California. "So what happens is that writers of foreign extraction end up writing about the world for Americans."
Translation is hard work. And expensive work. Work which requires an audience to pick up the tab. An audience that seems to be a little wary of... well... the "real" thing?
It is not that Americans lack curiosity of any ­kind—­but that we seem to lack the right kind. Europe is overrun with young American tourists. Unfortunately, these college students tend to pack a dozen countries into a month or less. They often tote guides such as Let's Go, which highlight the greatest hits and cheapest places and are written by, you guessed it, other American college students. That's how we seem to read international literature as well. Let's go, we might say, but let's go easy. And ­cheap.
So what do you think? Are Americans, on the whole, less than fully curious? Do Americans need their cultural food pre-chewed? Why might this be? And why might Europe -- and the rest of the world, perhaps -- have the "right kind" of curiosity about the world? Or do they?

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

American Culture in the face of global this and global that

It isn't that globalization is inevitable, it is just becoming easier and happening faster. However, the notion that American Culture is swiftly disintegrating due to globalization is not a familiar concept to many. Globalization does not seem to be squashing American Culture or its ideals. Globalization, by its very definition, only heightens and accentuates the essence of what American Culture is known to be.

America is a melting pot and she, is having no trouble embracing that. Despite the persistent intimidating buzz of globalization, Americans do not seem to be losing their identity but utilizing globalization to their advantage. By accepting American Culture as the multifaceted face of the nation, globalization is no threat.

Monday, March 30, 2009


As a semi-reply to the previous post about American Culture being less prominent I thought I'd just talk about Bollywood Films for a little bit.

I remember growing up and not knowing what Bollywood was. Whenever I heard of it I assumed that it was some kind of "spoof" on Hollywood. Little did I know at the time that it was a serious film industry located outside of the US. As I grew up I found that I heard more and more about movies from Bollywood and started to learn more about it.

Last year I took a course called International Communications and we spent quite a bit of time focusing on Bollywood which resulted in us watching quite a few Bollywood productions. I found that I readily identified with the movies and that there was a universal appeal due to their very successful formula. We discussed how big of an industry Bollywood is and how much it rivals Hollywood especially in places one wouldn't necessarily expect such as African countries.

I think people are starting to look outside their borders more and more. I have heard so many of my friends and fellow students making comments such as "I wish I wasn't such a dumb American with no knowledge of other coutries," or similar things such as that. It seems that my friends, at least, and the people I know in the classes I take, are interested in exploring the rest of the world and they do it in such ways as watching Bollywood films. Although I have no evidence I feel that if one asked a random person ten years ago if they enjoyed Bollywood films they would have no idea what it was, but now a days people will at least be able to list off one Bollywood film that they have heard of or seen.

So, American culture...I think people in America are starting to realize that they need to look outward to other countries. I think that people are starting to realize that America is no longer the global leader that it use to be. We are moving into a period where cooperation is important and there really cannot be just one leader, with this comes more exchange of information and culture.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Does the World Still Care About American Culture?

In a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Richard Pells, a professor at the University of Texas-Austin, considers whether the world still cares about American culture (here too as an op-ed piece to the Dallas Morning News)-- which is part (but only part!!) of what we're exploring here.

Of American writers and artists, Pells writes, "Today they are for the most part unnoticed, or regarded as ordinary mortals, participants in a global rather than a distinctively American culture."

It is interesting to note, I think, that Pells goes on to talk of how various nations are increasingly turning to their own cultural production while Americans are increasingly looking outwards (his example of the movies is particularly striking in this regard). Though might this also be because of a more general American turn away from "culture"? I mean, how well known are any American writers and artists in the United States today?

What's prompting this?, Pells asks. "The main answer is that globalization has subverted America's influence." It has meant that the United States competes, rather than dominates. Though why American culture now competes instead of dominates is a bit unclear to this reader.

He concludes that "it is doubtful that America will ever again be the world's pre-eminent culture, as it was in the 20th century. That is not a cause for regret. Perhaps we are all better off in a world of cultural pluralism than in a world made in America."

"Perhaps"?!? Yes, perhaps. Or perhaps not? Or maybe? Pells' is a view from the inside, from the United States (though he has traveled, taught, and spoken around the world). What have been your experiences with the spread of American culture? Is it a cultural competition now? Are we increasingly nationalistic in our cultural consumption? Or are we just increasingly uncaring? Or cheap -- are we consuming what is least expensive? Or ready-made? Or...??

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Shopping Excursion

My friend was at Victoria Secret yesterday buying a swim suit, and I was there along for the ride.  While I was waiting for her to try some suits on I noticed that in the store were some women in the store who were shopping for...well, I'm not really sure, I wasn't really paying attention.  Anyway, the women were wearing jilbabs and hijabs and I immediately thought of this forum.  Here you are in a very "Western" store with "non-Western" clad women.  The contrast seemed pretty stark to me.  I suppose the jilbabs and hijabs are meant to cover the exterior of a woman to "keep her modest", yet nothing, that I know of at least, talks about what they need to wear underneath them.

There's an example of the blending of cultures.  Now, is that good or bad?  I can't really say, unfortunately because I don't really have an indepth knowledge of the Islamic culture.  Maybe someone who does have knowledge on this topic could speak of how this impacts Muslims?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Survival of the fittest?

 Are we in an age of cultural “survival of the fittest” or is the blending of culture elements actually an improvement? 

I decided to look back on the topic and read through some of the prompts offered.  For some reason I was really interested in this specific question about whether or not we are in an age of cultural "survival of the fittest" or if the blending of culture elements is actually an improvement.  I don't really see this prompt as giving much of a choice, it really just says that cultures are blending together, and either we can view it one way or the other.

At first I tried to think of how we are in an age where cultures are experiencing a "survival of the fittest" mentality.  The first thing that came to mind was the Native American culture in America.  Many Native American cultures have vanished underneath "American" culture.  And yet, the more I thought about it I thought of many different examples of increased awareness of vanishing cultures and the increased response to document them and to revive them.  I have seen work by linguists and sociologists working hard with Native Americans to revive their languages, their culture, and their traditions.  Now that we are more aware of vanishing cultures it seems as if we are working toward ensuring that they do not disappear.  So, yes perhaps there was a "survival of the fittest" situation occuring but that's changing.  Then, there is also the fact that there is a "hollowing" out of Europe and a focus, from the EU, on different traditions and cultures which cross borders.  So maybe the "struggle" of cultures is really starting to become more protected now.

Then I thought about the blending of the cultures.  Are there a blending of cultures?  Yes we see Chinatowns, we see Little Italies, etc.  But are they really blending?  And if they are, is this an improvement?  I couldn't really think of an example of where there is a blending of cultures.  I see these pockets of differnt cultures and I see them existing in their own bubbles without heavy influence from different cultures.

I mean, I suppose one could talk about the "chinglish" phenomenon and the blending of culture through language...but is that an improvement?  I don't really see it as an improvement, in fact it could be seen as a negative overall.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Changing Traditions

I was trying to think of any traditions that I have known which have been heavily impacted by something to the point where they have changed. I can't really think of anything. I'm not really sure what that means, especially considering my view of traditions is a fairly limited scope due to my youth, my perspective and my limited knowledge of some traditions.

I thought about Chinese New Year, since I'm fairly knowledable about Chinese cultures based on personal experience. I have been to many Chinese New Year festivals, and they all seem to have the same key elements, a dancing dragon eating an orange, fireworks, dragon boat racing, drums, traditional music and garb, the same food etc. At this point I've witnessed the Chinese New Year festivals in New York, Wisconsin, and Massachusetts and they all seem to be quite the same.

Not that I expected to see, say, Cheese curds at a Wisconsin Chinese New Year festival but I would have thought it would be different being impacted by Wisconsin culture. But no, not particularly.

I guess, with that in mind, can there be cultural purity? I can't fully answer that question since I do not know how the festivals were carried out in China, but it seems as if there is enough shared memory by the Asian (American) community to hold onto the traditions of the past.

Friday, January 30, 2009

comment on Measuring Change, Loss and Gain

in response to John Tao's blog:

Measuring change is possible at the macro-level. Measuring loss vs. gain is constantly influx. It depends completely on who is measuring and how they are measuring. Loss and gain requires a value system.

Measuring change is objective, measuring loss and gain is subjective. It is easy to look at something and see how you have changed and how you are different. Take women's rights for example. We can look at them and see a clear progression of change. In the 1920's, women were expected to stay in the home. In the 1950's women had to work outside the home because of WWII.

If you step back and look at a macro level, you can observe change. Now to measure loss vs. gain, you inherently have to put a value to the change that has occured. For example, those who believe that women should be at home to raise their children would see women who go into the workforce as a loss. Those who think that women are a value in the workforce will see this as a gain.

At a micro-level, for somethings there is a clear turning point. Like women's right to vote. There was an amendment made to the constitution and there after, women could vote. However, for most things, it is a slow progression of evolution, which is why you have to be at the macro-level.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Culture and Globalization

One of the question prompts for this topic which I thought was most interesting was the one that asked "is there even a way of measuring cultural loss and cultural gain?" This made me think about different cultures that I am familiar with, and made me think about whether or not, even in my life that, they have changed. And, if so, how did they change? And, as the question asks, I thought about whether or not there was even a way of measuring the cultural shift.

To say that we are living in an age of globalization is both true and false. Globalization did not just suddenly happen within the past twenty years. It has always been happening, there has always been interaction between different peoples and cultures. Yet, it is true that with the advent of the internet, with plane tickets being so accessible to more people, etc. the world is in an era of globalization which it has never seen before.

So with that said... how can you measure cultural changes? Cultures change. People change. Values at one point in time for one society undergo changes. Has globalization made a change to these cultures? Yes. Would these cultures have changed anyway? Yes. Since change is inevitable, since there is more of a flow between cultures, since there is more interaction between different traditions how do you measure the change?

I would say that there is no real way to measure cultural loss or gain, as the question put it. I would say, as well, that there is no real such thing as cultural loss or gain since cultures are apt to change on their own at any given point in time in order to fit the times. Cultures will change, but I think it is best to think of them as evolving with the times. That's what they have always done and what they will always do. This will not change even with the rapid globalization of the world.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Cultural Purity or Global Culture?

The topic for this Spring 2009 Forum is posted in the banner above, but we thought we'd get things started not just restating the topic in the blogroll but providing some links to get us all thinking. Not all of the connections between the questions and links are immediately obvious, but we think they are all suggestive -- and worth exploring.

But you tell us -- and your colleagues here -- and post your own links! And remember, these aren't the only questions; just a few to get us started. Ask and take a shot at answering your own.

So here we go:

Ethnic and national cultures have never existed in a vacuum, but the idea of cultural purity seems especially fantastic at this particular moment. President Barack Obama is claimed by his father’s Kenyan village as one of their own; Hollywood repeatedly dips into the East Asian film archive for its Next Big Release and major studios have even taken steps into Bollywood (and what to make of this?); afrobeat bands can be found in almost every US college town; while luxury-good retailers continue to expand into emerging markets and set new standards for ostentatious consumption (even in this challenging economic environment). Are we losing something as the walls that remain between cultures crumble? Is there even a way of measuring cultural loss and cultural gain that would allow us to make reasoned judgments? How would you go about protecting culture, when so much of it travels with people and goods which increasingly face fewer and fewer cross-border restrictions? Are we in an age of cultural “survival of the fittest” or is the blending of culture elements actually an improvement? Or does that depend on what side you – and the culture you identify with – end up on?
Read, comment, register, and share your thoughts with the UW-Madison community -- and the world!

The Spring 2009 WI-Global Forum is Open!

Welcome to the third WI-Global Forum! Global Studies and the Offices of the Dean of Students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are happy to be able to once again provide this opportunity for UW students to share their thoughts and insights among themselves and with the wider world.

This semester's topic revolves around questions of cultural purity and winners and losers (if there are any) in the increasing interchange among peoples and cultures. Is this the great erasure of cultural difference or the birth of a new global culture (or just more of the same)? The full topic statement for the Spring Forum is above -- and we'll be posting it in the blog roll itself, together with some suggested links to get us thinking (and blogging) shortly.

Complete information on how you can participate in the WI-Global Forum (UW students are eligible to post and win the WI-Global Forum awards; everyone is welcome to comment on postings) is available by following the links under the header above.

This semester we are also reducing the number of postings needed to be eligible to win the $125 prize from 5 to 3; and once again we'll be giving away free flash drives to the first, eighth, and fifteenth postings.

The postings from the Spring and Fall 2008 Forums -- on music & international sport respectively -- are available below. You can get a good sense of the quality of the discussion by reading the posts. And though those Forum topics are closed, comments on those past postings, and the postings to come yet this semester, are always welcome.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

WI-Global Awards for Fall 2008

Once again, thank you to all the participants in the Fall 2008 WI-Global Forum.

Unfortunately, none of the Forum participants met the 5 posting minimum to qualify for the award. Nor did we receive eligible nominations for the WI-Global Paper Award.

The Forum will reopen in the coming week (and we will offer the WI-Global Paper Award this coming semester as well). Of course, we encourage the discussions from both the Spring and Fall of 2008 (on music and sport) to continue -- we hope you will participate by commenting and joining in the Spring 2009 Forum!

The WI-Global Team.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Thank you! The Fall 2008 WI-Global Forum is closed.....

...but the discussion, we hope, will continue!

The Fall 2008 Forum has closed but we will still be moderating and posting comments. So we invite authors and blog visitors to continue to read, think, and send thoughts along. WI-Global awards -- both the Forum and the Undergraduate Paper Awards -- will be announced 16 January 2009.

We will reopen the Forum, with a new topic and another opportunity to engage with your colleagues and blog visitors from around the world, in the new year, in January 2009.

To learn more about WI-Global, and to keep up to date on schedules and announcements of the reopening the Forum, check back here, visit our website, or email us.

Our best wishes & thanks,
The WI-Global Team.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Beckhams

Slightly different from my previous two posts... I've been thinking about sports and pop culture and trying to think of international views on sports and cross-cultural rule changes in these sports to adapt to specific peoples and cultures. This led to me thinking about David Beckham, as this was something that was fairly big last year (I think it was last year?).

So, as a bit of background, you have David Beckham, married to Victoria Beckham (ne Adams) who was one of the Spice Girls. David is a famous, famous, soccer player in England. Together, these two of course make a very big pop culture couple. Last year David Beckham transfered to an American Soccer team with the goal of making soccer a big deal in the United States.

Last year there was such a tremedous welcome for the Beckhams. There was a show surrounding Victoria and her adjusting to the United States and getting the house ready for David to arrive. This was a large issue for many popular magazines.

This year, there is a large amount of silence. There does not seem to be an increase in American interest in soccer. There does not seem to be that much attention on the Beckhams anymore. Soccer is such a big event for most countries around the world and yet within the US it just doesn't seem to be able to take on a large of a hold. I wonder why that is. Thoughts?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sports-- Fan Side

Looking back on my previous post I realized there was a bit too much going on it and there was a bit of a scope shift. There are a lot of different aspects of sports and its role in politics and society. There is the role of the athletes in these sports and the potential to build partnerships, collaboration and the concept of team with each other, but there is also the role of the audience (the fans). How do sports impact fans watching the events? As a fan you stand behind your team on the local, national and international arenas. You support the team through their losses and wins. This has potential for both good and bad in my mind.

Going negative first; an audience that stands behind one team can come into conflict with members who support the opposition. While it seems silly, to me at least, that people would bring their aggressions out because of sports it does happen. Devout Packer fans and avid Patriot fans have been known to get into physical fights. When teams win, people can become violent, for example, there were riots all over Massachusetts when the Red Sox finally won the World Series again, and it would have been a very bad time to be a Yankees fan in MA. By setting up the concept of team there is the inherent dichotomy of "us" versus "the other" established by sports. Although we try and use sports to solve aggressions (for example, the Olympics as a means to be "friendly" competition) sometimes it ultimately perpetuates the violence because of the dichotomy. By dividing up into teams, and by audiences picking a side to support there becomes a barrier between each side and this has the potential to create harm.

I don't think that there's necessarily a good solution to solving this. I think it's good to be aware that sports can bring about violence because of the "other" which it creates. Bringing this to the international arena, this has broader implications in that it enforces the notions of nation and state. As long as people are continuing to support their nation's team (for example, at the Olympics) then there will always be a barrier between peoples. In a time when we talk more and more about the globalization of the world, the lowering of international barriers, etc. it seems interesting that we still have things which will still reinscribe into traditional notions. Will this ultimately matter? It's hard to say.

On the positive side, sports can create a sense of commraderie and unity. At a local level, people from all over the country can come to the UW with nothing in common except the sport teams that they support. This can help create a sense of community as well. Sports can act as common ground for people from all different backgrounds and all different walks of life. Sports, as I mentioned in my previous post, can also create a sense of identity. I cited the example of Nigerian identity being at elevated levels when Nigerian teams were performing well and then decreasing when the events were over. (The question of how long reaching the effects of sports can be will be something I'll touch a upon later). When there is something to be proud of people will stand behind it and support it, it is human nature after all. And this support can build identities which were not there in the first place.

For an international implication, this can result in nation building. When there are states which are comprised of many different ethnic groups the role of sports can be important in creating a sense of national identity. By having people from different ethnic groups, or beliefs, etc come together around a sport they can find common ground as I mentioned earlier. This common ground, if repeated can help develop and strengthen ties between people and possibly lead to the strengthing of a national identity.

So, on the one hand sports can be dangerous in that they create a divide between people. But on the other hand it can also act as a creation for common ground. Internationally this seems to be a complicated issue because you would want to use sports as a means to create nations, but with globlization it can ultimately be detrimental in that it inherently creates an "us" versus "them" mentality. So then, what is the balance? How important should the role of sports be?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Affect of Foreign College Athletes

I am a UW athlete on the swim. I am interested to see how people feel about foreigners competeing in the U.S. for college sports. I know it is not a common thing is some market sports like football or basketball, but how do you people feel when you see college programs choosing in most cases older foreign athletes over local or national recruits. As a swimmer I know that foreign athletes have hindered scholarship offers for U.S. recruits. With high pressure for programs to succeed every year I have seen college programs choose foreign athletes that can sometimes come in as 20+ year old freshman. I feel that foreign athletes have hindered American recruits and their chances at swimming in college. With foreign athletes taking scholarhips away from swimming programs that only have a handful of scholarship money to pass it only makes it more competetive for swimmers and other athletes to get the chance to compete at the collegiate level. I'm interested to see how everyone feels about foreign athletes in college.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Society and Sports

For most families, at least within America, sports are a weekly tradition, whether it is football, basketball, hockey, baseball, etc. It seems to be such a common place aspect of our lives that people often do not devote time to think about the impact that sports can make on society. Yet it does have a role in society and especially nation building, a fact that government leaders are beginning to understand more and more.

Sports can serve to build nationality. In polls it has been seen that nations without strong unified identities often come together under one banner during times of intense sporting events. One example would be Nigeria where often times the identity of being "Nigerian" is not necessarily the first identity for the people, however, when the Nigerian football (soccer) team reaches the finals its hard to find anyone who is not Nigerian. People turn out to support their teams, people accept one identity to come together around one event. Even closer to home many UW students identify as being "Badgers" as one of their predominant identities. Sports enable people with no other common ground to find something they can mutually discuss, and can enable a sense of community for the audience and the team.

To build up a nation with no unified identity some organizations have taken to starting sport teams to show people from different backgrounds that the "other" is no different from them. Through sports one is also able to get people to work together and build a partnership with each other. In theory, when one participates in a sport one acts for the greater good of the team. By using sports people are able to learn to bridge the differences between themselves and others and, once again, find common ground where they are potentially able to engage in honest, sincere dialogue with each other where they could not previously have.

Within this framework of sports, maybe the solution to creating greater student activism on campus lies within sports. Badger games are notoriously popular, and engaging those students to somehow work toward one cause (for example, getting out the vote, going green, etc) would be a force to be reckoned with. Yet, when one thinks about the concept of sports in "the real world" one questions whether or not sports can actually be that powerful of a force. Yes, it does create common ground, yes it is an event which people can rally around but do its effects expand beyond just the sporting event? Specifically with Badger games, students have their habits already set up: they wake up early, they get ready for the game, they attend the game, and then it ends. The unity of the games does not seem to last beyond just the game itself. One must ask then, is it effective? Can sports change the world? Can they help us build a nation?

It's hard to say, in theory it seems like such a good idea. It is also theoretically sound, but when it is applied do its effects end at the end of the match? How long term are the effects?

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Fall 2008 WI-Global Forum is Open!

Welcome to the second WI-Global Forum! Global Studies and the Offices of the Dean of Students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are happy to be able to once again provide this opportunity for UW students to share their thoughts and insights among themselves and with the wider world.

This semester's topic is International Sport -- including (but not limited to) such themes as the interplay of sports and marketing at the global level, how peoples and nations define themselves through sport, how sport is defined by a nation, crosscultural differences in the intersection of sports and broader national cultures, comparative perspectives on the role of athletes (amateur, collegiate, and professional) in society, the use of sport for political ends, and so on.

Complete information on how you can participate in the WI-Global Forum (UW students are eligible to post and win the WI-Global Forum awards; everyone is welcome to comment on postings) is available by following the links under the header above.

The postings from the Spring 2008 Forum -- on music -- are available below. You can get a good sense of the quality of the discussion by reading the posts. And though that Forum topic is closed, comments on those past postings, and the postings to come yet this semester, are always welcome.

Friday, June 6, 2008

WI-Global Awards Announced!

Global Studies and the Offices of the Dean of Students announce the first WI-Global Awards for Spring Semester 2008. WI-Global engages UW-Madison undergraduates in issues related to globalization and its impact on the world's communities, cultures, literatures, and languages, as well as on systems of governance, exchange, education, and technologies. WI-Global has two different components: the WI-Global Forum and the WI-Global Paper Award.

Kristin Jokela (Sophomore, College of Letters & Science) is the recipient of the WI Global Forum Award for best posts on the topic—music—and the way it shapes our understanding of the wider world. Her posts reflect an engagement both with a wide range of music from around the world and the artistic, business, and governmental milieux in which contemporary musicians create and fans consume music. Jokela will receive a $125 gift certificate to the DoIT Techstore.

For more information on WI-Global, and the WI-Global Paper Award winners for Spring 2008 -- Rebecca Gilsdorf (Sophomore, College of Letters & Science) & Mark Thompson (Senior, College of Letters & Science) -- visit the WI-Global website.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Thank you! The Spring WI-Global Forum is closed.....

...but the discussion, we hope, will continue!

The Spring 2008 Forum has closed but we will still be moderating and posting comments. So we invite authors and blog visitors to continue to read, think, and send thoughts along. WI-Global awards -- both the Forum and the Undergraduate Paper Awards -- will be announced 6 June 2008.

We will reopen the Forum, with a new topic and another opportunity to engage with your colleagues and blog visitors from around the world, in Fall 2008.

To learn more about WI-Global, and to keep up to date on schedules and announcements of the reopening the Forum, check back here, visit our website, or email us.

Our best wishes & thanks,
The WI-Global Team.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Afro-pop and Everything Else With a Hyphen

I've been thinking quite a bit lately about the band Vampire Weekend. They're a band born out of an Ivy League University, playing Afro-pop music that sounds like it was made specifically to be played after an episode of the Hills on MTV or to be featured as a great "emerging artist" everywhere you turn. What I mean by this is that their music is at the same time fresh but also nonthreatening. Not much American music has an African influence, and I will admit I enjoy Vampire Weekend's music. What I wonder is how many African artists with much of the same sound will gain mainstream success in the U.S.? My guess is probably not many.

Why is this though? Is it purely the business model that says that five clean-cut white guys straight out of college are more marketable than an actual African music group? Or is it part of American culture to take one phenomenon and mix it with another, forming something new? American music history is rich with the beginnings of blues and jazz, and the eventual development of hip-hop and rock and roll. Then again, I have a sneaking suspicion that this isn't only an American phenomenon, but something that happens around the world. Music goes through stylistic changes not only through the new ideas of individual people, but possibly more often through influence of other types of music from different cultures and groups of people.

Music is a creative outlet that reflects the artist's experiences and often his or her culture. Since most of human existence involves our relation to one another, it is no wonder that music can be influenced by so many different styles and genres.

What is your favorite band or artist that mixes seemingly different styles, genres or regional influence?

[As an end note, I thought this was a pretty interesting and relevant Wikipedia entry on Jazz Fusion.]

Levelling the (Musical) Playing Field

Yet another advantage of the widespread availability of the Internet is access to a wider range of music. Most of the bands the I listen to from outside the United States I have discovered through the Internet.

Websites like MySpace allow just about any musician with a piece of their recorded work and a computer with Internet access to share their music to anyone around the world. This system allows music promotion to be more democratized than ever before (see my first blog post). Listeners will buy the music of and support the tours of the bands they enjoy the most, despite geographic barriers. A great personal example of this for me is the artist Teitur. The singer is from the remote Faroe Islands, a province of Denmark. I discovered his work through an online music forum with people of similar tastes to mine. Someone had posted a review, saying that it was one of their favorite albums of the year, despite the fact that he is so unknown. So I first listened to a few of his songs on his MySpace page, and eventually decided to buy one of his albums on iTunes. Now, a few years and albums later, Teitur is on a U.S. tour and I have a ticket to see him perform live in Minneapolis just after my exams end.

I've had a similar experience with much of the music I listen to from other countries, and I would guess that if you asked just about any artist of the effect the Internet has on the amount of listeners, they would say it allows for a dramatic increase.

The Internet is also a great tool for discovery since it not only connects listeners to artists, but also listeners to one another. This can be in the form of aforementioned networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, through forums and blogs, Internet radio sites like Pandora, and even hybrid websites like that are part social networking, part music discovery. is an especially great example, because it tracks the music a user listens to (using a plugin to Windows Media Player or iTunes), and then gives recommendations for new artists based on their taste, and shows them their "neighbors" or people who listen to artists most similar to yourself. This sort of website is beneficial because listeners can discover new artists that they will most likely enjoy quickly, and artists are promoted and found by users most likely to enjoy their style of music.

Everyday Pirates: Illegal Music Downloding and International Copyright Law

The relatively new widespread use of the Internet and fast connections has allowed people from all around the world to easily access and download all types of music. This phenomenon has led to many questions about the legality of this practice, especially across borders with differing copyright laws. Peer-to-Peer programs, such as BitTorrent and KaZaA interesting cases of these issues, because the files are not stored in any central location such as a computer hard drive or server, but are shared among users. A website like The Pirate Bay which is essentially a search engine for .torrent files is also difficult to sue (though companies have tried), because it doesn't store nearly enough information about its users to incriminate them. Also, in the specific case of The Pirate Bay, the owners themselves would be difficult to sue because they are located in Sweden where copyright laws are less stringent than in the United States. Although they were raided and taken in for questioning in 2006, the investigation was dropped within three days and the site returned to normal use quickly. Some people in Sweden, including the owners of The Pirate Bay believe that the investigation was conducted with pressure from the United States and organizations like the MPAA and the RIAA. If the government did do this, it is considered a serious violation of of the political norms in Sweden.

These examples bring to light some interesting ways that international law and domestic laws operate. The record companies argue that overseas programs are allowing people to participate in illegal activity within the United States, and thereby their activity is illegal. But can someone be arrested for doing something legal in one country that is illegal in another? For example, if a person bought drug paraphernalia in one country where that drug is legal and the person went back to their home country and used it where it is illegal, how can the paraphernalia maker be held responsible since they did not produce it in an illegal context and could not predict its illegal use?

It is generally agreed upon that people are liable to the laws of the country they reside in and not to the ones they do not live in. There are some exceptions to this rule, however, in international law. When it comes to international copyright law, there are two major agreements. The first is the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works which says that any artistic work holds an international copyright the instant it is in a 'fixed' state, no application to hold the copyright is necessary. Most countries eventually signed on to this convention. If they had not, they eventually faced some of the same policies in the second important bill, the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). This agreement was made through the WTO and is quite far-reaching in its protection of intellectual property rights thanks in part to heavy lobbying from the United States. It also set in place some very specific enforcement mechanisms which give it more weight than the Berne Convention. Getting back to music downloading, some critics of copyright enforcement point to the fact that copyright law is meant to promote unique creations and prevent others from claiming someone's work as their own, not to ensure that the artist or inventor gets every last dime on the duplication of his or her work. Others say that the music industry is to blame for failing to adapt to the digital medium, and is making the wrong choice by suing its current and potential customers for copyright violations.

While I may tend to agree with these general sentiments, most U.S. courts have sided with the record industry on the issue. It should be interesting to see what happens to the music industry both domestically and internationally over the next decade due to these rapid changes in the way that people access and listen to music.

Friday, May 2, 2008

International Security and Music

In today's world, it is difficult to read a newspaper, watch TV, or surf the Internet without coming across the issue of international security and terrorism. The issue, in fact, is so far-reaching that it has even come to influence the music industry.

The first major instance of this is when singer Cat Stevens (also known as Yusuf Islam) boarded a plane from London to Washington D.C. His name had shown up on a U.S. security watch list, and his plane was redirected hundreds of miles away where he was held for questioning. After all of this, he was sent back to the UK. Islam had been an active participant in the peaceful Muslim movements within Britain, and had made many statements condemning terrorism and the events of September 11th, 2001.

This is not the only time artists have been blocked from entering the U.S. About a week ago, a Swedish band called the Field was prevented from entering the United States border and was forced to cancel their North American tour.

Possibly the most notable instance of Homeland Security's interactions with artists is that of M.I.A., also known as Maya Arulpragasam. The Sri Lanken hip-hop/rap artist had gained quite a bit of sucess and popularity with her debut album, Arular, and was about to record her sophomore record with producer Timbaland when she too was prevented from entering the United States by the Department of Homeland Security. So instead, she toured the world recording her new album in many different regions including India, Trinidad, Liberia, Jamaica, Australia and Japan. The result, titled Kala, became an international success and was deemed the best album of 2007 by Rolling Stone Magazine. In the song "Paper Planes", M.I.A. sings:

"I fly like paper, get high like planes
If you catch me at the border I got visas in my name
If you come around here, I make 'em all day
I'll get one done in a second if you wait"

In this song, M.I.A. alludes to not only her personal experience at the US border, but also policy decisions within the United States relating to Homeland Security and immigration issues.

All of these occurrences bring up questions about the way that we control our borders. Clearly, we do not want terrorists to enter the country, but at what level are we detaining too many innocent people? This goes beyond cancelling tours an relocating album recordings. How does our border policy affect relationships with other countries, their citizens and their artists? Because of its wealth, the United States will most likely still be a place that artists want to tour and promote their work, regardless of border policy. Perhaps the growing accessibility to music online will allow artists to broadcast their music from across the globe regardless of US border patrol (but that's another blog).

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

How Many Foreign Songs Do You Listen To? Globalization and the Music Industry

I would guess that when most people sit down to listen to music, they rarely consider its origin. They're looking to distract themselves from the doldrums of their daily routine, relax after a long day at work or school, or to cut loose with a night on the town. Sometimes, (though more rarely inside the United States) music can be a form of preserving and enjoying one's own heritage. Still, what a person listens to and where that music comes from is truly reflective of the political, cultural and economic conditions in which they live.

For example, consider the effect of globalization on the world music market. Globalization is supposed to bring a new level of interconnectedness and unity among all people in the world, but at what cost? Is globalization opening new windows culturally across the globe, or does is serve to advance Westernization? Sure, new music is accessible to Americans from areas of the world they have never traveled to or thought they had interest in. But how often do they actually listen to this music? I'm not trying to be cynical here, but I personally think this is some of the reality of American culture. Personally, I would say that my exposure to music that is not from the US/Canada/UK is greater than average, yet still limited. I have about 4-5 albums and some various singles from German bands, and probably a good dozen from the remaining Western European countries, most of which are still sung in English. When it comes to albums from other areas of the world, I have some Bhangra (Indian dance music), I listen to Reggaeton, and...Bob Marley? The list pretty much ends there. I may be wrong about this, but I think this is a rather typical American experience.

Now, let's consider the experience of a person in another country. Some see problems with globalization in that it robs a country of its own identity and culture. In February of 1994, France passed legislation that forced commercial radio stations to air at least 40% French-language programming, because many of the most popular stations had been playing "as little as 15%". Having traveled to Germany in 2005, I can also testify that this phenomenon is not just true in France. The majority of the music my exchange partner listened to was in English, and when I brought a CD to share of some American music, she and her friends had heard most of the songs already! German CD stores were filled with American and British artists alike. In order to avoid relying entirely on personal evidence, the top UK and European charts also show the huge American and (to a lesser extent) British influence over the top singles in various western European countries.

This sort of thing raises a lot of questions. Was France correct in forcing the hand of radio stations with the intent of preserving its own artists and culture? Or should the music market be allowed to operate freely? And if so, is this all about money? The US and UK are two very rich countries, and thereby have a wealthy music industry. Money often translates into influence, and hence Anglo-European music is played the most. China is also a rising economic power. Does this mean we will hear more Chinese music on the airwaves, or will the government try to control this form of expression out of fear of subversive messages? Also, I don't really know too much about the influence of American music in other areas besides Europe, so I am curious if anyone else out there might be able to share their knowledge.

I feel that I have left out one last important element in this discussion so far. It seems there is a trend that is not so much about globalization as it is about the regional influence of music. In the United States, this is witnessed by the number of Spanish music channels on the radio, and the relative popularity of some Latin American artists such as Daddy Yankee ("Gasolina"), Shakira, Enrique Iglesias, etc. In Europe, a single from just about any country can become wildly popular, even if the airwaves are dominated by English music. Examples of this can be found in "Dragostea din tei" by O-Zone of Moldova or little Jodi Gruttman's "Schnappi, Das Kleine Krokodil" from Germany. The reason I view these as more regional than global is because these instances are mostly restricted to a smaller area. The Spanish-language influence is not as dominant in Europe and other parts of the world, just as it is difficult for non-English European songs to receive airtime in the U.S.

I would love to hear other people's thoughts on the issue.

Friday, February 1, 2008

How deep is the "Weeds" theme- song?

While studying abroad in Santiago, Chile during 2007 I took some time to acclimate myself to the musical, social and political scene in the country. Chile is not yet 20 years free from a 17-year brutal authoritarian government, headed by General Augosto Pinochet, which tortured and murdered leftists and sympathizers (or here). One of the most symbolic figures of the violation of human rights and resistance to the military government as well as an iconic musical figure in the Nueva Canción (New Song) folk revival movements in Latin America was Victor Jara.

After picking up his album, El derecho de vivir en paz (The right to live in peace), I was instantly won over by his biting social commentary on issues of poverty, the Vietnam war and the toxic effects of US corporate control of Chile's natural resources not to mention his excellent sound musically (I'm sure you'll all notice that my grasp of social and historical issues far exceeds my musical savvy ;).

To the point, midway through the album I found myself humming the music to a song, Casitas del Barrio Alto. After a few listens, I realized that the song had been used as the theme song for the TV show Weeds. Though the lyrics are practically a direct translation, Jara's version has a stanza criticizing the children of the Chilean elite for using violence to attack leftists and 'play politics'. I've only seen parts of the second season of the show, however I'd like to know how consciously the creators of the show sympathize with Jara's message and the extent to which the show is critical of the very culture and lifestyle it chooses to portray.