Monday, June 19, 2006

The Pleasure and Terror of Globalization

The Pleasure and Terror of Globalization

Globalization, the buzzword in contemporary early twenty-first century life, becomes the normative reality of national and individual existence. If we are to believe its proponents, life will not be today without globalization. But what kind of life is heralded by recent globalization drives that attempt to further capture the limited markets of the world? Is this not the same thing, as Lenin has argued about imperialism, that recent wars are set forth for the greater right and access to control economic and financial markets?

We sip our Starbucks coffee as often as our eyes begin to show sleepy signs of anxiety, chuck high-calorie Big Macs for daily meals, watch full-length Hollywood movies for leisure, do Disneyland trips with our children for breaks. How can globalization be both so pleasurable and terrorizing?

The Perils of Globalization

The U.S. victory with its war on Iraq signals a newer world order. The past orders were signaled by the Cold War era in the 1950s to 1970s and its legacy thereafter--particularly the dissemination of communications technology in the 1960s, state intervention in national economies and the installation of military dictatorships in the 1970s, the neoliberal economic policies and the destruction of Eastern Europe in the post-Cold War era of the 1980s, and the massive infiltration of information technology of the 1990s. Heralded by militarization, technology and economic policies, new world orders shift depending on the superpowers’ geopolitical contestations. The present U.S.-led newer world order in the first decade of the twenty-first century is less of superpowers gaining greater control of states, regional formation, economic and technological spheres, but with simply the U.S. becoming the global dominant in all major walks of life. In time, the U.S. is leading wars with less and less allies and more and more of its rhetorical talk of democracy under siege and the need to protect itself from terrorists.

The U.S. has single-handedly (albeit with some aid of the governments of, primarily of the United Kingdom, and less so of Spain and Portugal who gave its moral suasion to the U.S. cause) maneuvered the world to sidetrack the United Nations’ Security Council Resolution for the inspection of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. It launched its war of vested interest with Iraq, attuned to the economic connections of presidential advisers.

What the U.S. is undertaking is clearly the use of force to drive its economic interests to guaranteed safety. In this U.S. led global order, its allied countries—known as the “coalition of the willing”—have their own vested interest in aligning with the U.S. The Philippine government, for example, is to receive some $120 million in aid in exchange for its support of the U.S. war. Such amount is useful to help deflate its ballooning budget deficit, amounting this year to P202 billion or some $3.74 billion.[1] It is one of 25 countries that “actively supported” the United States, and that will receive military and economic assistance under the State Department’s $4.7 billion budget.[2] On top of this, the Defense Department “will restore the annual $100 million dollar foreign military assistance” which includes “military training and excess defense articles (EDA) or surplus items, such as additional C-130s, Hueys, patrol boats and protective vests in the war against terrorism.”[3]

Although “less that one percent of the U.S. budget goes to foreign aid” or about “$11.3 billion in economic assistance and $4.3 billion for peace keeping operations and to finance, train, and educate foreign armed forces,” the Philippines is expected to get $50 million in funding to fight terrorism.[4] This is peanuts compared to the top recipients of U.S. aid—Israel with $2.1 billion per year in military aid and $600 million per year in economic support; Egypt with $1.3 billion in military aid and about $615 million for social programs; Columbia with $540 million per year to assist battle drug trade and terrorist groups; Jordan with $250 million in economic support and $198 million in military financing.[5] With the advent of war on terrorism, the windfall beneficiaries include Pakistan, key ally in the war in Afghanistan, will get $200 million in economic aid and $50 million in military support (the U.S. has also arranged a debt-write-off of $1 billion in loans from the World Bank and IMF); Turkey, for providing military support and helping track terrorist financial networks, $17.5 million in military aid; Central Asian States, for providing air bases for U.S. operations, Uzbekistan will get $43 million, Kyrgyzstan will get $4 million; and post-war Afghanistan, has already received $450 million in humanitarian and reconstruction aid and will get $140 million in economic and military assistance.[6]

The Philippine package, after all, is attractive enough for providing support to the U.S. war on Iraq, even at its pre-war stage as heralded by the polemics of anti-terrorism in the aftermath of the September 11 event. It booted out two Iraqi envoys on the eve of the war, “found to have taken pictures of the American military cementary, the day before the Memorial Day celebration,” asking them to leave within 72 hours.[7] Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo offered the U.S. auxiliary services to its troops, use of airspace and refueling facilities during the war period and “humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping” in the post-war period.[8] It will even shoulder the cost of sending a peacekeeping force to Iraq, amounting to P600 million even as it hits its worsening deficit level in years.[9] Arroyo also plans another round of joint Philippine-U.S. war exercises from April 25, as we speak, to May 9, 2003 involving 1,200 U.S. troops and 2,500 Filipino soldiers. Hailing the exercises, she says, “Far from being a magnet to terrorism, the RP-US partnership is an effective deterrent to terrorism because it affirms the principle of transnational vigilance.”[10] The following month in June, another joint war exercises is expected to be held in Sulu, Basilan and parts of Zamboanga.

The on-going exercises is considered as the “second large insertion of U.S. troops in the Philippines since September 11, 2001.”[11] “Soon after invading Afghanistan in the fall of 2001, the U.S. opened a ‘second front’ in its worldwide war—landing hundreds of troops on the Basilan island in the Sulu Sea and on the larger island of Mindanao in southern Philippines in January 2002.”[12] If in the past the U.S. troops were there simply as “advisors,” U.S. Defense Chief, Donald Rumsfeld is “openly declaring that the troops involved in the new deployment will take on a combat role in the offensive mission.”[13] The sites of the exercises involves areas where the Muslim people’s and communist party’s groups are waging a war against the reactionary government. The U.S. is eyeing the section of the Philippines for the expansion of its economic interests as the area holds potential oil and gas resources, and political interests, in its desire for strategic bases in Southeast Asia, even as this is against the Philippine constitution.

Being the U.S. major stalwart in Southeast Asia, Arroyo seems to be in denial of the U.S. anti-terrorist backlash among Filipino migrants in the U.S. Last April 24, 55 more deportees from the U.S. arrived in the Philippines, bringing the total deportees to 200 since last year.[14] Earlier returnees were handcuffed during the flight. Armed with newly trained military personnel that benefited from joint-military exercises in the prior years, military combats with Muslim and communist groups have become more bloody in recent encounters. Seven children died from various illnesses at evacuation centers, bringing the total to 23 deaths in fighting in Pikit, North Cotabota since February 11, 2003.[15] “At least 36,000 people, 15,000 of them children, have been crammed in ill-equipped refugee sites.”[16] Arroyo also was only too happy for the inclusion of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed group, the New People’s Army, in the U.S. official list of “foreign terrorist organizations,” with its chief consultant, Jose Maria Sison as a “terrorist” and demanded that the Dutch government, where he is residing in exile, extradite him to the Philippines.

What Arroyo has done vigorously for the U.S. is to “turn the ‘war on terrorism’ into a war on the left.”[17] “From $55 million more in military aid recently approved by the U.S. Congress, Manila plans to recruit 7,000 new soldiers and 15,000 miliamen, raising the specter of the dreaded Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Units (CAFGUs), which operated with impunity in the countryside during the Marcos dictatorship. The Philippines is now the fourth highest recipient of U.S. military aid globally and the highest in Asia.”[18] Last April 22, two human rights leaders—Eden Marcellana of Karapatan-Southern Tagalog and Eddie Gumanoy of Kasama-Timog Katagalugan--were kidnapped and killed by paramilitary death squads in Naujan, Oriental Mindoro.[19]

Arroyo’s rosy description of the Philippines’ role in postwar Iraq—more Filipino contractual workers to be hired in the rebuilding—is baseless as the U.S. Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance has only been allocated $2.4 billion, while the cost of the was is pegged at $79 billion.[20] The U.S. is not in good shape to dole out promises and aid. After all, its balance-of-payment deficit is nearly $3 trillion since 1982, and still growing larger. Foreign investors have claims amounting to $8 trillion of the U.S. financial assets. With Iraq’s debt commitment of some $199 billion after the invasion of Kuwait, including $57.2 billion in pending foreign contracts, the cost of its rebuilding would surely be greater.[21]

What the U.S. in undertaking is a project of coercion to improve its economic interest and stake. What the Philippines and other countries with vested interests is hoping is to partake of the windfall of the U.S. war on terrorism, agreeing to subcontractual aspects of the impossible global project. A Pax-Americana based on the global networking of anti-terrorism is a conduit to the larger project of expanding U.S. economic and political interests.

This, I think, is the terror of globalization—the expected push-and-pull strategy of the most powerful country in the world to do anything and everything to get what it wants, as “America’s sovereign right to do whatever it pleases.”[22]

Why do we allow it, even only in our minds?

The Pleasures of Globalization

The U.S. not only leads the world militarily, but it also leads it culturally. While U.S. boxoffice draw amounted to only $8.413 billion in 2001, its share of the market in the European Union is 66%.[23] Hollywood leads the world in film production, aiming for a global audience. As such, shares of local cinemas are dwindling: Canada, 2%; Denmark, 30.46%; Iceland, 21%; Finland, 14.9%; Norway, 6%; Sweden, 24%; Belgium, 2%; Netherlands, 9.5%; Switzerland, 4.2%; United Kingdom, 11.73% (U.S. share is 81.41%); Italy, 19.4% (U.S. is 59.7%); France, 39% (U.S. is 51%); Spain, 18% (U.S. is 67%); Germany, 16.2%; Australia, 7.8% (U.S. is 80.6%); Japan, 39%; and Korea, 33%.[24] The Philippines output of films per year has been steadily decreasing—180 films in 1996, 210 films in 1997, 160 films in 1998, 120 films in 1999 and 103 films in 2000.[25] It is only India that continues to increase its film output in Asia, from 649 films in 1996 to 855 in 2000.[26]

Hollywood released 461 films in 2001, with an average cost per film produced by major studios at $47.7 million and average marketing cost at $31.5 million.[27] How can any other country outside compete with Hollywood, where it only takes $8.1 million to produce an average feature film in the United Kingdom, $3.9 million in France, $2.4 million in Italy? The cost of a Hollywood production is exceedingly high because it attempts to cater to a global audience. It can afford to invest huge sums of money because it hopes to capture, take hold and expand its world market.

But far more importantly, as Jack Valenti, Hollywood stalwart, says, “Going to the movies is the American remedy for anxieties of daily life.”[28] What Hollywood has trained global movie audiences is to use its films as a filter to process individual and collective anxieties. This is ironic considering that Hollywood films themselves contain the very source of our collective anxieties—war, crimes, gangs, serial killers, romance or lack of it, among others. What these films do is to provide as a fantasy filter to process our everyday lives; in other words, the grid to process individual and collective anxieties. Thus, neoliberalism takes on not only an economic determination but also a cultural one. Using the experience of film and burgers, I contend that neoliberalism lays the ground for the eventual parallel use of force by American imperialism, making available pre-disposed ideologies and material popular culture to accept U.S. global dominance.

There is a scene in the commercially and critically successful film Black Hawk Down (Ridley Scott, director; 2001), showing two American soldiers in separate scenes, isolated from their troops, fearing for their lives against the chaos of militia and citizens of Mogadishu in Somalia. Though fearing imminent attack from the mass of angry and unruly Somalians, acting like a mob, the two soldiers bravely await their fate. One fights back, killing a handful of Somalians; the other cluthes the back-to-back photos of his wife and kid. The inevitable happens—one soldier is eventually shot dead, is undressed and brought outside, carried on his back like a cruxified victim; the other is mobbed by the crowd, and despite this, manages to grasp the photos, until the militia head announces that the soldier is claimed by their group.

The scene blurs the real, the historical is predisposed in the service of the imaginary. Though the film narrates the ill-fated humanitarian mission of American soldiers in Somalia in 1993, it valorizes Pax-American effort to be in the service of the neoliberal democratic cause. Only the American actors are humanized, given three dimensional aspects in which audience readily identifies with. The Somalians are represented as a mob, only made distinct by a massification of black unruly bodies. The audience allows the historical shutdown. As in any experience of moviegoing, the rational takes a vacation, allowing for a suspension of belief. The body cognitively reacting to the violent scene, in memoriam to American valorization.

The scene, like the film itself, represents an aestheticization of the real and historical. It uses the very modes of representing the real in documentary filmmaking or even in cable news reporting (single camera movement, tracking shots, jittery movements, under- and over-exposed shots) but for the purpose of exposing and privileging the filmic reality. Thus the conventions of the real are made hyperreal in the postmodern in-mixing of styles and devices to render the imaginary as valid, legitimate and determinant of truth-claims. Integral to the aestheticization is the star system, making prominent young Hollywood leading men Josh Harnett, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore and Eric Bana, to name a few, as representatives of the historical personality of American soldiers in Somalia.

As young Hollywood stars taking on gritty roles of American army soldiers, like the film itself, these actors humanize the American soldier personality, in turn, humanizing the very modes in which actual imperialism operates. The Hollywood male actors, like the film itself, become an index without a referent. Thus imperialism itself becomes devoid of real historical and epistemic stakes, becoming a fantasy realm quite pleasurable yet indistinguishable from historic claims. It is not surprising that the film side-tracks the issue of the real. This is especially interesting as the film itself is based on the book by Mark Bowden. The basis of hyperreality is filtered through organic representations of the real—all claiming truth of the historical—devoid of the historicity of the real.

Both in film and in history, 18 U.S. soldiers and 500 Somalians died. That remains undistinguishable. However, the presentation of visible evidence in film remains favorable to American heroism. U.S. heroism and soldiering become perennial themes and characters as African nationals are similarly lumped as militiamen and mob, out to get their revenge. In the end, despite and inspite of antagonism from Third World entities, Hollywood closure sutures the triumph of the white hero. In the end, as filmic imaginary forebodes, U.S. sponsored and led globalization triumphs. Hollywood films become the apologia and apotheosis of U.S. economic and political ventures.

Fastfood burgers and experience dominate daily culture, even those in non-First World scope. Thus, like the culture of burgers and fastfood, and other spheres of imperial daily life or what is known as the McDonaldization of experience, the experience with the real is standardize through the experience with the imaginary. McDonalization means the standardization and rationalization of experience to a level of the hyperreal. As Douglas Kellner states, “McDonald’s experience is a hyperreal one, in which its model of fast-food consumption replaces the traditional model of home-prepared food with commodified food, which then becomes a model for food production, replicated through frozen and prepared food and the spinoff of countless other chain fastfood restaurant businesses.”[29] Furthermore, as Kellner explains, “McDonaldization is part of a new global form of technocapitalism in which world markets are being rationalized and reorganized to maximize capital accumulation.”[30]

Like Hollywood films that seek about two-thirds of its market outside the U.S. U.S. business ventures also vie for a global market. “McDonald’s reported that in 1996 and 1997 they intended to open around 32,0000 new restaurant of which around two-thirds would be outside of the USA… [Whereas] in 1985, some 22% of the units were located overseas accounting for $2.2 billion (20% of total) sales and 18% of operating profit: by 1996 these figures were $14 billion (47% of total).”[31] Presently, there are some 30,000 McDonald outlets in the world, 13,000 of which are in the U.S.[32] Thus the stress is to globalize the American pop culture product, selling American values as much as the image, even as the image itself is immersed in fat and cholesterol (say in burgers) or pulp and pure image (in Hollywood films).

Such intensified efforts to sell globally have productively banked on the image of American globality and global products. What is negated, like in Hollywood films, is the contact of the historical and real. Nutrition issues are abated in favor of fabricated nostalgic images of children savoring fries, family bonding, intergenerational interaction and multicultural consumption. For even if the consumer was to know of the nurtritional contents of Big Macs, he/she would still be in denial—the imaginary has once again triumphed over the real.

In light of the fact that nutritional experts almost universally agree that the kind of food sold by McDonald’s is bad for you. With 28 grams of fat, 12.6 of which are saturated, in a Big Mac, and 22 more grams in and order of French fries, along with 52 additives being used in its various food products, it is scarcely surprising that an internal company memorandum would state that: “we can’t really address or defend nutrition. We don’t sell nutrition and people don’t come to McDonald’s for nutrition. When the company’s cancer expert, Dr. Sydney Arnott, was asked his opinion of the statement that “a diet high in fat, sugar, animal products and salt and low in fibre, vitamins and minerals is linked with cancer of the breast and bowel and heart disease,” he replied, “If it is being directed to the public then I would say it is a very reasonable thing to say.”[33]

With more aggressive tie-ups with popular films and pop culture artifacts and toys for children, fastfood offers a diversified multicultural intra-historical consuming experience. It creates nostalgia, the idealization of the past no matter how imperfect it originally was. This nostalgia is perpetuated in fastfood, realizing the impossibility of reacquiring the past through the present consumption mode, even as this present experience is imbued with the reality of production. Fastfood employees, like employees in the service sectors of postindustrialism, are suffer from low wages, poor working conditions, and subcontracting labor practice. Service sector employees are considered full-time nonpermanent employees, and thus, not entitled to non-wage benefits. They also suffer from poor working conditions, like the requirement to remain standing for long periods of time during work, wage deductions for shortages in cashier tabulation, long working hours, and so on. They are also subcontracted employees, part of the thrust of the service sector for flexible labor. This means that before six months of their hiring in which their employers are obligated to employ them on a permanent status, they are terminated.

How long McDonald’s cleaners must work to buy a BigMac


Big Mac


A$3.00 US$1.58

A$10.61 US$5.60 per hour



Sales staff

Rmb9.90 US$1.19

2.5 US$0.30 per hour

Hong Kong



HK$10.20 US$1.30

HK$15.00 US$1.92 per hour


McChicken burger

Min wage

IRs48 US$0.98

IRs5.60 US$0.11 per hour


Big Mac


MR4.30 US$1.13

MR3.00 US$0.78 per hour


Big Mac


NZ$3.95 US$1.72

NZ$8.30 US$3.61 per hour


Big Mac


PR185 US$3.08

PR13 US$0.22per hour


Big Mac


P65 US$1.27

P28 US$0.54 per hour

South Korea

Big Mac


W 3,100

W 2,100 per hour

Sri Lanka

Big Mac



SRs45 per hour


Big Mac

Min wage

B55 US$1.26

B20 US$0.46 per hour

Source: ALU Issue No. 42, January - March 2002 [34]

The conditions of work and pay are prohibitive even for the fastfood employee to partake of the consumption experience. “Taking extreme examples, an Australian cleaner could buy three BigMacs after working for one hour; whereas a Pakistani cleaner would have to work for more than fourteen hours to buy the same burger.”[35] Fastfood outlets target young mobile people for work. These young people, especially in developing nations, realize consumer power for the first time. Their labor are considered as overvalued labor yet in due time, with continuous deskilling required, their labor potentials remain undeveloped. Yet given these material reality of labor in production and nutrition in consumption, many consumers will not be stopped from their burgers and fries or from their experience with the U.S. global dream.

Terror remains and is perpetuated in the production of amnesia over these realities in favor of imaginative reality. Terror is sugar-coated in historical reality in order to swallow the bitter pill of the after-effects. Not only are nutrition and unfair labor practices are perpetuated but also the very negation of the historic realities of imperialism, remaining abstract and indiscent. Popular culture therefore becomes nexus, if not dialectically related, to political and economic cultures.

With the lingering of the U.S. war on Iraq, McDonald’s sales has plunged for 13 straight months, falling 3.7 percent in the U.S., 5.4 percent in Europe, and 9.9 percent in Asia, Middle East and Africa markets.[36] The plunge was also a reaction to currency adjustments and the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in the Asia Pacific, than to the actual boycott of McDonald’s as a symbol of U.S. global domination. U.S. popular culture and political culture remain normative of experience--how to see world, experience reality, the experienciation of the real via the filter of the imaginary. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfield is right when he says, “When the dust has settled in Iraq, military historians will study this war. They will examine the unprecedented combination of power, precision, speed, flexibility—and I would add compassion employed.”[37] Popular culture ensures that space of a humanized imperialism. Precisely because culture is necessarily ideological, the imperialist global project allows the relinquishing the real and historical in favor of the imaginative and fantastic reality. This remains, in our indifference and patronage, the biggest terror of all.


[1] Enrico dela Cruz and Cecille Yap, “Gov’t overshoots 1st quarter deficit target by P3.7B,”\breakingnews/view_breakingnews.php?yyy=2003&mon…, 22 Apr 2003.

[2] Jennie L. Ilustre, “‘Active support’ nets RP more aid from US,”, 6 Feb 2003.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Council on Foreign Relations, “Foreign Aid,” aid_print.html. The amounts are based on Bush’s 2003 budget proposal. For another listing of U.S. military and economic aid, see James Ridgeway, “Arms-Twisting,” This list includes U.S. allies, Angola, $14.1 million in aid annually; Chile, $5,151,813 in military sales; Guinea, $132,000 in military sales and $26.4 million more; Cameroon, $64,000 in arms sales; Mexico, $14,451,000 in military sales, $22.4 billion in aid; Pakistan, expected to get $305 million in aid: and Bulgaria, $4.5 million in sales. All of these countries are non-permanent members of the U.S. Security Council. See also “Arms, Aid, and the War with Iraq,” which reports that “Djibouti, the Philippines, and Columbia share the $308.1 million in military aid with the Gulf and Eastern European nations… All are participating in the war on terror. It is worth noting that the Philippines and Columbia have provided political support for the war on Iraq.” Also, Barbara Slavin, “U.S. guilds war coalition with favors—and money,”…

[5] Council of Foreign Relations, ibid. Peru, Ukraine and Russia each receive $200 million per year in economic and military aid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Veronica Uy, “Manila asks 2 Iraqi envoys to leave in 72 hours,”, 24 Mar 2003.

[8] “Macapagal offers airspace, refueling stops to US troops,”, 21 Mar 2003.

[9] “Lawmaker seeks probe on RP mission to Iraq,”, 23 Apr 2003.

[10] Fe B. Zamora, “RP ‘vulnerable to terror’ without US, says Macapagal,”, 25 Apr 2003.

[11] Revolutionary Worker, “Escalating the Unjust War in the Philippines,” The estimate here involves 1,700 U.S. troops.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] “55 deportees from US arrive at Clark airport,”, 25 Apr 2003.

[15] Jeffrey Tupas and Edwin Fernandez, “7 more kids die in Pikit evacuation centers,”, 22 Mar 2003.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Eduardo R.C. Capulong, “Philippines: Arroyo turns the ‘war on terrorism’ into war on the left,” International Socialist Review (Sept/Oct 2002),

[18] Ibid.

[19] Alliance of Concerned Teachers, “Justice for Ka Eden and Ka Eddie!”, 24 Apr 2003.

[20] Niall Ferguson, “The True Cost of Hegemony: Huge Debt,”…

[21] “US manages interests by pushing for Iraq debt relief,”, 16 Apr 2003.

[22] From John Chuckman, “America’s Sovereign Right to Do Whatever It Pleases,”,, 13 Apr 2003.

[24] Ibid. Korean figure from Jack Miles and Douglas McLennan, “Global Crossing,”

[25] Screen Digest, quoted in ibid.

[26] Screen Digest, quoted in ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Douglas Kellner, “Theorizing/Resisting McDonaldization: A Multiperspectivist Approach,”

[30] Ibid.

[31] Quoted in ibid.

[32] Deborah Cohen, “McDonald’s Sales Down for 13th Month,” 10 Apr 2003,

[33] Quoted in Kellner, ibid.

[34] “How long McDonald’s cleaners must work to buy a BigMac”

[35] Ibid.

[36] Cohen, ibid.

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