Globalization of American Leisure

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The logos of McDonald's, Starbucks, Nike, and Disney have become so common abroad that it often seems U.S. leisure activities are global. While American leisure products do dominate their markets, others have failed or have been copied, if not pirated, by foreign entrepreneurs. As eye-catching as the brands of U.S. companies are, their spread owes to financial and organization features, technical prowess, and help from the American government.

The first leisure product exported from the American colonies was tobacco, reaching 102 million pounds by 1775. Britain so taxed the colonies' exports that export taxes were prohibited in the U.S. Constitution, and "free trade" became an article of faith. But for the next century, aside from fur for top hats, Americans exported few leisure goods; their agricultural products they traded internally, developing transportation systems and logistical talents that proved useful later on.

Export of Film

Film was the first modern American leisure product to be exported successfully, and it is a model of how an export can achieve global dominance. In 1905, the world film market was still open. The French firm Pathé controlled 50–70 percent of new releases in the United States in 1906, while U.S. filmmakers battled over the rest of the domestic market, seeking advantage by suing one another over patent and license infringements. In 1908, as a result of suits by Thomas Edison and a succession of licensing agreements by distributors, two quasi-cartels arose: one mostly American, the MPPC (Motion Pictures Patents Company); the other mostly foreign, the Sales Corp. They established uniform licensing fees, admissions, and import quotas. American films were already being exported, with Britain as the largest market—London alone had 300 movie theaters in 1911 (Thompson).

Exports were important to film early, because 99 percent of the product's cost (actors, equipment, sets) went into making the first print. The "second print" was almost free, and any income it made was profit. Thus Vitagraph, the third-largest U.S. company in 1912, produced more prints by 1912 at its Paris plant than at its U.S. plant.

World War I disrupted the powerful French, German, and Italian film industries, but left the U.S. producers and the large Anglo-American market relatively unscathed. The United States began producing narrative-driven film spectacles, such as D. W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation (1915), whose popularity drove up production costs by 1,000 percent between 1915 and 1925. Stars such as Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford pioneered onand off-screen lifestyles that emphasized personal freedom and consumption. The advertising of products in or with films, which began in 1916, grew dramatically as ad agencies saw that movie chains offered a national audience. By the early 1920s their large domestic audience, the high cost of filmmaking, and the "aura" of American freedom and wealth had already created something like a brand, which gave U.S. filmmakers advantages as exporters of film.

Many European countries owed large debts to the United States after the war, and importing film was one form of payment. American banks, which opened abroad to handle reparations and reconstruction, were positioned to finance the export of U.S. film. Given the low cost of the "second print," American firms could sell in Europe at prices lower than even healthy European producers could have met. As a result, U.S. film quickly dominated countries in Scandinavia and the Baltics. The war also shifted the center of world film distribution to New York. America's late entry into World War I meant that U.S. ships served Latin American, Asian, and even European markets without peril. By 1919, U.S. filmmakers had systems of international finance and channels of distribution that gave them worldwide scope. Exports of U.S. film rose from 36 million feet in 1915 to 235 million feet in 1925. Meanwhile imports of foreign film to the United States declined from 16 million feet in 1913 to only 7 million feet in 1925 (Izod, pp. 62–63).

A high level of technical innovation has spurred the export of many U.S. leisure goods, from film and carbonated soft drinks to fiberglass golf clubs. The introduction of sound film in 1927 was an early example of the opportunities and problems of high-tech leisure exports. There were also German and British sound film systems, but Warner Brothers went deep into debt to solve sound's production problems and to retool its theaters for audio. When audiences flocked to The Jazz Singer in 1927 to hear Al Jolson, Warner Brothers began to make large profits, and other U.S. competitors had to mortgage themselves similarly. Moviemaking became so expensive that the number of U.S.-produced films fell by 30 percent between 1927 and 1930 (Izod, p. 79). Attendance soared, however, and exports rose dramatically by 1931. These huge investments paid off nicely in the mid-1930s. But sound film also posed a problem—the language barrier. Although Louis B. Mayer in 1928 naïvely declared that sound film would lead to the universal use of English, foreign audiences began to lose interest. It became clear that sound film created language markets, with the largest—English, French, German, and Spanish—possessing intrinsic economies of scale. Here there were no extra "second-print" costs. But for smaller language markets, distributors set up dubbing and subtitling services. These added to "second-print" costs, but not enough to level the playing field for native producers, because the cost of entry to sound film was so high by 1930 that only internationally capitalized and distributed film companies could compete. By 1932, U.S. films captured 95 percent of the British, 75 percent of the French, and 68 percent of the Italian markets (Guback, p. 8).

The advent of the Technicolor musical (The Gold Diggers of Broadway, 1930) upped the ante again and led U.S. producers into the music business. Fierce domestic competition for viewers during the Great Depression fueled more innovations: crime films, sound effects, and deep-focus lenses. Foreign film government recognized film's importance. One by one, European nations set up quotas on the number of U.S. films that could be imported. Germany established a 1:1 ratio, while France created a complex 1:7 ratio exchange of import permits. The United States retaliated, but ultimately the "quota wars" were futile because, to ensure their foreign distribution, the U.S. firms opened foreign subsidiaries. Paramount and MGM went so far as to loan Germany's UFA film group the money it needed to survive. In return, they gained a guaranteed distribution outlet in the joint subsidiary Parufamet (Thompson, pp. 110, 119).

Exporting Film: 1930 to Post–World War II

Like other new industries, film next went through a period of product differentiation. Each studio created a house look, leading to the "classic Hollywood style." MGM had brilliant, plush interiors and a high key lighting style. Warner became known for urban realism and "noir" styling. Disney pioneered cartoons. This differentiation was necessary in their home market, where the Depression had introduced fierce competition, but it also overwhelmed competitors overseas. There was also new financial oversight. The banks that supplied their production loans reviewed the domestic and foreign potential of the films that studios made; these banks included not only American but European firms, such as Deutsche Bank and Credit Lyonais. Hollywood studios also collaborated on a Production Code Administration (PCA) seal, without which no film could be distributed in major U.S. theater chains. This practice blocked some foreign producers. Meanwhile, the U.S. government tacitly accepted Hollywood's vertical integration, block-booking, and blind-bidding practices, in effect creating a film cartel. With its huge domestic audience secured, the U.S. film industry arrived at the formula of its modern success—pay for production costs at home and make profit abroad.

When Axis powers invaded nation after nation in the late 1930s, however, U.S. film not only lost these advantages but was also shut out of Europe. By 1940, it was distributed only in Switzerland, Sweden, and Portugal. But the domestic market remained strong, as did exports to Latin America and Asia. Close cooperation between Hollywood and the government led producers to begin shipping newsreels to these markets to counter Axis propaganda. By 1943, the cooperation turned to collaboration, as pro-American war films proliferated.

After the war the Motion Picture Export Association (MPEA) worked closely with the government in overseas screening and distribution. In some countries film imports were part of aid under the Marshall Plan. No censorship was necessary, because Hollywood scoured its films of material offensive to foreign markets and even added foreign scenes. There was a hunger for Hollywood film in markets that had become addicted, such as Austria (see Wagnleitner). Having built up a huge export backlog during the war, the studios finagled until they could give Europeans what they wanted. They inundated France and Germany, offering films so cheaply that local producers could not compete. Italy received an average of 570 new American films each of the four years after the war (Izod, p. 118). Britain reacted first, imposing quotas on U.S. film, followed in 1948 by France and Germany. But these quotas failed much as the 1920s quotas had. Not only did foreign audiences want the U.S. product, but the U.S. studios set up foreign production companies, which took advantage of cheaper locations and labor. They became "multinationals" before the word was invented.

The Modern Era: Platforms and Sequels

Before World War II, eight out of ten U.S. films recouped their costs at home. Afterward, only one in ten could do so. By the mid-1950s, some 40 percent of ticket revenue for U.S. film was already coming from overseas, a figure that increased to 53 percent by the early 1960s, with Europeans paying 80 percent of that figure (Izod, p. 161). Japan was also becoming a lucrative market. Thus, the studios hired commissars of "foreign correctness" and began to look for international appeal. Where it was possible to insert a foreign scene, they did. Biblical epics, musicals, and comedies of sexual innuendo proved popular overseas. In order to evade foreign import quotas and limits on repatriation of profit, U.S. producers began "runaway production," shooting their films overseas. In 1949, U.S. studios produced only 19 films abroad, but by 1969 that number had reached 183 (Izod, p. 159).

In the early 1950s, Disney began to create a new kind of studio. With its iconic characters and focus on the family audience, it already presented an internationally flavored "brand" of "American life." It cross-promoted its animation films, theme parks, and toys; it streamlined distribution; and it pioneered television rentals. This matrix of rebroadcast possibilities, product tie-ins, and pre-sold distribution is now called a "platform." The efficacy of a platform was such that the one-time television rental of a Disney film, which cost $10,000 in 1955, rose to $2 million by 1965.

Other studios caught on. The internationally flavored The Sound of Music, which cost $10 million, eventually made $100 million in rentals for 20th Century Fox. The Godfather demonstrated that once a studio built a platform, sequels could extend its life (Paramount, 1972, 1974, 1990). The most lucrative example was the series of Star Wars movies (20th Century Fox, 1977, 1980, 1983, 1999, 2002, 2005). In the 1970s, videotape rentals of films became a major source of profit; both Jaws and Star Wars earned $100 million in videotape rentals, and some films that failed in theaters made profits in rental stores. DVDs joined the picture in the 1990s.

As this business pattern proved spectacularly profitable, it attracted foreign investment, ranging from Australia's News Corporation (Fox) to Japan's Sony (MGM) and France's Vivendi (Universal). The cross-media marketing of these corporations tied films into their music and television offerings, fast-food promotions, toys, theme parks, beverages, and even autos. Disney and McDonald's struck up a notable partnership.

By 1973, the overseas sales of U.S. filmmakers reached $415 million, exceeding their domestic sales. Governments from France to Japan (which had quietly become the single biggest importer of U.S. films) set up national film boards to direct their own production of not only domestic features (to exemplify national culture) but also international films on the American model. The mecca of funds, given its highly developed production, distribution alliances, and tax breaks, was "Hollywood," which by 2000 included not only U.S. film studios, but German, French, and Japanese banks, as well as individual financiers, and even oil sheiks. These investors used complex tax shelters to produce major "American" films for worldwide distribution. To repatriate their profits and hedge against currency fluctuations, they also sought out promising foreign films to show in the growing "art" markets of the United States. In 1963, there were already eighty distributors releasing over 800 foreign films a year to 500 art cinemas in the States (Izod, p. 147).

By 2000, the typical U.S. blockbuster film was X-Men, based on an American comic book. It starred an Australian (Hugh Jackman), a couple of Britons (Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart), and some exotic Americans (Halle Berry, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), and was filmed in Canada. Seven production companies were involved, four of them American. There were eleven distributors, nine of them subsidiaries of Australia's Fox empire that dealt with the French-, Spanish-, Japanese-, German-, Italian-, and Portuguese-language markets. Fifteen U.S. special effects companies were employed, and they outsourced some work to Taiwan, Spain, Mexico, and the Philippines.

The flip side of this hit was Bend It like Beckham (2002), which Fox imported because of these same tax laws, quotas, and repatriation rules. Five British firms, four German firms, and one U.S. firm produced this soccer film. Indian/British director Gurinder Chadha had met no major success until Fox put her film on 555 American screens. By May 2003, her $6 million film had grossed over $100 million, not counting resales, video rentals, or the DVDs (in three languages) and audiotapes of the music (available at by various Sikh and Punjabi artists, who also received royalties.


As in film, a large native-language market, technical innovation, and innovative financing spurred the export of U.S. television programs. By 1955, there were 36 million sets in the United States and 4.5 million in Britain, but only 300,000 elsewhere in Europe, with a sprinkling in the rest of the world, mainly Japan. When U.S. equipment makers agreed on the NTSC broadcast standard, and the Ampex Corporation in 1956 demonstrated the magnetic tape recording of video and audio, the export of programming became possible. But the initial export market was in equipment, where U.S. executives warned against the Soviet Union "getting a jump" during the Cold War. Equipment manufacturers undertook promotional tours of Mexico, Cuba, and Brazil in the early 1950s, hooking up with local radio and advertising moguls who were politically connected. These nations' television systems developed on the U.S. model of unrestricted advertising. In Mexico City, radio magnate Emilio Azcarraga and publisher Romulo O'Farrill opened a $3 million production facility in the 1950s when there were only 30,000 sets in the country (Smith, p. 58).

Only when foreigners had sets could they watch programming. CBS was first to establish a foreign distribution subsidiary, followed by ABC and NBC. They learned from the film industry's experience, not making series or even pilots themselves. Rather, they licensed programs from independent producers, which they then syndicated at home and abroad. By 1961, CBS Films was selling about 1,500 half-hour episodes in fifty-five countries (Smith, p. 60). The Lone Ranger showed in twenty-four countries, and Lassie made $4 million in foreign revenue by 1958. Five of the top ten shows in Japan in 1958 were U.S. series or clones. But what happened next in that country was significant. Riding their own technical innovation, such as a superior Toshiba recording system, the Japanese made TV their own. They passed from copying shows to creating their own unique music, cooking, and comedy formats. Although Japan continued to import popular U.S. dramas such as Dallas and Dynasty (and later Ally McBeal), it used the 1964 Tokyo Olympics as a technological springboard, and by the 1970s, Japan exported cartoon anime and the "funniest home video" genre to the United States.

The introduction of UHF channels in the 1960s and cable in the 1970s multiplied the outlets for programming, and soon they were on the air at all hours, creating an insatiable demand for shows. The large English-language base of the United States meant that successful programs could easily be syndicated and sold in Britain, Canada, and Australia. If popular, they could be dubbed and sold in other language markets. But as Japan showed, the best bet was drama, preferably with high production values and stars. U.S. producers saw that a sporting event or a music show might sell for rebroadcast once, but that no one rented it in the growing marketplace for TV videos.

Meanwhile public television systems, subsidized by foreign governments, attempted to keep quality high. The BBC in Britain, CBC in Canada, ORTF in France, and ARD and ZDF in Germany continued to produce the kind of programming that had no secondary market. But these public television systems still had to attract advertisers via ratings, and ratings showed that viewers watched foreign drama. For example, the U.S. miniseries Roots (1977) and Holocaust (1978) were very successful in Europe. The BBC responded with its own drama series, such as Upstairs, Downstairs, that competed in the U.S. public market but not the commercial one.

Rogue television stations broadcasting from Monte Carlo or the English Channel also drew viewers from public systems by showing U.S. and other syndicated programs. When cable and satellite TV joined the rogues in the 1980s, the national systems partially capitulated in order to retain some control over their markets. France privatized the first channel (TF1) in 1987, and created a regional network (France3), a cable system (CanalPlus), and a private network (La Cinq, 40 percent owned by Italian Silvio Berlusconi). By 1990, the number of worldwide TV broadcasters had so expanded that the demand for programming was voracious. Televisions flickered in villages of the Andes and Mekong, while Japanese and Mexican homes kept on TVs in the kitchen from dawn until midnight. U.S. companies still controlled the most lucrative sector of worldwide syndication, but Indian musicals, Egyptian soap operas, Mexican telenovelas, and English Primier League soccer were also exported.

By 2002, the advent of high-quality, inexpensive videotape cameras and editing equipment, and satellite or UHF broadcasting systems, meant that a primitive TV station could be started in an underdeveloped nation for $500,000. Most African nations had their own broadcasting systems and produced some of their own programs. In Jamaica the most popular drama was the domestically produced Claffy, in Zimbabwe The Mukadota Family, in Nigeria Mirror in the Sun. Even war-ravaged Cambodia had three domestic channels and was producing a popular soap opera in Khmer.

This preference for cultural specificity and the multiplicity of channels posed a problem for U.S. television exporters during the recession of 2000–2003, when the Fox network introduced "reality" programming, a genre that was not highly exportable. In France, Germany, Japan, and elsewhere, domestic "star search" and "roommate" programs trounced imports. In most European nations, native-language programming dominated prime time, but in earlier and later periods syndicated shows of U.S. origin—from The Muppets and The Simpsons to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and NYPD Blue—supplied 20–50 percent of content. Culturally specific U.S. hits such as Seinfeld did not export as well. After 2000 Latin America used as much Mexican and Spanish programming as American, and Asian and African outlets mixed British and French shows with U.S. imports. Indian, Egyptian, and Mexican soap operas undercut the price of U.S. syndications and exploited a growing diasporic language market. China was a hot new market, with Fox, AOL Time Warner, and other content providers vying to establish footholds; however, the Mandarin/Cantonese language division and licenses restricting the broadcasts to southern development zones near Hong Kong and diplomatic enclaves around northern cities limited the access of non-Chinese broadcasters.

Fast Food and the Franchise System

The United States did not invent fast food. From Britain's fish and chips to Vienna's kartoflen, from Mexican tacos to Japanese sushi and taco-yaki, fast food has existed for centuries. What McDonald's founder Ray Kroc did was to apply the principles of "Fordism" to fast food. He developed a procedure for every work action, specifying exact times for frying, grilling, and toasting, and he demanded absolutely consistent ingredients, dictating even the amount of water in French fries. As even critics admit, McDonald's lowered the cost and increased the speed, consistency, sanitation, and friendliness of eating fast.

The export of U.S. fast food dates to 1967, when McDonald's opened a franchise in Canada on the U.S. drive-in model. A few years later, a similar franchise failed in Holland, where people did not drive to dine. When Kroc opened a McDonald's in Tokyo in 1971, he created an urban walk-in model so successful that, by 1995, McDonald's had 1,482 franchises in Japan (Watson, p. 3). By 2001, only half of the company's 30,000 stores were in the United States, and more than 50 percent of McDonald's $15 billion revenues and $1.64 billion profits came from overseas.

As striking as the systematization of eating was, the franchise and management systems accompanying it were more important. Franchising was a relatively new idea in the 1960s. By 2003, local franchisees owned 70 percent of McDonald's restaurants worldwide, including thousands of foreign locations. The parent company's revenues derive not so much from hamburgers as from its leasing arrangements and myriad internal taxes on ingredients, promotions, advertising, and sales, and from its huge real estate operations. These practices have been copied, sometimes by foreigners schooled at McDonald's own "Hamburger University," and today such brands as KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell—all owned by YUM! Brands Inc.—operate similarly. British-owned Burger King (11,330 shops in fifty-eight nations) even runs its own Hamburger University in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

By 2000, McDonald's faced native franchise competition in each of the 121 countries where it operated, including Flunch in France, Yoshinoya in Japan, and Russkoye Bistro in Russia. In response, McDonald's became more locally oriented, serving beer in Germany, pickled dishes in Latvia, vegetable McNuggets in India, espresso and cold pasta in Italy, and teriyaki burgers throughout Asia. It sponsored soccer teams, had music nights, and hosted religious groups. These adaptations, plus its child and family orientation (Playlands, birthday parties, Ronald McDonald), its reliable product, and sanitation, secured McDonald's reputation. Despite a long-running libel case in Britain, anti-globalization protests in France, and Muslim concerns in Asia, it was still at the top of the over twenty multinational fast-food franchisers. In 2002, however, McDonald's lost money for the first time, and the 2,000 shops in Japan were spun off as an autonomous Japanese corporation.

Other U.S. food franchisers copied McDonald's methods. In the 1990s, Starbucks, capitalizing on Americans' discovery of European coffee (its founder admitted deriving his model from Milanese cafés), followed the formula, even to starting its initial overseas coffee shops in Japan. By 2000, smaller American franchisers, from Big Boy to Dairy Queen and Schlotzky's Delicatessen, also franchised overseas. Thus, U.S. logos proliferated, perhaps deceptively. Mister Donut and 7-Eleven in Japan were actually Japanese companies. Many Holiday Inns abroad were British-owned, as were KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell.

While McDonald's and Starbucks succeeded, other fast-food franchisers failed overseas. Taco Bell bombed in Mexico, Wendy's stumbled in Japan, and bagel shops never got off the ground. The U.S. domestic market had splintered, becoming hypercompetitive and oriented to exotic tastes and novelty. "Foreign" logos, from Au Bon Pain to Yoshinoya, began to appear in the States. McDonald's had to close some shops and diversified into Aroma Café, Boston Market, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Donato's Pizza, and Prêt a Manger. As these names suggest, the "globalization" of fast foods and their franchising had become an American import, as well as an export, by 2003. As in television, the largest players in the world market set their sights on China. McDonald's had 500 shops there at the end of 2002, with plans to open 100 more each year—and, in many locations, Tricon was opening KFCs right across the street from each other—but both faced competition from much cheaper Chinese imitators.

Leisure Air Travel

Since the 1930s, when they bought rides in open-cockpit biplanes, Americans have flown for fun. Air travel developed into a leisure activity by 1940, long before it was a business necessity. The large domestic market gave U.S. aircraft makers economies of scale, while the government subsidized the passenger and cargo business with airmail contracts. Outside the United States, most airlines were government-owned; these national carriers were slow to recognize that travel to resorts, both at home and abroad, could be as important as capital-to-capital and diplomatic routes. Air France maintained unprofitable routes to Dakar and Abidjan, while American airlines packed planes to Disney World and Universal Studios. Eventually Frenchmen discovered that for the price of a French ticket they could fly to Disney World and then to Martinique on U.S. carriers. The U.S. travel industry offered low fares by seeking bids from multiple suppliers of everything, leasing airplanes through subsidiaries, convincing ambitious cities to build convenient airports, and grouping hotel rooms and rental cars in "packages," often with free theme park admissions.

Through their control of landing rights, however, European nations kept U.S. airlines largely out of their leisure travel markets until the 1960s. Then, as in television, "rogue" operators arose. Icelandic Air, with landing rights in Luxembourg, undercut most established transatlantic fares. First Europeans, then Asians, traveling in the States discovered how much cheaper airfares were, and they looked for similar savings at home. Meanwhile, some European entrepreneurs began to copy the U.S. "package vacation," often substituting a beach for a theme park. Lauda Air of Austria specialized in vacation charters to Mediterranean beaches. Hong Kong and Bangkok became centers of Asian package tours. In the 1980s, Britain broke from the European Economic Union to negotiate binationally with the United States on landing rights. In the 1990s, Virgin Atlantic (which also marketed music) and Ryan Air established themselves in the British/Irish market as low-cost carriers. After the terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001 and the SARS outbreaks in 2003, international air travel fell off considerably, but domestic leisure travel held up. In the tight market several airlines went bankrupt, but ticket prices stayed low, and several other European nations appeared ready to follow Britain in binational negotiations with the States.

Theme Parks

Like Starbucks, Disneyland had a European model. Walt Disney always said his inspiration for Disneyland (1955) was Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens. To the fantasy of his films he added, like Ray Kroc, systematization, cleanliness, and a child/family atmosphere. Disney was slower than Starbucks or McDonald's to expand overseas, but when he did he followed a known path: first Japan (Tokyo Disneyland, 1983), then Europe (Euro-Disney, 1992). As scholars have noted, both foreign parks respond more to foreign conceptions of the United States rather than to Disney's vision. Other theme park companies followed Disney abroad, but less successfully. Roller-coasteroriented Magic Mountain (1971), part of the Six Flags chain, has six smaller parks overseas. Universal Studios, which first offered back-lot tram tours of its Hollywood sets (1964), expanded to Orlando, Florida (1990), then to Barcelona, Spain (1994), Peking, China (1998), and Japan (2001). Its foreign parks have had mixed success, as the company passed from U.S. management to Japanese (Matsushita) and then French (Vivendi). Like Universal, Warner Brothers opened a theme park in Madrid in 2002 with rides based on its movies.

Foreign competition is stiff in the theme park business. In cultural cousin Britain, the largest parks are Blackpool Pleasure Beach, which offers free admission, and Alton Towers. Fuji Film runs the most successful chain (Fuji-Q High Land) in Japan, where the most popular new parks are urban onsen, blending the traditional countryside hot springs experience with shopping, massage, restaurants, and perhaps a ride or two. Meanwhile one foreign company has exported its theme parks to the States: Denmark's Lego opened Legolands in Orlando and California, as well as in Canada and Germany.


Even though golf dates to the 1400s, the U.S. Golf Association was not formed until 1895. But golf caught on so quickly that by 1900 New York and Massachusetts each had over 150 clubs. By 1970, golf was a multimillion-dollar-a-year U.S. business, with franchises, celebrity tournaments, TV coverage, clothing and fast-food tieins, and auto sponsors. American designers exported "Nicklaus" and "Palmer" branded golf courses to France, Germany, and Spain, as well as the Far East, where the Japanese embraced the sport with zeal. Before World War II there were only 23 courses in Japan, but by 2000 there were over 2,000 golf courses, with another 1,000 planned. Japanese investors, with considerable attention, bought the famed Pebble Beach course in the United States in 1990.

Japan also embraced baseball, introduced by American missionaries around 1900. However, the Japanese game developed slightly different rules and an entirely different ethos, which focused on teamwork. Baseball also became popular in Mexico and the Caribbean, which had become major sources of professional players for U.S. teams by 2000. The most globalized of American sports, however, was basketball, which the United States allowed its pros to play at the Los Angeles Olympics (1984). This decision stimulated nascent professional leagues from France, China, and Argentina, though basketball remained a minor sport in Europe when compared with soccer, skiing, and auto racing, and in Asia when compared with ping-pong, badminton, and cricket. U.S. football, despite a costly development league in Europe, remained a niche sport, whose failure demonstrates that sports are just as deeply local in nature as other cultural practices.


Englishman William Cobbett, visiting the United States in 1818, described the main male pastimes as drinking and hunting. "You cannot go into hardly [sic] any man's house, without being asked to drink wine, or spirits, even in the morning," he wrote (Cobbett, p. 197). Alexis de Tocqueville (1835–1940) explained that, since democracy tended to have a leveling effect, Americans would probably have to import leisure activities, especially literature.

Only after Victorian prosperity enabled Americans to lavish money on their free time did a critique of U.S. leisure values develop. Thorstein Veblen's The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) focused a Marxian lens on Americans' leisure use of time and goods. Theodore Adorno and the Frankfort Group (1930–1955) were disturbed by the growth of U.S. popular "culture industries," which they said stirred up dissatisfaction and "false needs" for capitalism to supply. Adorno believed that film in particular "dehumanized" viewers and that the "cultural industry" aimed at creating an all-encompassing "social delusion" (Adorno, pp. 63, 271). In his Prison Notebooks: 1929–37, Antonio Gramsci added to the Marxian critique a theory of cultural "hegemony." In the 1960s, Herbert Marcuse (One Dimensional Man) gave a more libidinally inflected leftist reading of American leisure.

In the 1970s, the term "multinational corporation" became common. Levinson and Barnett/Müller argued that new, large companies such as IBM were more powerful and different than those preceding them. Edward Said's Orientalism then gave structure to a theory of post-colonialism that, although it concerned high cultural representations of the Middle East, was widely construed as a demonstration of a broader U.S. "cultural imperialism." Emily Rosenberg argued that this imperialism had rolled on the rails of military and diplomatic power during the two world wars. Wagnleitner seconded Rosenberg's views, using archival data on the U.S. Marshall Plan in Austria, especially pertaining to film and music.

A turning point in the discussion came when John Tomlinson pointed out that the "hegemony" and "false consciousness" arguments of neo-Marxism ignored individual agency and amounted to "paternalist socialism" (Tomlinson). Nonetheless, black-and-white analyses held the stage into the mid-1990s, such as Benjamin Barber's Jihad vs. McWorld and George Ritzer's Expressing America. Anti-globalization foes rallied around Frederic Jameson and Duke University Press. In 1997, Richard Pells returned to Tomlinson's point and Wagnleitner's methodology, arguing not only that Europeans had never been colonized by U.S. popular culture, but that they had drastically transformed the parts of it they adopted.

Subsequent discussions were more nuanced. James L. Watson's collection on McDonald's in Asia generally showed that fast food had to be adapted before it was adopted. Phillip and Roger Bell's study of Americanization and Australia included several positive analyses of U.S. cultural exports. There was even a positive assessment of U.S. film's impact on German cinema (Gemunden). Journalist Thomas L. Friedman took a pro-globalism view, arguing that underdeveloped nations needed the "software" of American institutions as well as the "hardware" of investment. After violent anti-globalization protests in Seattle and Genoa aimed largely at the United States, World Bank, and IMF, Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt presented an abstruse extension of Gramsci's hegemony thesis in Empire. Yet to be explored were the reception of U.S. leisure products and activities abroad and "failure studies" (why foreigners will not buy U.S. autos and appliances, or why football has never caught on). Nor have there been studies of the effect of piracy and copyright violation, which are widespread, in undermining the market for U.S. products, or of how U.S. tax shelters and trade laws aided the growth of leisure exports.

See also: Commercialization of Children's Play, Commercialization of Leisure, Fast Food, Movies' Impact on Popular Leisure, Tourism, Professionalization of Sport


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William Marling

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Globalization of American Leisure

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Globalization of American Leisure