Globalisation

16th February 2001 at 00:00
Culture.cd: Worldaware pound;30 single copy, pound;200 for 10 copies and one teacher's manual. Worldaware, 31-35 Kirby Street, London EC1N 8TE.

Broadly, there are two perspectives on globalisation. The optimistic view holds that closer integration of the world economy brings advantages for wealthy and poor nations. The pessimists see only the exploitation and misery that comes from a profiteering, injurious alliance between western governments and multinational corporations.

Culture.cd introduces students to both points of view, though with mixed results. In its exploration of seven themes - music, sport, fashion, lifestyle, food, television and tourism - the program uses text, still and moving pictures, cartoons and sound to illustrate and examine some of the more unusual ways in which cultures interact and affect one another.

Occasionally, this is done very well. Students will enjoy video clips that show the reaction of Dutch tourists to poverty in India, and archive film of the civilising efforts of missionaries in New Guinea are amusing and thought-provoking. Equally, the scene from the film Pulp Fiction where Jules and Vincent chew over the French name for a McDonald's Big Mac leads to an instructive and well-illustrated examination of the culinry legacies of conquest and colonialism. And there's a spot of interesting fun in an exploration of changing fashions in which users place a mole on a female face to learn the positions where it was once considered "brazen", "gallant" or "light-hearted".

Too much else, though, is superficial, clumsy or technically wanting. The section on the influence of American soap operas in contemporary Africa fails to make the elementary point that western soaps, sold to undeveloped countries at knock-down prices, frequently devalue relatively unpolished local equivalents.

The survey of sport features cartoons so primitive that students will wonder why they are there. On top of a very unattractive, teletext-type presentation, the brevity of the section on media violence makes it virtually pointless.

Finally, navigation is poor: the need always to return to the opening screen to change from one main topic to another soon becomes a nuisance. Add to this the inability to copy, cut and paste or print from any on-screen text and the result is a program with a few good features that cannot hide an unsatisfactory whole. The press release that came with the program describes it as "eclectic". Alas, "muddled" is nearer the mark.

Laurence Alster


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