Building a Theory of American Cultural Insularity in the Center (ACIC)

A snapshot of the Top 10 Weekly Streamed Songs on Spotify for the week of Sept. 10, 2020 shows that all 10 songs in the United States are in English. In Germany, three of the top 10 songs are sung in English. This comparative snapshot repeats itself repeatedly, with American Spotify charts rarely seeing songs sung in languages other than English break into the Top 10, except for, occasionally, songs sung in Spanish or hybrid English-Spanish songs. German-language, or Japanese-language, or French-language songs, etc. never make their way into the American Spotify Top 10, in large part due to American Cultural Insularity (ACIC) in the center.

American Cultural Insularity in the Center (ACIC) describes a tendency among American cultural consumers, especially those who hail from dominant and also mostly English-monolingual groups, to consume Anglo-American cultural products over “other” cultural products, sometimes to the apparent near exclusion of non-Anglo-American cultural products. This tendency is particularly apparent in terms of “language-heavy” objects such as popular music.

Broadly speaking, according to the ACIC model, American cultural consumers are more likely than consumers in any other national context to exhibit the greatest levels of cultural self-orientation, especially toward language intensive cultural products. ACIC focuses on the unique cultural situation of Americans, especially that of Americans who are essentially monolingual in English. It also seeks to theorize beyond the U.S. to consumers situated in national contexts farther from the center whose cultural consumption patterns often tend to orient more toward the center than toward products produced in, and coming from, less culturally and less linguistically central countries, for example, from China or Russia.

The primary impetus behind the ACIC, and, more generally, Cultural Insularity in the Center (CIC) models is the belief that not enough emphasis is being placed on the unique situation of American consumers vis-à-vis a global cultural and linguistic configuration of power often dominated by Anglo-American cultural products (Kuisel, 2003; Ritzer & Stilman, 2003) and Anglo-American English (Crystal, 2001; Phillipson, 2008). Indeed, as Cleveland et. al (2016) have noted, a clear inward pointing cultural consumption orientation among large numbers of Americans has remained mostly under-explored and under-interrogated among social scientific researchers.

Generally lost in the debate within international communication and global media and cultural studies surrounding whether cultural producers in countries such as the U.S. or cultural consumers in less central cultural hold more power are the ways in which consumers in the U.S. tend to be located very differently vis-à-vis “global culture” and global cultural flows. American consumers’ situation is a direct result of American cultural products’ comparative, and continuing, global domination (Crane, 2016; Moody, 2017; Nayan & Natividad, 2017; Wise, 2010) which is also frequently intricately bound up with global Anglo-American linguistic hegemony (Mirrlees, 2013; Phillipson, 2008). This creates for Anglo-American consumers a clear and pronounced cultural insularity in the center. Within the U.S., this insularity is likely to be most pronounced among Americans who embody dominant cultural and linguistic status, meaning, in particular, among white middle class English-language monolinguals. Continue reading “Building a Theory of American Cultural Insularity in the Center (ACIC)”