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The Influence of English Mass Culture on Estonia

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The Growing Influence of English Mass Culture

This article considers the influence of English mass culture on Estonia. How these issues

affect Estonia, a small Baltic country, leads to a discourse on our cultural identity, and to a specific look

at the effects of American mass culture.

In any discussion of English (or “Western”) ideas of culture and consumerism in young

peoples’ eyes, we need to focus on several issues: computer software as a carrier of Western culture and

the connection between – and universal language of – Hollywood and American mass culture. It is my

contention that computer software design is deeply influenced by American and Western culture, and

therefore reflects its values and priorities. These very same values are “downloaded” into cultures all

around the world, embodied in the Microsoft Office suite.

I believe that a language is an integral part of culture, and vice versa, so one cannot separate

them without some clear effects. Language expresses, embodies, and symbolizes cultural reality: people

view their language as a symbol of their social identity, and this is an especially poignant point for a

country like Estonia, force-fed a diet of Russian language and culture for so many years. It is interesting

how Estonians identify with their language and its uniqueness, and why we often fret about the loss of

our cultural identity We crave and loathe the same things at the same time: Wanting to be more

“Western” in our lifestyles, while retaining our “Estonian” character in our languages and attitudes.

Estonia is greatly influenced by English mass culture and it is definitely the youth of today who are

being exploited by it. We drink Coca Cola, wear blue jeans, watch Hollywood movies, listen to

American music, use Microsoft software, and eat fast food. We do all these things daily. When you visit

schools in Estonia, you will find students listening to music on their CD players: it is mostly American

pop music from singers like Britney Spears, Christina Aquilera, Ricky Martin, Ciara and Eminem.

Everywhere you go in this small country, which used to be behind the Iron Curtain, everyone knows

about Madonna, Michael Jackson, Louis Armstrong and other icons of American music.

Another field where the influence of English mass culture has been felt is fashion. Young

people especially like American fashions. If you visit Tallinn, you can see many young students wearing

the same brands – 96 New York jeans, Guess, Prada – that you might see in Texas or Tennessee. Is it in

Kohtla-Järve or Kansas that you might hear a teenaged boy saying, “Look, I'm wearing a Tommy shirt

and Polo pants?” ‘Viru Keskus’, the "American style" shopping mall in Estonia, has become very

popular among young people as they may buy there any global brand. I assume that this is a ‘Western’

idea: to make young people believe that brands stand for something special, and convince them that they

also will become special if they buy and wear a product that carries a certain name. Many young people

define themselves less by their social class or ethnic origin than by their personal brand set: the jeans

they wear and the labels on their clothes. They try to imitate the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Young

people feel that they are on the way to pursue an American Dream if they have prestigious and costly

products, and hope to establish their social position through them. Yet, others think that the brands are

the evil of a consumer society, enriching their corporate owners by exploiting people’s insecurities and

desires; the brands represent a triumph of consumerism over human values. The older generation

assumes that our nation of workaholics has become a nation of ‘shopaholics.’ Nowadays, more and

more Estonian families, like many American ones, find themselves struggling to pay off their credit card

debt, a modern convenience which helps people buy anything, even the things they cannot really afford.