In a world increasingly dominated by mass tourism, social media, and Artificial Intelligence, the concept of “culture” has become more artificial, superficial, and generic than ever. In their article titled “How to Avoid the Commodification of Culture: a Challenge of Authenticity” and published by The Choice, ESCP Professors Justin Byrne and Marc Oberhauser delve into the commodification of culture, drawing inspiration from the film “The Spectacle of Culture“, produced by a group of Madrid BSc students.
The Spectacle of Education: When an Assignment Becomes a Lesson
Created within the context of their second-year intercultural skills course, the film crafted by Leo Casares (Director), Ludovica Marocchesi Marzi, Nicolas Moingeon, and Alessandro Monte is a docudrama that questions and challenges the assignment itself, the programme, ESCP, and contemporary capitalism, while underscoring the growing tension between the desire for international travel and the pursuit of genuine experiences.
The Spectacle of Culture, winner of the Jury’s Choice Award at ESCP’s cross-campus Intercultural FilmFest, serves as a powerful reminder that culture has been commercialized and diluted to cater to the demands of modern society.
The film captures the essence of the problem by following a family of tourists in Madrid, excitedly exploring an artificial recreation of the city’s cultural highlights. It portrays a world where authenticity is sacrificed for convenience and entertainment, raising critical questions about the state of culture today.
The Trap of Commodification: How to Avoid the “Culture-washing”
To address this challenge, the article suggests three ways to avoid the commodification of culture:
- Facilitate meaningful cultural exchange: Instead of offering superficial or commodified versions of culture, prioritize genuine cultural exchange. Encourage interactions between tourists, international students, and local communities, fostering an environment where diverse perspectives are valued and celebrated. Platforms like Airbnb, Eatwith, and Workaway are great examples of organizations that promote authentic cultural experiences.
- Leverage authenticity in branding and marketing strategies: Organizations should recognize the significance of authenticity, particularly for younger generations, and incorporate these values into their branding and marketing strategies. Transparency, genuine experiences, and real stories should be the focus, avoiding exaggerated claims or cultural appropriation. The failed example of Pepsi’s “Pepsi and Refresh Project” serves as a reminder that authenticity cannot be manufactured.
- Embrace personalization and customization: Embracing personalization and customization allows organizations to cater to individual preferences and needs. Leveraging AI and technological advancements can provide tailored products, services, and experiences that resonate with the cultural backgrounds, values, and identities of customers. Copal.ai is highlighted as an example of a company that uses AI to provide individualized, real-time translation services.
The article also stresses the importance of avoiding “culture-washing,” where cultural elements are commodified or misused for deceptive purposes. Engaging in such practices can have detrimental effects on an organization’s reputation, leading to a loss of trust, credibility, and authenticity among consumers.
From Commercialization to Authenticity
In a world where culture has become a commodity, preserving its authenticity is a challenge that demands our attention. As educators, businesses, and individuals, we must recognize its value beyond its commercial aspects. By following the strategies outlined in this article, we can celebrate culture with authenticity and respect, ensuring its vitality for generations to come.
“The Spectacle of Culture” and the article by Justin Byrne and Marc Oberhauser have provided us with an insightful perspective on the commodification issue. It is now our responsibility, particularly within the ESCP community and, more specifically, in the Bachelor in Management (BSc) programme, to wholeheartedly embrace these invaluable lessons.
ESCP places a strong emphasis on fostering ethical business and leadership values. As such, it is imperative for our students to contemplate every interaction point between business and the broader world, ensuring they are equipped to make thoughtful and ethically sound business decisions when the time comes for them to do so. Together, let us endeavor to create a world where culture flourishes with authenticity, liberated from the constraints of commercialization.
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