Consider Walter LaFeber’s argument in Michael Jordan and the New Global Capitalism that the power of American culture and capital and the commitment to making money in the global economy have...

Consider Walter LaFeber’s argument in Michael Jordan and the New Global Capitalism that the power of American culture and capital and the commitment to making money in the global economy have ultimately produced a world market society in which making money supersedes everything else. Placing LaFeber’s argument within the context of US history since 1945, help me to answer the following:

In the post-World War II era, America experienced an economic boom that helped shape the modern image of the “American Dream” and that also forced Americans to reconsider the exclusionary traits of the American System (class/race/gender). How has globalization and what LaFeber terms “the battle between capital and culture” (or capitalism and democracy) shaped, reshaped, reinforced or challenged the “American Dream” (class definition) and the “American System” -- naturally exclusionary and unequal--since 1945?


Expert Answers
kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The main reason this question is so complicated is that it is exceedingly nonsensical. Walter LaFeber has, for many years, represented a left-leaning, revisionist school of thought that meticulously (and, occasionally, successfully) advanced the notion that the emergence of the United States as a major force in world affairs has led to the demise of every foreign culture the United States has touched. As with many critics of globalization, he views the spread of American culture through a neo-imperialist prism. The United States, unlike the great empires of the past, especially the British, does not need to physically occupy foreign nations; it gradually, somewhat imperceptibly, comes to dominate foreign nations through its economic and cultural dominance. 

Whereas LaFeber's work has traditionally focused on foreign policy and, specifically, the history of U.S. foreign policy, Michael Jordan and the New Global Capitalism cpnsiders the more subtle, if equally effective, form of the new imperialism represented by the spread of American culture to the rest of the world. To make his case, LaFeber focuses on the emergence of Michael Jordan as an international phenomenon and the marketing of his persona by Nike for the express purpose of making lots and lots of money. LaFeber also, however, critiques the role of Michael Jordan, Nike (in the person of its founder, Phil Knight) and the advertising industry in subverting our own values and culture. He does this by describing the way in which Jordan's popularity advanced the cause of the sport at which he excelled, basketball, and how the exorbitant cost of Nike's "Air Jordan" basketball shoes corrupted values among those who could least afford to be influenced by their hero, inner-city youth. 

It is in his chapter titled "New Frontiers and Inner Cities" that LaFeber focused the most on the impact of Jordan/Nike/Wall Street's marketing campaign on the most impressionable population. Quoting a 19th century sociologist, LaFeber advances the argument, still heard today, that professional sports have exploited African Americans and controlled their destinies while those of European heritage continue to profit from their labor. "Emphasizing this message," LaFeber concludes, "might sell fewer Air Jordans." Jordan had captured the imaginations of millions of youths, not just in the United States, but around the world, and that popularity was exploited for the profit of a few, mostly white businessmen. 

Michael Jordan's skills as an athlete were considered transcendent. That is probably not an exaggeration. His influence on notions of the "American dream," however, did not, LaFeber suggests, work to the benefit of those sectors of American society at the greatest disadvantage socioeconomically. Those millions of youths mesmerized by Jordan's skills, expertly captured and conveyed in television advertisements that emphasized his ability to leap across the length of the basketball court key (an ability that garnered Jordan the nickname "His Airness") not only convinced them to spend what little money they had on overpriced shoes, but convinced them that professional sports, particularly basketball, was the surest path to the American dream -- despite the fact that only the tiniest fraction of the most gifted athletes succeed in professional sports. 

If LaFeber advances a questionable proposition regarding the nefarious influence of American culture on the rest of the world, his arguments regarding the influence of Michael Jordan and Nike on American culture merits consideration. Anybody around during Jordan's heyday with the Chicago Bulls is very familiar with the effect of Nike's marketing and Jordan's popularity on inner-city culture. The shoes were so expensive and so coveted by inner city youth that beatings and killings over those items were common occurrences. In this regard, LaFeber's argument is sound. It was, again, the most socially  and economically disadvantaged who were most victimized by Jordan's and Nike's influence.