The concepts of cultural imperialism, globalization and cosmopolitanism construct the most popular and influential way of thinking about the world, especially in the field of media and communication. But are they only amazing theories existing in the Western academic works? Can they effectively explain the aspects of media outside the Anglo-American orbit? This essay will look into these concepts and examine their effectiveness of application in the context of media de-westernization. We will discuss the Chinese and Indian media issues in processes of globalization. These cases demonstrate that theories of cultural imperialism and cosmopolitanism actually give little insight into the prevailing situations in these two countries. The political and economical structure of the media accounts much better for the major features in the non-western media system.
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When Schiller developed the theory of cultural imperialism in 1970s, his major concern was to show how the US was developing imperialism control through the power of its mass media (Schiller, 1970). According to Schiller, the cultural imperialism is the processes that a society is brought into the modern world system. The stratum of this society is attracted, pressured, forced into shaping social institutions to correspond to or even promote the values and structures of the dominating centre of the system.
Schiller (1970) found out that “in the late 1960s, the international price of a half-hour episode of the US TV drama ranged from $4200 in the UK down to $22 in Kenya”(Schiller, 1970). Through setting the low prices, the US exported the programs to the international purchasers, especially those in developing countries who were willing to buy instead of spend thousands of dollars to produce media programs by themselves. But the long-term cost is that these local media producers were locked into the dependence on the US supply of program and got controlled in the broadcasting system. Furthermore, Schiller identified the factor of “US’s commercialization of media in the international arena”. “Without the international commercial broadcasting, there would be no outlets for advertising material. Without advertising material, there would be no markets for US cars, soft drinks, soap powder, and other commodities. Without markets for their products, US industries would experience a crisis of overproduction and the consequent depression and capitalism would re-enter the nightmare of the 1930s” (Sparks, 2007, pp.32-33). Thus, the exporting of American media products is central to the survival of its capitalism.
But does Schiller’s cultural imperialism paradigm account for the situations in non-western countries? To what extent does the US control the local media business and what are the psychological effects the US cultural products exert on the foreign audience?
The first obstacle that the cultural imperialism encounters is the power of social structure within the non-western societies. The owners of local media business are never willing to give up their power and control. Instead, the American media enterprises have to adapt to local cultures and collaborate with local partners for the expanding of business. Also, entering the foreign market requires the subjection to the legal environment of that country (Sparks, 2007).
One vivid example is provided by the activities of News Corporation in its efforts to enter the Chinese market. “In order to do so, News Corporation had not only abided by Chinese law, but also made compromises with the sensibilities of the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and dropped the BBC world news from Star TV because its reports of China were judged to be too critical.”(Page and Crawley, 2001,pp.72-73). Thus, the control of local media illustrated in the imperialism paradigm is usually over-exaggerated.
The second criticism that the imperialism paradigm encounters is from the active audience theory. In 1980s, the US drama Dallas embedded with American Values was popular all around the world. In Katz and Liebes’s research of Dallas’ influence in Israelis, they demonstrated that the audience in Israel with different ethnic background had quite different readings of the soap opera. They tended to align their own values and experiences with the interpretation of Dallas’s contents(Katz and Liebes, 1993). Thus, it is hard to say that the US media programs really created advertising effect for their commodities among the foreign audience. Furthermore, the active audience theory offers an effective explanation of the hybrid identities of the new migrations where cultural imperialism paradigm failed. The late twentieth century saw the vast global movements of populations from Asia, Latin America and Africa into Western Europe and North America. The new diasporas, according to Hall (1991), produced a whole new and hybrid cultural formation. Hall argus that these migrations “are not and will never be unified in the old sense, because they are irrevocably the products of several interlocking histories and cultures, belong at one and the same time to several homes”. For example, the Indian migrants in Britain could watch Bollywood movies through broadcasting satellite. The Chinese diasporas in the US could listen to the Peking Opera online. The de-westernization of media and culture show their evidence on these groups of diasporas.
2. Globalization and Media De-westernization
The 1990s saw a decline of cultural imperialism paradigm in the field of media and communication. According to Sparks (2007), “There is no question that the concept of globalization has replaced the imperialism theory as the main way of thinking about media.” The globalization paradigm doesn’t attempt to offer a single explanation for the dynamics of the media. In its view, one of the key characteristics of the contemporary media and communication is its complexity (Sparks, 2007).
However, there are interesting links between globalization and de-westernization in the field of media and communication. Certain features of globalization offer effective explanations to the media de-westernization phenomenon.
One claim in the globalization paradigm is that the powers of the contemporary state are reduced and the influences of supranational organization are growing. In the field of media and communication, the United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) plays an essential rule. The establishment of the New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO) intended to challenge the “free flow of information” led by the US which may cause the unbalanced media influence on the developing countries.
When the word “Glocalization” was invented, it implied the importance of local in the globalization paradigm. The pairing of the two offers a new understanding in the de-westernization media studies. For example, the research of Indian media business showed that “the dissemination of Indian cinema beyond India’s national borders mounts a small but significant challenge to the global hegemony of Hollywood” (Kasbekar, 2006). And the Indian people prefer their own films so much that the Hollywood ones can hardly make progress in this market. (Kohli, 2006). India is only one example of the existing media production centers outside the US. The others like Japan, France, Mexico are also strong broadcasters competing with the US both in the regional and international media markets. The multi-directional flow of global media products displays the “hybridity of contemporary cultural activity” (Lull, 2001).
Another essential phenomenon in the new era of globalization is the spread of technology’s utility in the field of media and communication. The media de-westernization online could be interpreted as the following: With the help of the internet, the active audience all around the world can choose the source of news, music, film, virtual communities according to their own tastes from the abundant online information. The internet, compared with the traditional media like TV, newspaper and radio, creates more interactive and active audience. The withering-away of state border, the disappearing of one single controlling power of media, the netizens’ creative consumption of media texts all demonstrate how the media de-westernization is taking place online.
3. Ideal or Reality? Cosmopolitanism in de-westernization media studies
Starting from the ancient Greek’s philosophical idea to the debates between Hegel and Kant in eighteenth century, until the present era of globalization, cosmopolitanism is both an idea of life as well as a description of social reality.
In Robert Fine’s book, the key features of cosmopolitanism are described as the respect for human rights and the declining of nation-state system (Fine, 2007). However, a close examination of the cosmopolitanism today reveals that it is an elite advocacy rooted in the western developed countries. “the ‘cosmopolitans’ who inhabit global culture are a relatively small number of people who are relatively influential, since they tend to be occupationally involved in intellectual and cultural niches. These people and the products they produce, dominate the international circulation of cultural commodities, notably feature films, and make a purely national audio-visual policy increasingly problematic” (Askoy and Robins, 1992).
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In Curran and Park’s De-westernizing Media studies, cosmopolitanism seems to be an ineffective analyzing tool when one looks at the reality of the non-western media (Curran and Park, 1999). In these developing countries, some of the worst human rights violators are nation-states. Moreover, it is difficult to see the erosion of state power in the media control in certain country. In China, the media has no autonomy and institutional separation from the state and it is a major method that the government applies surveillance over its people. The freedom of speech is still unachieved under the Communist Party’s authoritarian rule. The Party, through the Central Propaganda Department and its local branches at all levels, continues to control the content of the mass media in considerable detail (Brady, 2006). Although there is an increasing marketization in China’s media, “there is no clear and unequivocal evidence of ‘progress towards market reform’. There has certainly been a great deal of movement in this direction in China, but in both other cases large sections of the mass media do not follow market logic in any serious sense” (Sparks, 2008). And China’s dominant media contents in political communication remain to be anti-foreignness, culturalism and nationalism in the Chinese language of politics (Rawnsley and Rawnsley, 2006). Through the example of the media in China, one can easily see how cosmopolitanism fails to reflect the reality which delinks non-western media from globally hegemonic western media theories (Admin, 1990). A research by Duncan on media regulation in Pacific Asia shows that beside China, countries like Burma, Vietnam, Laos also have direct state control on media as propaganda tool of the ruling party. Countries like Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia exert licensing control of private media (Duncan, 2002). Certain assumptions can be made that under the strict control of the media in these countries, the local media emphasizes the national interests and ideology, cosmopolitanism is hard to become a state of mind for the local people.
Through this essay, the attempt to test the concepts of cultural imperialism and cosmopolitanism in the non-western media context demonstrates that these two paradigms could not work very well in explaining the ongoing de-westernization of media.
The major implications of the media de-westernization are summarized as following:
Western-generated media theories and models such as cultural imperialism paradigm and cosmopolitanism do not reflect the reality of how the media operates in non-western societies.
Globalization could be better understood when we look into the media experiences outside Anglo-American orbit.
The complexity of the contemporary media research requires the careful scrutiny of the power structure of certain society, the audience response, the economic and political systems’ influence on the media in the globalization context.
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