USA's media imperialism
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American Cultural Imperialism & Media Globalisation:

'A ship arrived from London, and here is the news it brought' (Giddens, A. Modernity and Self - Identity, Polity Press:1991) Before there was anything we can call media or press the only source of news were travellers, and the news took days if not weeks and months to arrive from far away. Today we're not only receiving the word almost immediately, but there are also possibilities for live pictures and sound giving a feeling of presence almost virtually wherever it happens on the planet. The earlier seemingly logical relationship between space and time is moving apart, and distance is no longer an obstacle resulting in the world seeming smaller. I mention news as this is one of the main aspects contributing to the globalisation of media, and therefore also the main contributor to globalisation by media. Other formats from the television and film industry, however, are also playing a role in this development working towards a 'free flow' of information and influence, bringing the cultures and nations of the world closer together. Still, this development is not seen as merely positive, as there are indicators pointing in the direction of cultural imperialism and possible identity crises due to what theorists call a homogenisation of culture also resulting from the media impact on globalisation. In this essay I will be looking into these factors of impact media has on the globalising process.

'The internationalisation of television news, while unquestionably a crucial aspect of the processes generally lumped together as 'globalisation', seems paradoxically to be the least well examined, yet most alluded to, aspect of the globalisation phenomena.' (Paterson, C. Global television news services, Media in Global Context: A Reader, Oxford University Press:1997, p.145)

As Paterson points out in his article, few people actually seem to know that most television broadcasters buy international news from transnational news agencies like Rauters, Worldwide Television News and Associated Press Television. There are a few others, but the mentioned are the once with the most impact on the international news flow at the moment. This is also the very reason for theorists critique of these services - the small number of them. Or as Paterson puts it: '...since television is the major force in shaping how Europe and America see the world, and is becoming so in the rest of the industrialised world and much of the developing world, then the images selected by these few television journalists of similar training and background, are absolutely crucial determinants of how people world-wide perceiver other nations and global issues.'

Some news broadcasters do themselves try to discover and gather news as well as subscribing to these services, like for example CNN. But yet again we are talking about a western news corporation, and even though there are other representing the east (Arabvision and Asiavision), they do not have a great impact on the big international news flow. In the case of developing nations the involvement in forming how they are perceived are practically zero. 'Unable to control their external image, developing nations had even less control over other people's representations of them.' (Boyd-Barrett, O. Global new wholesales as agents of globalisation, Media in Global Context: A Reader, Oxford University Press:1997, p.141) As these arguments show the power of western news conglomerates is potentially enormous, which of course generates concern. Some of these major news corporations are more closely allied with Rupert Murdoch, and 'Rupert Murdoch is widely believed to have used his print and broadcast news holding in Britain to bolster Thatcher and Thatcherism' (Bagdikian:1989, found in Paterson, C. Global television news services, Media in Global Context: A Reader, Oxford University Press:1997 p.154)

Commercialisation gives further reason for concern about international news. The 'tabloidization' regarding printed media, and 'infotainment' in television, as Paterson points out, is principally a process of 'dumbening' down news, and putting emphases on news concerning sports and stars etc. which may perhaps have further impact on peoples political perception (or maybe lack of it). This trend rises questions about consumerism in the west, and what impact this may have on a global scale. But why is it happening and with such 'success'? David Morley speaks of analysis done by Graham Martin and Raymond Williams regarding people with a lack of or low interest for political news, and for whom news about 'starts' or 'personalities' work as a sort of 'surrogate' sense of connection to the wider world. This may be due to, he argues referring to Brian Groombridge (1972), a feeling of powerlessness because of a lack of opportunity to act upon information they get in a media-rich environment. (Morley, D. Finding out about the World from Television News, Television and common Knowledge, Routledge:1999, p.137) This may well be the reason for the success of this trend of news in America, but is such news contributing to a positive globalisation or rather signs of western cultural imperialism?

'...cultural imperialism is understood in the terms of the imposition of one national culture upon another and the media are seen as central to this process as carriers of cultural meanings which penetrate and dominate the culture of the subordinate nation.' (Barker, C. Global television, Blackwell Publishers: 1997 p.183)

Not only in news media is this trend of American input visible. Barker refers to analysis done by Dorfman and Mattelart (1975) aiming to locate 'the values within the Disney universe and to demonstrate the ideological assumption which serve American imperialism by persuading people that the 'American way' is the 'best way''. Also when looking at post Vietnam war Hollywood films we can see a '... almost total absence of anything other then caricature representations of the Vietnamese themselves...' (Morely, D & Robins, K. Spaces of Identity, Routledge: 1995, p.93). This can be read as an attempt to trivialise the Vietnam war showing the Vietnamese population as non-civilised, making the war seem more acceptable for possible opponents of this view. Morley and Robins also refer to a quote in Herbert Schiller's work from the Director of the Pentagon's 'Information Processing and Techniques Office: "The nation that dominates this information processing filed will possess the key to world leadership in the twenty-first century". This is showing that American officials do not deny that they are attempting to do these things, and in fact this is a part of their strategy. USA is by far the largest exporter of television programs. In the case of news their strategy seem to be working, as 'these agencies clearly shape the international political agenda by the way in which they define values'. As well, 'transnational corporations are increasingly concerned (and increasingly able) to override national government policies, to the extent, perhaps, of posing a threat to the very sovereignty of individual nations'. (Morley, D & Robins, K: p.223) This is potentially giving media an even more increased power, and seemingly, perhaps, giving abilities to override governments. The critiques of the cultural imperialism thesis mainly point out that an audience will be influenced by their local circumstances giving ground for cultural resistance as Morley points out, but as he also highlights, this should not suggest to us that cultural power does not exist.

'...a central stand of the cultural imperialism thesis stresses the homogenisation of global culture through the spread of capitalist consumerism for which global television is one vehicle' (Barker, C. Global television, Blackwell Publishers: 1997 p.185)

Capitalist 'generalist' media will always try to reach the majority as the size of audience determine income and therefore their success. The question about the homogenisation theory concerns itself with the breaking down the diversity in society, and undermining minorities in particular 'in those situations in which the concerned community is a minority submitted to the decisions of a majority and surrounded by 'generalist' media whose message are conceived for that majority'. (Dayan, D. Media and Diasporas, Television and common Knowledge, Routledge:1999 p.20) Questions of identity comes to mind in such 'conflicts', and identity is a concept presumed everyone have just as self evidently as age and gender. It is common to associate this with where one is from geographically letting that give grounds for placement in a social group, but what about nomads or immigrants? Another way of identity placement is religion, but what in the case of non-religious people? Who we are seem to have a retrospective view of our history, and thereby memory becomes an important aspect in identifying ourselves. 'The 'memory banks' of our times are in some part built out of the materials supplied by the film and television industries' (Morely, D & Robins, K. Spaces of Identity, Routledge: 1995 p.90)

However, the homogenisation thesis assumes as mentioned earlier that media has a almost hypodermic influence on people, ignoring the influence of local circumstances. In the same way but opposite the immigrants may probably be influence by the local circumstances, but does still have their own history/memory resulting in a sort of hybrid identity or culture. This might perhaps be reason enough to argue due to the American cultural imperialism, that most of the world is developing a hybrid culture with America. In Dayan's article he points out Arjun Appadurai and Carole Breckenridge who 'stress that transnational flows are much less homogenising the was previously believed'. He also asks if the effects of the so called homogenisation is so undesirable as 'the maintenance of diversity may involve a rejection of universalism'. Question is if he means by 'unversalism' a universal acceptance of capitalistic American values. However, Joseph D. Straubhaar points to work by Robertson. R (1995) who asserts that '...most of the cultures we now think of as national or local have been touched and often partially shaped over the centuries by contact with other cultures at 'national' regional and global levels'. (Straubhaar, J.D. Destinguishing the global, regional and national levels of world television, Media in Global Context: A Reader, Oxford University Press: 1997, p.295) It seem to be more of a question of 'whose voice, representation, or stories make it to mainstream media and whose do not'. (Boyd-Barrett, O. Global news wohlesalers as agents of globalisation, Media in Global Context: A Reader, Oxford University Press: 1997, p.142)

In conclusion media have speeded up the connection between cultures and thereby started to erase the boundaries of space, and even more profound boundaries of nations and government ensuring free flow of information and influence. The fact that America arguably is in the centre of this development rises concerns about which influences and the voice of whom we are hearing. The homogenisation thesis involved, as posed by many theorists, is both seen as an advantage and a reason for concern. This concern perhaps mainly because of the threat of American cultural imperialism and a consequent loss of diversity, and the possible immense power of position for whom leads this trend because of what seems to be an ability to override governments. The capitalistic nature of media prevents any revolt against the almost monopolistic position the western world has on globalisation via media, and there seem to be no authority that can intervene in this process preventing a monopoly. So however romantic the idea of cultures being brought closer together is, there are also power struggles and the possibility to exploit this development, which American officials openly admit to be attempting.

  • Annabelle Sreberny-Mohammadi, Dwayne Winseck, Jim McKenna & Oliver Boyd-Barrett, Media in Global Context: A Reader, Oxford University Press: 1997

  • Barker, C. Global Television: An introduction, Blackwell Publishers: 1997

  • Morley, D & Robins, K. Spaces of Identity, Routledge: 1995

  • Gripsrud, J. Television and Common Knowledge, Routledge: 1999

  • Giddens, A. Modernity and Self-Identity, Polity Press: 1991
  • Michael Flack