Globalisation and Cultural Imperialism Essay
It was Marshall McLuhan who visualized way back in 1964, the concept of Global village (Branston and Stafford, 2004), while talking about the advances in electronic media. He was all praise for the electronic media having the ability to decrease the time and space gaps. This concept got a boost once the process of liberalization (i.e. opening up of economy) and globalization became the all important symbols of development. Developments in media and IT technologies have brought in a fundamental change in the way we communicate now. Satellite communication, Direct-to-Home (DTH), Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT), Digital Video Broadcasts (DVB), Internet, Broadband, Webcasting, Online Chat etc. have all brought in the world closer to our living room. All these technologies have made it possible to pass on the influences of different cultures on each other. A Globalization index report (2006) prepared by A. T. Kearney Inc. states that, ‘It’s a small world, and globalization is making it smaller, even in the face of conflict and chaos.’ The report points out the newest boundary of Globalization as BRIC, an acronym for Brazil, Russia, India, and China. This report spells out the prediction that, ‘if things go right than in less than 40 years, the BRIC economies together could even exceed even the economies of G6 nations (Group of Six, a group of industrialized nations; France, Germany, United States, Japan, United Kingdom, Italy). Creating an atmosphere for such a declaration, comparing the macro and micro economic factors, associating all such factors and studying these vast economies within a limited period of time could become possible because globalization has made communication technology much simpler. The rapid pace at which media landscape is being transformed, is the result of coming together of telecommunication, computing, microelectronics and broadcasting – termed as Information Technology. This type of working together basically believes in a borderless world full of airwaves with global circulation of ideas, ideologies, keywords, values etc. (Branston and Stafford, 2004). Rothkop (1997) says that globalization got the wings of fire mainly through economic reasons. The economy in turn affects the political as well as cultural spectrum of the nations. The power of culture has the ability to bind or to divide in a time when international relations issues feel the tension between integration and separation. Rajagopal (2004) says that Globalization helps in bringing together previously separate elements in new ways, but with unknown consequences, which entails new risks.
In fact, WTO (World Trade Organization) is also a final climactic stage of the perception and belief that influence of economics is growing in deciding global affairs and there has to be a government which keeps protecting the financial aspects of companies. Analysts have argued that “cultural imperialism” thesis took shape after the economic supremacy and expansion during and after the Cold War. The ending of ‘one-man rule’ type government in the former Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites states in the early 1990s provided added attractions for liberal democratic systems and market economies in politically closed and command economy-style societies. This brought in the moves for liberalization of media, through Glasnost and Perestroika in the former USSR, followed by media globalization. The developing world has started feeling the social implications of media globalization, in the form of cultural clashes (Rampal, 2007). Major shifts and developments in the international markets and MNCs, communication and media technologies and the consequent systems of production and intake have led to the growth of a global culture. The power of media in carrying out the ‘intended’ message and blatantly manipulating the media to serve the purpose is being used by MNCs and countries in equal measure. One case in example is, the ongoing missions in Iraq and Afghanistan are being termed as ‘war against terror’ by the governments and media of US, UK, Germany, France etc. While this very war is being termed as ‘war against humanity’ and war against Islam by the media in the Arab world. The longer the war goes on, the western media’s job will keep becoming more and more difficult. Halliburton Energy Service, the US Company having got the majority of the contracts for reconstruction in Iraq is being hailed as a pioneering company by a section of the media, while another section terms it as another attempt by the imperialist forces led by US to bring down the reign of a nation with the help of an MNC.
The concentration of most of the MNCs within US cities, gives it a unique advantage in dictating the terms. Global media and communication have proved to be just tools in advancing the armies of global capitalism. John Tomlison (1999) represents the thesis of “cultural globalization” considering the diffusion of American popular culture an inseparable part of the process of globalization. Tomlison further explained the process in terms of complex process of integration and differentiation involving ‘all sorts of contradictions, resistances and countervailing forces.’ Biggins (2004) also cites the cultural dependency theory of Mohammadi as a factor in the influence of the Western culture in the developing world. He quotes Mohammadi as follows:
The continuance of Western dominance over Third World nations was based partly on advanced technologies, including communication technologies. But it was also based on an ideology, accepted in many parts of the Third World, that there was only one path to economic development, which was to imitate the process of development of Western industrial capitalist societies. Cultural imperialism or cultural dependency occurs with the Western countries’ influence on the language, values and attitudes, including religion, ways of organizing public life, styles of politics, forms of education, and professional training, clothing styles, and many other cultural habits. It creates a new kind of model of supremacy called neocolonialism which has sparked new kinds of struggles to eradicate this enduring cultural influence in the Third World (Biggins, 2004).
Globalization in general is known to have a two way influence, while it certainly leaves an impact on culture; the culture too tries to influence the finer implementation of globalization. For example, China has a huge market, a booming economy and yet the globalization has not penetrated deep into the country even after its admittance to WTO authority. One good reason, for this slow pace of spread, is the shielding that the Chinese culture and economy has received from its rulers, despite the objections and criticism from the western world. Often this dilemma comes to surface when governments and leaders try to reason out that markets should be integrated, but the core values of the society need to be preserved and enhanced. This further places the masses in a difficult position. There are more and less differing versions of this impossible project, but we can reasonably say that the US is at the centre of the issue (Rajagopal, 2004). Use of mass communication media in propagating a different kind of living style, cultural values can be understood by the manner in which the music industry has progressed over the years. While rock ‘n’ roll was considered an opportunity towards the expansion and technological development of the entertainment industry, it also led to use of foreign music by a generation as a means to distance themselves from a parental ‘national’ culture (Laing, 1986).
Advocators of globalization argue that, as a result of crossing boundaries, the media gets a global audience, thus allowing the local media to explore the opportunities in the global market. Theoretically this appears to be a perfect proposition. But it is equally true that in this era of globalization, increasing competition means more and more use of marketing communication techniques. Spending huge amounts on promotion and advertising is not practically not possible for smaller media organizations, as compared with the likes of media baron Rupert Murdoch in US and some other developed nations. Developing countries, even if, with a relevant content and better stuff cannot propagate their content in the markets of USA, UK etc. On the other hand, all grade Hollywood movies are sure to make an entry into the farthest corners of developing world. This results in gradual propagation of an ideology, fashion trends, social norms etc. into the markets and societies of the developing nations. But, the resources crunch, the social norms, and a range of other factors also try to resist this attack, which ultimately leads to a confrontation and division amongst the society. MNCs and imperialist forces take maximum advantage out of this situation. The extent of imperialism keeps growing as the society’s dependency keeps increasing on the content and product of the big league. Great Britain once ruled many parts of the world. It started off the campaign with British companies taking a lead in setting up business establishments in different parts of the world. It appears this role has been taken up by the media now. Rajagopal (2004) states that markets, media and techniques of violence are the worm-holes of the late imperial formation of today. He further points out to the belief in general about the policies of US and its preference for dictatorships governments overseas though its own form of government is democratic. There have been examples like the coming up of the Frankfurt School in response to the programmes and messages on radio and film from the advocators of German Fascism. This led to the development of a version of Marxism called critical theory, thus emphasizing the power of corporate capitalism in owning and controlling new media, leading to restriction and controlling the cultural life, as the eagerness for innovation and originality dies down. Some analysts attribute similar effect of media and the imperialist forces on the growing cult for violence and terrorist related activities. Growing influence of MNCs in political affairs, raising the bar of acceptance of money-power in political matters is further deteriorating the political system all around the globe. It is these kinds of behavior which lead to the belief that Globalization of media is pointer towards the imperialistic designs of such forces.
A. T. Kearney and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2006, Globalization Index, available at http://www.globalpolicy.org/globaliz/econ/2006/11globindex.pdf (Feb 18, 2007)
Biggins, Ousa, 2004. “Cultural Imperialism and Thai Women’s Portrayals on Mass Media,” a paper presented at the International Conference on Revisiting Globalization & Communication in the 2000s. August 5-6, 2004. Bangkok, Thailand.
Branston G. and R Stafford, 2004. “The Media Student’s Book”, London: Routledge
Laing, Dave, 1986. The music industry and the “cultural imperialism” thesis’, Media, Culture and Society 8(3).
Rothkop, David, 1997. In Praise of Cultural Imperialism? Effects of Globalization on Culture, available online at http://www.globalpolicy.org/globaliz/cultural/globcult.htm (Feb 18, 2007)
Rajagopal, Arvind, 2004. America and Its Others: Cosmopolitan Terror as Globalization? interventions Vol. 6(3) 317-329, Taylor & Francis Ltd
Rampal, Kuldip, 2007, Cultural Imperialism or Economic Necessity?: The Hollywood Factor in the Reshaping of the Asian Film Industry, available online at http://www.razonypalabra.org.mx/anteriores/n43/krampal.html (Feb 20, 2007)
Tomlinson, John, 1999. Globalization and Culture. The University of Chicago Press.