“Cultural imperialism” to understand globalization of Western media organizations

History is a constant ebb and flow of advances and setbacks, hence, society makes the same mistakes but in an insightful way, therefore stages of imperialism by the West continue to take place. Unfortunately, in the history of mankind, there are many atrocities, violence, and deaths for the purpose of domination. Nevertheless, that holocaust lived during the Second World War exceeded [apparently] any chapter of in-humanism and irrationality in contemporary history and led a good number of nations to reflect and thus establish agreements of peace, tolerance, and respect for human rights. Despite these efforts, imperialism continues under other mechanisms of influence as capitalism based on its scientific and technological development which has imposed its political, economic and cultural conditions to a large part of the nations of the global south. Since the modernization era, western countries have been the captains of the imperialist ship, which has been imposing its hegemony on the “undeveloped” continents (Africa, Asia, and South America) with the purpose of enriching themselves at the expense of cheap labor, raw materials, and geopolitical issues.

The media is the entity more powerful than the governments themselves, as it is able to create awareness or drowse the masses, and change our culture, furthermore, “the media play an influential role in the transformation of communities with regard to such areas as identity, technology, economics, globalization and surveillance” (Aseka 2009, p85). Here the concept of “cultural imperialism” takes importance to understand the globalization of western media, although it is a very broad concept to define with precision, due to the ambiguity of both terms (Tomlinson 1991, p2).

The word imperialism led us to think about its old meaning about “a territorial, political and economic invasion of developing countries”, but we must focus on the key element for this imperialism, mainly economic, and it is the “cultural imperialism”, as Tomlinson maintains in his book “the cultural factors are instrumental in maintaining political-economic dominance” (1991, p1). On the other hand, the concept of culture is a difficult stem to tackle which is defined by Tomlinson as “complex whole” (1991, p4) that has many different definitions, although Tomlinson focuses on the use of the word in contemporary discourses, for this reason, he emphasizes the importance of two of the three categories that Raymond Williams explained about the modern use of the word culture: “(2) as indicative of ‘a particular way of life, whether of a people, a period, a group, or humanity in general’; Or (3) as a reference to ‘the works and practices of intellectual and especially artistic activity’” (Williams 1983, cited in Tomlinson et al., 1991, p5), therefore we must include consumption and entertainment practices, as well as the economic ones as part of “way of life” of a society to understand the concept of cultural
imperialism. That “way of life”, does not refer to what kind of books we read, but also how we read it, not what news we publish but how we write them, the “way of life” makes up everything we do, not only us but our institutions as well.

Culture Imperialism can be summarized as “the way of life” of the dominant culture, the “civilized” culture [the Western], where “the values and habits” of this one are highlighted, moreover, it includes “practices and effects of an ongoing system of economic relations within global capitalism” (Tomlinson 1991, p3 and p19).

A long time ago, in the days of the Spanish Crown domination in America, and the Scramble for Africa by the European powers in the 19th century, cultural imperialism was already produced through schools, religions, work models, and the mass media such as newspapers and radio with the purpose of keeping the colonies controlled while preserving their economic aims. Understanding the era of slavery as the gateway to capitalism of Adam Smith, we can add that in the era of global capitalism it is consumerism and markets that molded cultural imperialism.

Now it should be emphasized that when we talk about cultural imperialism, we talk about the imperialism of the media, since most of the cultural productions are essentially disseminated by the mass media such as radio, press, cinema, television, social media, and advertising, so the mass media is one of the cultural industries that capitalize on the “amusement” time of the human being as Adorno and Horkheimer pointed out in their work Dialectic of Enlightenment. When the human being used the production system to create cultural goods, he made them an object of daily consumption that took advantage of the increase of the population and the economic level of it to consume cultural goods, hence to continue capitalizing on culture, “the Cultural Industry turns art into consumption and men into consumers “(Bertucci).

However, in the era of globalization and the hyperconnected society, transnational communication companies are expanding their business in search of large populations willing to invest their capital in entertainment such as the African continent. Wendy Willems and Winston Mano point out that there has been an increase in mobile phone users with internet connection, leaving close to 162 million Africans in 2015 with access to any type of cultural content or media (2017, p1), and the authors themselves point out that “African audiences and users are increasingly in the spotlight because of the growing scramble on the continent by a range of global media companies which are driven by both economic interests and public diplomacy concerns” (2017, p2). Therefore, global communication companies such as China Central Television (CCTV), CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera, Vodafone, Orange, Airtel, Etisalat, and MTN try to compete for the audience in Africa (Willems and Winston 2017, p2). Not only, mobile operators and television channels, but internet corporations:

“[…] while internet corporations scramble ‘to connect the unconnected’ to the Internet through a range of initiatives. For example, Internet.org — a collaboration between Facebook, mobile phone producers, and other companies — introduced to free mobile phone app in 2014 that enables Zambians to access Facebook freely without incurring data charges. Microsoft’s 4Afrika initiative was launched in 2013 and provides low-cost smartphones which Microsoft developed with Huawei. Google’s Project Link aims to improve and speed up internet connectivity through the construction of metro fibre and Wi-Fi networks in major cities in Uganda and Ghana “(Willems and Mano 2017, p2).

All these initiatives of international communication companies are launched with the same innocent global message used by international governments when they deploy “aid” in Africa: “We need to help advance the African continent, because without us it will continue in a setback”, but in this case, like one of the international governments, the hidden intentions are others, and it is to create a consumer market in Africa trying to change the “way of life” of the whole continent, “the egocentricity of Western society has made the African community an easy target for the transition to a consumer society where the Western Media demine the surrogate Africa” (Aseka 2009, p91-92) because Africa is still a dependent continent. Although the cultural domination of the West is indisputable, we need to point out that it is no
longer a relation between the west and the global south but a capitalist mechanism that oversteps the nexus of class relation (Tomlinson 1991, p23-25), as the example of Korean culture:

“Korean popular culture has become dominant in East and Southeast Asia over the last decade. Korean television programs, such as drama and mini-series, are increasingly penetrating different countries in the region, including China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Japan. Korean films and pop music (Kpop) have also become one of the most popular cultural products in Asia (Jin 2007, p753).

As Tomlinson point out “In fact ‘cultural imperialism’ gathers in a number of fairly discrete discourses of domination: of America over Europe, of the ‘West over the rest’, of the core over the periphery, of the modern world over the fast-disappearing traditional one, of capitalism over more or less everything and everyone” (1999, p81). However, those who have enough economic
and political power can exercise a global cultural imperialism. Despite being an imperialism of the West, the largest cultural products consumed globally come from the United States so we can discuss the Americanization of global culture through the global media. However, the western cultural imperialism theory is perceptible; it has its own detractors.

According to them, nowadays there is a plural global media which distances us from the Western media domination. Besides, the global spread of western culture, local industries are emerging, therefore they caught the audience with the same ethnicity or cultural background, even they became big corporations that are spreading their programmes worldwide like Televisa (Mexico) and TV Globo (Brazil), or countries like India and China where markets are growing and provide contents and services around the world. Overall, all of those non-western cultures are emphasizing their national cultures. Therefore, they can portrait their own “way of life” (Jin 2007 p755-756). Nevertheless, this dichotomy between cultural imperialism and a global plural culture media is still difficult to solve due to the enduring presence of the US dominating the global cultural media.

 

Disconnecting from the West culture imperialism

The cultural imperialism of the western media has also met with rocks along the way, as in the case of countries such as India and Korea, in which cultural symbols such as language, or even clothing, have been able to fight in some measure against the imperialism of the West. In the case of India, the clearest example is the battle of the 90s between Rupert Murdoch’s channel, Star TV, and the local channel Zee TV, where the audience “turned to channels with culturally familiar programming” (Wang p209). Zee TV began offering programs in different local languages of India (Bengali, Punjabi, and Marathi), in addition, the news anchors were wearing traditional clothes, which increased their audience number, hence Murdoch rushed to buy 49.9% of Zee Group in 1993, which was later repurchased by the chairman of Zee Group. By then, Zee News was the most watched program in India with a 51% audience, while the Star News audience decreased to 38% (Wang 2008, p209).

On the other hand, in the case of Korea in 1997 due to the economic crisis and the boom of domestic producers, they had to reduce imports of foreign programs. In addition to reducing emissions from (US) channels such as KBS, MBC, and SBS, this led to the decrease of 91.8% of imports of cable television companies. By contrast, the increase of the production of cultural
and products and co-productions with other countries increased the money of
television program exports from 8.3 million dollars in 1997 to 71.5 million in 2004 (Jin 2007, p757 -756).

Conclusion

Globalization, channeled by capitalism, has turned culture into products, as the Adorno and Horkheimer (Frankfurt school) already mentioned about the industrial culture. The world moves at the rhythm of international market flows, where the only important thing is to make the business profitable.  The western countries and the United States occupied the power of the world economy more than four centuries ago, thus provoking the control of world culture and the mass media. As we have seen, the media is a business shaped by economic and political decisions, which goes beyond just sharing culture worldwide, but to acquire more users, viewers, and listeners. Although cultural imperialism had already begun in the Modernity Era with the colonization of developing countries, eliminating and isolating native languages, and establishing English or Spanish as universal languages.

In present day, the purpose of controlling the media markets goes further; it is not surprising that media corporations such as the British BBC, which already had an international service (BBC World Service), have launched programs in other native languages of Africa or India with the aim of spreading and selling the western cultural products to more population.

In consequence, the notion of cultural imperialism is important to understand the messages that are thrown daily by the global media so we can understand the background of their intentions. However, as mentioned above, it is not only a matter of spreading a “way of life”, because cultural imperialism conducted by the United States is palpable in Europe, but it is about converting the
way of life into a consumption of constant [cultural] goods. This is because it is easier for that have been under the colonization of the west it is easier due to their status as “dependent” zones, as in the case of Africa, where the decolonization follows its course. Because the West is still an example of “progress” for all. Moreover, we must also discuss the creation of a global hybrid culture, one that will always exist and that will have almost all the nuances of the dominant culture (the USA and Europe), and that will also be adding different brushstrokes from other cultures, known as “cultural appropriation”, a topic on the rise today thanks to the black community in the
The United States. Despite the advances to decolonize the media in Africa and Latin America, that global culture will still be there because whoever owns the money, has power, therefore has the control. Therefore, the global media will continue to increase this hybrid culture, since ultimately the objective is to market, create consumption, and make the production profitable. However, we must highlight the importance of the impact of the media in other zones such as the African continent, putting aside the pessimistic idea that carries capitalism, the western domination, globalization, and cultural industries. The use of the media is important, that is how Kwame Nkrumah reached the liberation of Ghana from the British Empire, nationalizing and using the media, therefore the democratization of the country. Or how in Kenya, created the first
the commercial radio station called Kameme FM in 2000 that uses the Kikuyu language to “consolidate their linguistic and cultural repertoire” (Barber, 2009, p3). Still, we must consider what Stuart Hall mentioned; “transnational capital attempts to rule through other local capitals, rule alongside and in partnership with other economic and political elites” (Hall 1991, p28 cited in Jin 2007, p765), therefore cultural imperialism by the West will continue despite the growth of national cultural industries that continue to extend a “national
the way of life”.

In other words, their own culture. In addition to this, the growth of the national and local media in Asian countries like India, or countries of the African continent, where thousands of languages still survive and their culture is not so submerged in Western culture, since, through colonization by British association, they were able to preserve their culture, unlike Spanish
colonization, it can harm foreign corporations, therefore damage their market, hence, it is easy that “international media conglomerates to tailor their output so to fit into the local cultural setting” (Wang 2008, p2010) as cited in the introduction, the example of the BBC World Service and its programs in the predominant native languages in countries like Nigeria, Ethiopia, and India.

 

References

  • Aseka M, E. (2009): Media consumerism and cultural transformation. In: Njogu, K. and Middleton, J. (eds) Media and identity in Africa. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
  •  Barber K. (2009): Orality, the media and New Popular Cultures in Africa. In: Njogu, K. and Middleton, J. (eds) Media and identity in Africa. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
  • Bertucci, A. Sobre la Industria cultural. Horkheimer y Adorno. Universidad Nacional de la Plata. Available from http://perio.unlp.edu.ar/catedras/system/files/industria_cultural._adorno_y_horkheimer_articulo.pdf
  • Hall, S. (1991) ‘The Local and the Global: Globalization and Ethnicity’, pp. 19–39 in A. King (ed.) Culture, Globalization, and the World-system. London: Macmillan.
  • Jin, Y., D (2007): Reinterpretation of cultural imperialism: emerging domestic market vs continuing US dominance. In Media, Culture & Society 29 (5), 753-771. Los Angeles, London, New Delhi and Singapore: SAGE Publications. [DOI:10.1177/0163443707080535]
  • Lasisi, A. (2016): BBC to broadcast in Yoruba, Igbo, others. In: The Punch Newspaper, 17 November http://punchng.com/bbc-broadcast-yoruba-igbo-others/
  • Marwan M., K. (2002) Globalization of Culture Through the Media. In J. R. Schement (Ed.), Encyclopedia of communication and information (2), 359-363. New York, NY: Macmillan. Available from https://repository.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgiarticle=1333&context=asc_papers
  • Tomlinson, J. (1991): Cultural Imperialism. London: Pinter Publishers.
  •  ——– (1999): Globalization and Culture. Oxford: Polity Press and Blackwell Publishers.
  • Wang, D. (2008): Globalization of the Media: Does It Undermine National Cultures?. Intercultural Communication Studies, XVII (2), 203-211. Available from https://web.uri.edu/iaics/files/17-Dawei-Wang.pdf
  • Willems, W. and Mano, W. (2017): Everyday media culture in Africa. New York and London: Routledge.

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