Saturday, October 3, 2009

"Think global, act local"

The Disney mantra for expanding its media empire "think global, act local" seems to also have been successfully taken up by most transnational media corporations. The readings this week discussed the pervasiveness of this glocalization phenomenon primarily in print media, the music industry and the film and television industries, including satellite. The concepts of homogenization vs. diversification were also used to illustrate the complexity of global media content development.

In this vein, I found McChesney's comments on the permeability of animation as a global media format particularly insightful. During my time teaching English in Germany, I found that American cartoons, such as The Simpsons, Family Guy and South Park, had a very devoted fan-base among German high school students. This knowledge really added to my lessons as I was able to use clips from these programs as gimmicks to keep my students entertained while still illustrating important English-language and also American cultural concepts. Initially, I had some reservations about using these shows as representative of American culture, but it was amazing to me how well some of the episodes' themes fit into the topics about which I was asked to teach. In class we watched these shows in English, but German television offered these programs daily dubbed in German.

The research done by Cottle and Rai on the changing satellite news industry was also very enlightening. I have never had satellite television and was not aware of the complex evolution in the 24-hour satellite news arena. This specific sub-industry in the global media sphere illustrates the difficulty faced when trying to determine whether media is currently acting as a homogenizing or localizing force on culture. I think that satellite television is also an example of how the existence and diffusion of an ICT does not necessarily guarantee global access to it.

Overall this weeks readings left me with the impression that there is a debate among international communications scholars on the extent to which the globalization of media influences national and sub-national cultures, especially those in the non-Western world. Through my travels abroad and through discussions with people from non-Western cultures, I would have to lean toward the hybridization argument. The aspect of hybridization that really resonates with me is its two-way explanatory power in that it can account for "dominant" media flows' effects on non-Western cultures as well as the "contra" media flows' influences on Western cultures.


  1. I think I agree with your hybridization classification of media flows. There are both homogenizing and localizing influences from media, which the readings touched on. I didn't really know that American TV shows are sometimes changed when exported to reflect the culture of the receiving country, especially when being imported by non-Western countries. When I studied in France, I remember thinking how funny it was to watch American movies dubbed in French and knowing that the translation wasn't totally accurate to my American sensibilities. Because of the combination of homogenizing and localizing in global media, I don't think the "cultural imperialism" theory is totally valid. Maybe it was thirty years ago, when communication technology was less advanced, but thanks to satellite and other technology, I think media can be more easily adapted to a specific culture--both the "dominant" and "contra" types of media flows.

  2. I agree that animation permeability demonstrates both flows (Disney princesses and Looney Tunes go from the core out) and crossflows (Smurfs and Speed Racer head in from the periphery). And if I can add to your observations about teaching abroad, Marie, I spent two years in the Czech Republic, where I found that my students were fairly familiar with modern U.S. cultural archetypes like the Simpsons, but I once had a lesson fall to pieces on me when I discovered that not one of my students could recognize Kermit the Frog.

    It didn't take long to realize that cultural exports that hit their heyday before the Iron Curtain collapsed had never really filtered in after the borders opened up. So it's clearly possible for a nation-state to limit undesirable cultural flows under some circumstances. For the record, I also noticed that my students and I tended to laugh at different jokes, and occasionally to assign different motives to the characters, suggesting that even if material isn't "glocalized" for a specific audience, local consumers won't necessarily respond like the original audience.

    All of which supports the argument that the influence of media flows is far too complex to be explained by traditional political-economic or core-periphery arguments.