Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Summary - Cultural Imperialism: A Critical Introduction

Summary - Cultural Imperialism: A Critical Introduction

Title of chapter: 2, Media Imperialism. 

Pages: 34-45, 57-64.

Author: John Tomlinson.

Date published: April 1st 1991.

Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Themes: Journalism, media imperialism, indoctrination.

Summary of text:

In his book, John Hopkins delves into the much debated 'Media Imperialism' theory. Part of cultural imperialism (the creation and maintenance of unequal relationships between civilizations favoring the more powerful civilization), there are three main factors: economic dominance, hermeneutic naivety and mediation versus simple 'media images'.

John goes onto refer to Fred Fejes' 1981 report. Fejes argues that the documentation of ownership of the global media has been integrated into the wider political-economic analysis of the relations between developed and developing societies. John noticed a peculiar nuance in his Fejes' conclusion, as it says that little understanding has been made "...specifically [in] the cultural impact of transitional media in Third World societies..." (pg. 36). The effects of this, alongside the effects of the media on consumers, are key. As the manner in which media products are produced and distributed, what implications are generated on the receiving end? In more rural, less-Western cultures, does this alter cultural norms/conventions?

John then goes on to look at the more economic side of media imperialism. Citing Herbert Schiller's short paper "Transitional Media and National Development", it shows that the media is designed to work for the world system of capitalism. Hence media corporations support this elitist ideology as "...agents for 'the promotion, protection and extension of the modern world system...'..." The media is based on commercialism so Schiller explains how this means the media must extend 'its tentacles' to gather more profitable territory/markets, achieved via successive media practices and technologies. Schiller concludes by saying that the media is a tool of enticement to instruct the public "...along this path." but John discredits him by noting his idiosyncratic approach regarding that the above is a result of capitalism. But his Marxist views are corroborated by others, such as Armand Mattelart. Both assume that capitalism is culture and the media's effects are how people experience (e.g how they are immersed) but at the end of the day, how media texts are interpreted is a pivotal influence. 

John probes this idea by using Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart's more precise study of media texts - in the form of Disney - known as "How to read Donald Duck." The aim of the study was to expose how imperialism can be hidden behind a facade of cartoons. Pertaining this to how Disney comic can normanise American/Western values, as they have been distributed in third-world countries since the 1940's, hence they are 'carriers' of American conventions, but their presence alone does not create imperialism; only if they're read.

The book raises two theoretical moves: the identification of imperialist ideology and the theorisation of its effects. The first states that the ideology ranges from an obsession with money ('Uncle Scrooge'), 'compulsive consumerism', the 'exotic' being a goldmine, third-dwellers being stereotyped and capitalism being natural. Furthermore, these imported goods contain and eventually spread the 'American Dream'. Supposedly, just seeing the "affluent yanqui" life is enough to do make a poor third-worlder alter their life.

Many do not dispute the apparent western dominance, some such as Schiller state that '"the public media are the forefront example of operating enterprises that are used in the penetrating process'" but others (Boyd-Barrett) abut this and say that the media is simply part of cultural imperialism amongst other '"... formal educational institutions."' But Lodziak challenges this 'media-centredness' assigned to culture, linking to contemporary postmodernism, and how television presents a hyperbole world. Many people's lives are becoming the feeding ground for the media, as "Obscenity" (the state of extreme 'visibility' of all phenomena) alters our social boundaries of privacy (i.e we happily watch reality TV programs that document others' lives yet detest the thought of it happening to us). But as experiences become equally visible but also "flat" as they lose significance.

Page 61

The media is now the main representative of society for us in the modern world. A "subtle interplay of mediations" (see above) is what has been created. So our current dilemmas influence how/what we watch yet equally what we watch shapes how we decide our lives.

Key points:
  • Economic dominance, hermeneutic naivety and mediation versus simple 'media images' are the 3 elements of media imperialism. 
  • Capitalism is a possible cause of media imperialism. 
  • The relationship between text and the audience is a key area of study.
  • The media affects our experiences/attitudes yet is also influenced by them.

Key quotes:
  • "What we [the West] must do is to resist becoming settlers as we visit each area. We must keep our distance. Ours must be a nomadic culture." - pg 35.  
  • "...the media are seen primarily as vehicles for corporate marketing, manipulating audiences to deliver them as 'good consumers' for capitalist productions." - pg 38.
  • '"American capitalism has to persuade the people that it dominates that the 'American way of life' is what they want. American superiority is natural and in everyone's interest."' - Martin Baker, pg 41.
  • "...culture is so thoroughly saturated that it is impossible to separate out an immediate 'real' cultural experience from those we experience through the flat service of a television screen." - pg 59.
My response

This is without a doubt a very diverse and interesting theory of the effects of the media presence. Taking an ontological perspective, "Why do I copy Western culture? I copy it because there is no other society to which I can compare mine to and I submit it to it because from what I see, it is better."[1] This is, in its bare-face, what the concept of 'Media Imperialism' is.

I decided to research this topic following this accidental discovery of imperialism and it does appear to be highly applicable to my study. In the case of the Tottenham Riots, the media sensationalised its events and as they're the seeming overlords of public knowledge, its as if there is inter-cultural media imperialism as we submitted to their proposed recordings of the events. Much like the globilisation of Western beliefs in the East, it could be said that the 'journalist belief' is being enforced onto those of the public. When I begin to uncover the 'true' events of the Riots, this theory of enforcement and influence will be one I will keep in mind.   

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