Saturday, October 3, 2009

Hegemony isn't everything

Somewhere, deep within a secret lair carved into a live volcano, a gang of Western-bred cultural imperialists is no doubt muttering in dismay at this week's readings. How disappointing to learn that pushing out billions of dollars worth of cultural media products can't ensure omnipresence and omnipotence.

I think all of the writers would agree that global media markets are growing, and that open economic policies favor their continued growth. I think they'd also agree that a "global" media market doesn't mean that all points of the world import to and export from all other points of the world. Western producers, and the U.S. specifically, dominate global media production and export markets. And I think they'd agree that, with a few exceptions, national and regional media tend to exert more influence than global media.

McChesney follows the globalization of media culture to a rather bleak destination: a politically apathetic nation of contented consumers more concerned with market freedoms than social activism. It's not an inevitability so much as an ideal environment, but I think a lot of the symptoms of media globalization that McChesney describes--the consolidation of power, a compliant consumerist populace, the increase of escapist entertainment--have an Orwellian tinge about them.

Fortunately, there seems to be a consensus among the writers that Western cultural imperialism isn't a forgone conclusion, since the technology that's enabling Western media giants to extend their reach around the globe is also empowering national and regional media producers. Ultimately, the global media landscape is far too complicated to meet traditional assumptions of core-periphery or modernization paradigms. As Cottle and Rai assert, Understanding what "global media" means and what its social, cultural and economic impact will be requires a more empirical analysis of information flows.


OK, here's my post-class update as of October 7: Perhaps I've underestimated those cultural imperialists. No doubt my naivete would inspire some crescendo-ing villanous laughter from the lot of them. On my first reading of this week's texts, I think I overestimated the strength of the media contraflows, but after talking about it in class last night, I feel like they're not really strong enough to counterbalance the effects of cultural hegemony. It's sort of like shining a flashlight in a lighthouse window. Sure, you're casting a feeble little beam in the opposite direction, and maybe you can even illuminate a few pockets that the beacon doesn't reach, but in terms of strength, distance and influence, there's really no contest.

1 comment:

  1. When I was reading McChesney's article, I felt like it was almost the work of a conspiracy theorist. To say that the general lack of civic activism in democratic societies can be attributed to the diabolical plans of the media industry elite is in my mind a little far-fetched. However, I think a less paranoid conclusion can be gleaned from this reading. All corporations, not just media corporations, act solely in pursuit of profit.