Creating A Global Culture Through Transnational Media

by Vanessa Hobson

Television, which originated in the early 1950s, began as a medium through which radio shows became visual and news was shared throughout communities.  The broadcast capabilities of television were restricted and localized at the time of its invention.  It was not possible to see the same programming in different countries.  Television’s reach has since soared past individual communities and can now be enjoyed around the world.  The way people view television has also changed over the past sixty years.  It began as a medium in which families would collectively enjoy variety shows, game shows, and news.  While television is still enjoyed in groups by some, many people watch television alone whether it’s on an actual television or on the Internet.  Television has evolved and expanded immensely since its birth, and as it changes, its viewers change as well.  Throughout this paper, I will discuss the effects of media’s expansion into the shared worldwide market on individual culture and united global culture.  Using the theory of postmodernism and production theory, this paper examines the possible long term effects of globalizing mass media.  Globalization of television, while it can be simultaneously global and national, drowns out the voice of certain cultures, eliminates narrative quality, and promotes large corporations.

Postmodernism has been defined in many ways.  Some describe it as a period of transformation that began with architecture and led to artistic and literary innovation.  Others argue that the term postmodern doesn’t really mean anything due to the fact that it is used to describe such a wide range of works and styles.  One of the most important things about postmodernism is that it is the period that follows modernism which is defined as a time of modern character, tendencies, or values.  Modernist ideas developed out of a series of enlightenment theories that initially questioned classic customs and morals while introducing science and technology into almost every aspect of life. “Modernism during the nineteenth and twentieth century describes the breeding of a progressive school of thought that affirms the power of human beings to create, improve, and reshape their environment” (Klaver, 78).  The concept of modernism rejects tradition while encouraging free speech, experimentation, and radical thinking.  People who led this progressive lifestyle and held on to its values were called modernists.

Postmodernism and modernism are often described as being two different stages of the same movement even though they have some important differences.  Postmodernism began after the devastation of World War II and was seen as a reaction to modernism.  People started to mistrust the political, economic, and social implications of the modernist movement.  Postmodern theorists criticized modernism for its rationalism, causality, and search for universal themes.  For this reason, postmodern thinkers formulated a new school of thought based on an unscientific and irrational thought process (O’Donnell 283).  Postmodern thinkers give absolutely no merit to anything that has been written in the past and are interested in making their own belief system based on what they have seen and experienced.  They also believe that there is no universal truth that can be discovered.  Postmodern thought includes the critique of all other ways of thinking in the past and present.  Therefore many forms of literature and art have become subject to analysis and postmodern criticism, which has involved the questioning of the form and representation and the redefinition of texts (Klaver, 79).  Even television has been criticized using postmodern values (Klaver, 73).  Postmodernism favors reflexivity, self-awareness, and is extremely skeptical of elaborate thought systems or stories that control people’s thoughts.

Postmodern techniques are prevalent in today’s media, including radio, cinema, and television.  Postmodernism on television is characterized by anything that goes against what is traditionally expected from visual narrative.  Each television genre has a specific structure that is followed and has been proven successful in the past.  When creators, directors, and writers deviate from this structure, postmodern television emerges. Recently, television has not only bent the structural rules of genre, but they have begun to create hybrid genres that blur the lines of separation between genres.  This is obvious in reality television, docudrama, dramedy, and mockumentary.  Any show that does not have immediate resolution and holds the viewer in suspense beyond one particular episode or season can be considered postmodern.  In television, specific channels or even networks can be considered postmodern.  MTV is one that has been studied continuously as a result of its post-modernity and ability to revolutionize entertainment worldwide (O’Donnell, 187, 191).

Production context criticism addresses many different areas including news and entertainment, power and equity, and globalism and localism.  Globalism is an ongoing process by which regional societies, economies, and cultures have become integrated through a network of worldwide communication.  Through globalism, national economies intermingle with the international economy and cause socio-cultural evolution.  There was a time when cultures stayed within a single country, city, or even just a single town for hundreds of years without coming in contact with anyone outside their own group. Modern transportation, Internet communication, and international business affairs have made it possible for cultures to interact in ways they never have before.  “An increasingly integrated and complex global system of exchange has emerged as a result of globalism” (Turpin 245).

After the idea of globalism, a new way of life called glocalism emerged.  Glocalism is a mix between globalism and localism, which refers to communities that can simultaneously think globally and act locally.  The globalist portion of the word refers to the ability to think outside the box and become aware of more than what is in your immediate vicinity.  The local part encourages people to remain aware of their culture, class, or status while learning about others.  “The term glocalization has its roots in Japanese commercial strategy and comes from the word dochakuka which simply means global localization” (Turpin 245).  Localism is often neglected because globalization now presents an omnipresent power.  The term glocalism highlights the fact that globalism is important, but it is made possible because of localism.  “A global sense of place coexists with a deep suspicion of unalloyed localism” (Turpin 245).  There have been many debates about globalism, localism, and glocalism as it relates to culture, capitalism and consumerism.  Some believe that “overt globalism will never sell in a market that trades on the romances of postmodern difference” while others feel that “postmodern glocalism is averse to global capitalism” (Turpin 245).  Localism, which well served colonial interests, is seen by some as a hindrance to global culture.  There is always room for change, which is why there are now modern and postmodern localist ideas that take the current state of our world into consideration without completely disowning the original values of localism.

Globalization in the television industry is often done through remaking fictional series in countries other than where they originated.  Remaking international television shows for the American market has been exceptionally common despite past failures.  Successful shows that were remade for an American audience include Ugly Betty, Coupling, and The Office.  Once shows are selected to be remade, they undergo a huge transplant “in which one national system acts as an encoder and the foreign system functions as decoder.  The particular technology that is transferred is the message that is communicated from one system to another” (Griffin, 155).  The transplant process involves changing the show so that it will be appealing to the market in which it will air.  This process includes changes to the dialogue, set design, wardrobe, characters, plot lines, and uncountable other adaptations.

Psychological studies have shown that mass media has the ability to influence culture through tons of subliminal and overt messages.  Television specifically manipulates culture through portrayal of ideal body image, gender roles, and perception of beauty.  A study in 2001 proved that gender roles are introduced in early childhood and remain prevalent through adult programming. Children that participated in the study perceived most cartoon characters in the stereotypical ways.  Boys were violent and aggressive while girls were domestic, interested in boys, and concerned with appearances (Thompson and Zerbinos 429).  When asked to describe which characters they like, boys picked characters that were depicted as being strong, caring, and pretty.  Further studies showed that adults are subjected to the same messages in television shows that are targeted towards them.  Psychologists observed that thin female characters in television situation comedies were more likely than heavier female characters to be praised by male characters, and less likely to be insulted by male characters in ways deliberately tied to evocation of “canned” and supportive audiences laughter (Canton and Harrison 52).  Not only are these messages reinforcing stereotypes in adults, they will eventually be cultural notions that are enforced on children who are influenced by their parents.  The values that are expressed in media have the power to influence society’s opinion on an innumerable number of things including culture, politics, body image, and religion.

International media could eventually begin to eliminate individual cultures and encourage a new global culture to emerge.  Public opinions are created and affected by things we see and hear from the media.  Television has the ability to shape its audience’s belief system about things as simple as the music they like, and as complex as their opinions about war. Ethnic communities have been constructed over time and are constantly evolving.   Cultures transform for many reasons, including economic stance and technological advancement.  Money and technology allow people to do things that they have never been able to do before.  Technology specifically has the ability to change the way people acquire information and therefore change a culture entirely.  Changes in the way people gain information have historically had a huge influence on cultures, religions, and ideologies. In pre-modern times, people got their information from storytellers because they could not read.  Everyone’s idea of truth was based solely on what they heard because they couldn’t go and get information on their own.  People just had to believe what they were told.  During the Renaissance information was written down, but most people couldn’t read and therefore they received information and truth from the king or Pope.  As the years went on, literacy improved and people were able to get their own information and interpret it however they wanted.  Literature was the new way that people gained information.  They read the bible, newspapers, books, and anything else they could to acquire knowledge.  Although traditional literature is still available and has proved to be a great source of information, new technology has brought about a host of alternate options from which people can receive truth.  Transnational media and Internet viewing options allow people from all over the world to view the same media and have access to the same information.  Over time, this will produce a global culture of people who all receive information and truth from the same source.

Individual cultures are built and sustained based on many things, including similarities in food, language, literature, and fashion. “National identity is based on the idea that inhabitants feel a sense of unity based on their residence in a shared national space” (Morley 489).   Although people will never know or come in contact with most of the people in their country, they share important ideologies and ways of life that keep them unified.  Almost everything that helps to maintain cultural identity is influenced by media.  Television has historically articulated national identity.  While mimicking the truths of society, television also creates truth.  Impressionable viewers not only watch the news for information, they watch sitcoms, dramas, and reality shows and subconsciously gain truth about the community to which they belong. When globalization occurs in media, global culture will undoubtedly follow.  Global media will promote a mindset that will be shared by people around the world which could slowly mold all of the separate cultures in to one.  I think of the world like America in its early days.  This country was a place that ethnic groups from all over the world called home.  Although Americans are all still different, over the years we have assimilated into one collective national culture.  This was made possible because of the beliefs we share and the media that we have in common.  Some people may argue that the world is much bigger than America and so assimilation to this degree is not possible.  While the world is much bigger, travel has become so much faster and easier since the time when people migrated to America.  The ability to quickly travel the world and interact with different cultures has supplemented international media in efforts to create global culture.

In addition to creating a global culture, buying international media could significantly sacrifice quality.  “The practice of selling television program formats to overseas markets, and adapting them to appeal to national sensibilities, has seen a marked increase in recent years” (Griffin 160).  The process of preparing television shows for transcontinental travel is intricate and involves adaptation in order to fit into national identity.  Although this has been proven to be successful with programs like Ugly Betty and The Office, there have been many failures due to inability to recreate quality and humor in a new home.  In efforts to design a new program with the same premise but a different cultural identity, developers make changes in situations, characters, and context.  Humor doesn’t necessarily transfer from culture to culture.  Figurative language and other jokes are immersed in their respective cultures and cannot be relocated.  “Americans just don’t get it!” That was the complaint of fans and critics when the announcement was made that an American version of The Office would be produced.  They ranted that it was a “suicide mission” (Griffin 162).  People feared that it would flop just like American remakes Cracker, Coupling, and Men Behaving Badly.  Despite all of the complaints made about the transplantation of The Office, the American remake was successful based on visual humor that can be understood by multiple cultures.  The jerky shots, individual interviews, and occasional broken fourth wall are production techniques that helped solidify The Office as a successful American sitcom. The Office has been exported more than 60 times and officially adapted for American, French, and Canadian audiences (Griffin 163).  Some may argue that the adaptations made in order assure that a program appeals to its new audience eliminate the chance that global culture will emerge due to transnational media.  While adaptations are made, transplanted programs still have roots in their place of origin.  Transplanted shows retain many important structural concepts and messages from their original development.  Also, programs that are remade create interest around the original program.  Americans who like The Office take interest in its British predecessor and many even claim that they like it better than the remake.

Instead of being concerned with preserving local culture, the purpose of global television is to generate revenue for multinational corporations.  The global media is currently dominated by five giants: Time Warner, Disney, Bertelsmann, Viacom, and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation (Morley 501).  In 1997, Time Warner managed to generate 24 billion dollars in revenue.  The other giants followed closely behind and this trend continued for the following thirteen years of sales (Morely 505).  Many of these corporations, though located in the United States, are making billions of dollars producing global content and show no signs of slowing down.  Television Business International just released an article stating that Time Warner’s HBO is close to completing a $160 million deal to buy Disney and Sony out of HBO Central Europe (1-2).  Major corporations, even if they are on top, are constantly finding new ways to expand through global production.  In order to compete, top corporations have goals to “get bigger so they dominate markets and their competition cannot buy them out, and have interests in numerous media industries such as film, book publishing, music, and television” (Turpin 248).  If five companies have this much worldwide influence and their main goal is revenue rather than preserving actual culture, they are encouraging an eventual evolution into a single global culture. Skeptics might dispute this statement by stating that US programming that is allocated for a certain number of broadcasting hours abroad, but it is not the only thing being viewed by citizens of other countries.  While it is true that some countries do not depend heavily on American imports, many minority countries do.  Minority countries rely on foreign programming, yet their voices are the ones that are most likely being drowned out by the majority.  “Local communities are subject to Western ideals under the disguise of differentiation or appeal to local customs, traditions, and attitudes” (Turpin 248).  One argument against the idea that western content will overshadow local culture is that America is such a diverse country and therefore, views of multiple ethnicities are being shown in terms of character and storyline.  I disagree on the terms that these characters and story lines, while they look diverse, are still portrayed through the lens of giant capitalist corporations.

Television has come a long way since its inception and it shows no sign of slowing down.  The type of content that we see on television has evolved from variety shows to sitcoms and dramas, all the way to reality shows.  Our methods of watching television have changed as well.  Instead of living in homes with one television, now families have one or more television sets per person.  In addition to individual television viewing, people have their own personal computers where they can also watch television shows at their leisure.  People no longer have to plan their day around what programs they want to catch.  Websites like Hulu, Fancast, and Youtube have made it possible for viewers to have access to almost any television show at any time.  These changes in television, as well as the expansion and globalization of the market, will change the way individual cultures are constructed.  Narrative structure and quality will also be under new development due to online postings and Internet advertisements.  Television is changing immensely, but even as television has evolved, the major corporations that control content have remained the same.  It will be interesting to see if that changes as technology advances.  For now, no one can compete with the proven mass media giants.  Television worldwide is dependent upon content from corporations like Viacom, Murdoch’s news corporation, and Time Warner.  Until media distribution becomes more diverse, globalization of mass media will continue to mold a single global culture.

Vanessa R. Hobson is a 21-year-old Senior at Columbia College Chicago.  She will be graduating in May 2011 with a B.A. in Television Writing and Production.  She has been very successful in her studies, but her background in media production extends far beyond the confines of a college learning environment.  She has worked as an intern for Chicago’s Weigel Broadcasting in On-Air Promotions where she focused on promotional writing and production.  Following her stent at Weigel broadcasting, she interned with MTV Networks: Nickelodeon Creative Advertising in New York City as an assistant to the network’s writer/producers.  Aside from production, Vanessa is a dancer, choreographer and mentor at St. Mark United Methodist Church where she takes pride in leading by example.  Vanessa is very goal-oriented and lives by the quote “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

Works Cited

2 thoughts on “Creating A Global Culture Through Transnational Media

  1. I think that the issue here is that modernism and postmodernism hasn’t been acknowledged by majority. I think that a lot of people are oblivious to this. For example, the average person doesn’t recognize this because a majority of advertisements still reflect the same theories of the age before modernism. How many beer and cleaning commercials still play to specific demographics and in some ways offend the opposite gender. Beer and car ads often showcase women being weak and a burden, and cleaning ads show that men have no idea how to keep a clean home.

    I think the majority has become complacent and comfortable with seeing these ideas on television, therefore the big corporations can make a dollar of it.

  2. A handful of companies deciding what the world will see is scary, but it is still up to the viewer to turn on the show. I think as the internet becomes the most common way people get their entertainment, these big companies will become less and less powerful.

    Also, I love that American television harvests many TV shows and movies from other countries. It makes foreign show creators lots of money, and it brings another flavor to American entertainment, much like food in America. How Chinese, Mexican, and every other food in America isn’t like it is in their native lands, but it has an American flavor to it.

Comments are closed.