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While in everyday language globalization” usually refers to economic and political integration on a world scale, it also has a crucial cultural dimension in which the media have a central role. Indeed, in sociology and other disciplines that focus on the media, the concept of globalization has had to be adopted so as to take account of a new reality in which global institutions, especially the media, impact upon the structures and processes of the nation-state, including its national culture. In that sense, media globalization is about how most national media systems have become more internationalized, becoming more open to outside influences, both in their content and in their ownership and control. This is a cultural phenomenon, one with implications for our contemporary sense of identity, but it is closely linked also to the economic and political factors driving globalization, notably the deregulation of national markets and the liberalization of trade and investment, which in turn facilitate the inroads of global corporations.
There are some global media corporations, such as Sony, which began as communications hardware industries and then branched into content production, in Sony’s case, film and recordings. However, others have been built upon the basis of the media industries themselves. Their rapid growth over the closing decades of the twentieth century was due to the ideological and structural shift toward privatization and economic liberalization of trade and investment which characterized this era, but also to a range of technological developments, particularly the trend to the convergence of media with telecommunications.
The globalization of the media has enabled vast sections of humanity to gain access as never before to the enormous output of information and entertainment which flows around the world. On occasion, they also can become spectators to global media events, ranging from regularly scheduled ones such as the Olympics, to unique and totally unexpected ones like those of September 11, 2001, in the USA. Yet it is important to appreciate that contemporary globalization theorists do not necessarily fear global culture as an irresistible force of homogenization, as their predecessors did.
One of the most influential theorists has been Arjun Appadurai (1990), who identifies a series of flows” – of people, media, technology, capital, and ideas – which constitute globalization. These flows are disjunctive,” that is, they operate independently of one another, unlike in theories derived from Marx which see cultural phenomena as being conditioned by economic processes. Marxist theories have emphasized what they see as a trend to cultural homogenization,” that is, the similarities in media content found throughout the world, particularly in the form of Americanization.” Appadurai acknowledges this trend but argues that it exists in tension with a countertrend to heterogenization,” which is the hybrid cultural differences that occur when global influences become absorbed and adapted in various local settings. Heterogenization happens now that people are presented by global media with a melange of cultural and consumption choices that they never had when their cultural imagining was defined by a dominant national culture.
Different media exhibit different patterns of globalization. The Hollywood blockbuster movie would most closely fit the notion in literal terms, being released and exhibited more or less simultaneously in the various national markets of the world, dubbed or subtitled as required. Television, arguably the most widely diffused and most influential of all the popular media, is different. In the 1960s and even the 1970s, the critics of cultural imperialism were alarmed to discover high levels of foreign content, mainly from the USA, on the television screens of the world. However, as television markets have matured and developed the capacity for their own production, they have moved away from this initial dependence. The evidence now indicates that audiences prefer television programming from their own country, and in their own language, when that is available, or if not, from other countries which are culturally and linguistically similar.
- Appadurai, A. (1990) Disjuncture and difference in the global cultural economy. In: Featherstone, M. (ed.), Global Culture. Sage, London, pp. 295-310.
- Herman, E. & McChesney, R. (1997) The Global Media: The New Missionaries of Corporate Capitalism. Cassell, London and Washington, DC.
- Sinclair, J. (1999) Latin American Television: A Global View. Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York.