Sunday, April 26, 2009

Marcus' Questions

Q1) I like Appadurai’s assertion that the United States no longer holds a monopoly over globalization, but I have to admit, his critics have a point – he’s being a bit more academic than they are, while they’re spending perhaps a bit more time in the real world. I think it would be very difficult to argue that the US isn’t still pretty much the center of global media, and English is the language of international business. But, that being said, I think there’s an equal risk of looking at globalization as a “here and now” phenomenon rather than an evolving process. Here, I think, is the real benefit of Appadurai’s work – it’s several decades old, and instead of considering it a staple of modern analysis, we need to approach it as “globalization 20 years ago.” Has anyone done that?

Q2) To me, globalization is like affirmative action – it was never intended to establish permanent inequity, but to provide a transition toward equality at some point in the future. But politicians only focus on the now – minority students currently in school, or Caucasian kids barred entry now to make room for them. Both are valid points, don’t get me wrong, but they miss the real goal, which was intended to be gradual. It’s the same with globalization – yes, there’s serious inequity now, and most foreign cultures can’t compete with American media. But they’re making progress – Bollywood, Egyptian soap operas, very sophisticated Canadian television. And even if all we’re doing is shipping very low-paying jobs to places like Vietnam, in the end, those are still jobs they wouldn’t have otherwise – and I’m not promoting child labor, but I am saying that getting the third world involved in some way is better than ignoring them completely, even if things have to get worse before they get better. And I would certainly argue that things like modern healthcare and modern education are certainly worthwhile, even if traditional cultures have to change a bit to adopt them.

So, long winded way of saying – has anyone from the communication field approached globalization as an evolving process? Or am I just channeling my economics-major friends?

Q3) I’ve gotta disagree with Gabino’s point on “instruments of globalization always belonging to the imperialists,” and by extension Sreberny. Instruments belonging to the “powerful,” perhaps, but not the imperialists – I’ll give you a brief example, and fill in the specifics tomorrow if you want. Back in the early 1960s, when television was first reaching the Middle East, it really tore people apart on these same lines – the traditionalists said it was an agent of American imperialism, while the modernizers wanted to adopt the new technology. The final compromise allowed TV’s into the Kingdom under the condition that a large percentage of the programming be devoted to Islamic religious teachings – not at all the realm of American media. That allowed the technology in, allowed citizens to be trained in its use and production, and filtered out a great deal of the foreign content. So how, exactly, does that belong to the “imperialists?” Or, look at Canada, which has stipulated for years – like many other countries – that a high percentage of their television content be produced locally. They took our technology, and our ideas, modified them, improved them, and localized them. How is that indicative of imperialism?

Q4) Teresa’s point on fledgling nations really struck me, and it can be applied to this country just as easily. Most entertainment media are produced in California – excuse me, governor, Kalifournya – but there are plenty of more subtle hubs around the country. Austin and Nashville stand out, but I’m sure there are others I’m not thinking of right now. But following the classic “imperialist” argument, all American music would be the same, there would be no subtlety, and LA would dominate all. That’s not the case. There are different music genres, different production centers, subtleties to American media that aren’t always appreciated – or exported, frankly. You may hear a lot of American R&B overseas, for example, but the minute you hear Willie in darkest Siberia you know the end is nigh. So has anyone thought to apply globalization to a purely domestic market?

Q5) Straubhaar may be overreaching when he says American media are designed as hybrid products that are successful everywhere. I wouldn’t give us that much credit, personally – media executive’s main goal is still a big sale in the ‘States, and maybe other English markets like Canada or the UK. I would argue, instead, that there are simply pre-existing commonalities of culture that some media tap in certain areas. We’re designing R&B for export to the Middle East, for example, we’re designing it for here – and it happens to do well in cultures with traditions of drumming and singing, and that have never really been fond of stringed instruments. You could even trace the genre even further, arguing that many American R&B songs draw influence from traditional Mexican melodies that are, again, not really heavy on guitars … that draw from Spanish melodies, that draw from songs developed during the Almohad occupation of Spain … that come from the same place as traditional Arab melodies. So is it that the US is deliberately making hybrid products, or that the domino chains are still there, and we just don’t always see them?

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