Por Kuldip Rampal
The demise of totalitarianism in the former Soviet Union and its
Eastern European satellites states in the early 1990s provided added
attractions for liberal democratic systems and market economies
in politically closed and command economy-style societies. Along
with these moves have come media liberalization and media globalization,
whose social implications the developing world is just beginning
to see. Marshall McLuhan's projected global village (McLuhan, 1967)
is increasingly a reality made possible by the communication revolution
-- satellite and cable television, multinational media conglomerates
such as those of Rupert Murdoch and TIME-Warner communications,
and, increasingly, the Internet.
Trade liberalization and economic
growth have given more people the means to become consumers of media
entertainment than ever before. The rising literacy levels in Asian
countries and access to Western (mostly American) entertainment
offerings are turning media consumers to be more demanding from
their traditional cultural and entertainment industries. In his
travels to a number of Asian countries, this writer has observed
the pervasiveness of American culture being imported through a variety
of media, especially movies and television programming, and increasingly
the Internet. The Washington Post reported that international
sales of American entertainment and software products totaled $60.2
billion in 1996, more than any other U.S. industry (The Washington
Post, Oct. 25, 1998, p. A01).
Important questions emerge from
this phenomenon: What are the implications of Western media globalization
for indigenous cultures in developing Asian countries? What kind
of influence, if any, is Western media globalization having on indigenous
media industries? In this age of media globalization, are there
any indications that cultural influences may be taking place both
ways – between the East and the West – rather than only
from the West to the East? This paper addresses these questions
by focusing on the film industries of some Asian countries and Hollywood.
Cultural Dependency, Media
Growth: Theoretical Considerations
Expansion of democracy and economic liberalization since the 1990s
have unleashed unparalleled Western cultural influences around the
world also. This has raised concerns among social critics and policymakers
in many countries. Biggins (2004) says that globalization, with
an adverse advocacy through the media, has brought in a “landslide
transformation of existing local culture and identity into a new
form of culture with no frontier.” Jerry Mander, co-founder
of the International Forum on Globalization, has voiced the same
concern. Writing in The Nation, Mander (1996) said that
global media corporations of Rupert Murdoch, Ted Turner and very
few others "transmit their Western images and commercial values
directly into the brains of 75 percent of the world's population.
The globalization of media imagery is surely the most effective
means ever for cloning cultures to make them compatible with the
Western corporate vision."
Biggins cites the cultural dependency
theory of Mohammadi (1995) as a factor in the influence of the Western
culture in the developing world. He quotes Mohammadi as follows:
The continuance of Western dominance
over Third World nations was based partly on advanced technologies,
including communication technologies. But it was also based on
an ideology, accepted in many parts of the Third World, that there
was only one path to economic development, which was to imitate
the process of development of Western industrial capitalist societies.
Cultural imperialism or cultural dependency occurs with the Western
countries’ influence on the language, values and attitudes,
including religion, ways of organizing public life, styles of
politics, forms of education, and professional training, clothing
styles, and many other cultural habits. It creates a new kind
of model of domination called neocolonialism which has sparked
new kinds of struggles to eradicate this enduring cultural influence
in the Third World (Biggins, 2004).
American author Herbert Schiller
had cautioned back in 1969 that the implications of the cultural
influences brought about by American programming were far-reaching,
especially for developing peoples of the world. "Everywhere
local culture is facing submersion from the mass-produced outpourings
of commercial broadcasting in the United States," he said,
adding, "To foster consumerism in the poor world [through American
entertainment programming] sets the stage for frustration on a massive
scale" (Schiller, 1969, p. 111).
Apart from the cultural dependency
theory, at least two other factors must also be considered in explaining
the influence of Western, especially American, media on indigenous
media industries in developing countries. First, the lowest common
denominator production principle of American entertainment industries,
which gears content for mass audiences, has been found to be the
most successful for maximizing sales, circulation and advertising
revenues (Lowenstein and Merrill, 1990, p. 33). This principle is
aimed at pandering to the basic and pleasure-seeking instincts in
human beings through the themes of sex, violence and alcohol in
media content, a formula used by Hollywood since the 1970s and mainstay
of the established studio productions. The rise of the independent
film industry in the United States is attributed to a rejection
of the Hollywood production formula. In recent years, a more degenerated
form of the lowest common denominator production formula has been
seen in the tabloidization of television shows, like “The
Jerry Springer Show.”
Secondly, economic globalization
and increasing industrialization in developing Asian countries have
facilitated a rise in income levels for people in these countries,
resulting in an expanding consumer base for both printed and electronic
media. The history of media development in the West shows that media
transform from offering a high-level content to the relatively small
consumer base in pre-industrial societies to a relatively low-level,
popular-appeal type of content to serve the needs and interests
of an expanding, but not a well-educated, consumer base in industrializing
societies, as evidenced by the rise of the sensational Penny Press
in early 1800s in the United States. This evolutionary model of
media growth in all societies is offered as the Elite-Popular-Specialized
Theory of Media Progression (Lowenstein and Merrill, 1990, pp. 31-33).
These theoretical considerations and the cultural dependency theory
will serve as the backdrop in explain the reshaping of the film
industries in some Asian countries.
Hollywoodization of Movie
Industries in Asia
Perhaps the most compelling example of the incorporation of the
Hollywood production formula in recent years in its productions
is India’s film industry, based primarily in the western city
of Bombay and nicknamed “Bollywood.” India’s movie
industry, which turns out more than 800 feature films a year in
a variety of languages (Pendakur, 2003, p. 2) compared with about
250 produced by Hollywood annually (Plate, 2002), is the largest
in the world. In recent years, movie theater attendance has fallen
substantially because the industry’s traditional song-and-dance
storylines and hackneyed treatment of love scenes has not produced
big hits. As a result, the film industry has started to deal openly
with sex or generous doses of skin in an attempt to draw audiences.
As the British news agency Reuters reported on October 21, 2004:
“Daring young actors and actresses have thrown caution, and
their clothes, to the wind to play amorous characters such as prostitutes,
adulterers, playboys and husband swappers that Bollywood rarely
touched in the past” (Bollywood finds . . ., Oct. 21, 2004).
This new approach to filmmaking appears to be having positive economic
For example, Agence-France Presse
reported that the biggest grossing film in 2003 was Jism
(Body), which tells the story of a woman who is unapologetic about
using her sexuality to persuade her lover to kill her rich husband.
The small budget film turned out to be a surprise hit and its star,
Bipasha Basu, is now one of the most sought after actresses in Bollywood.
"The success of Jism showed that Indians are no longer
ashamed of watching a steamy scene in a full house," said leading
filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, who wrote the film's screenplay. Bhatt said
the film reflected a change in the mindset of the Indian viewer.
"Earlier, a steamy film would be shown in small towns and would
be seen by men who came for titillation, but now urban women throng
upscale halls to watch such films” (Bollywood turns on the
a Hindi film released in summer 2004, dealt with
the subject of prostitution, played by a top
beauty queen, Neha Dhupia. Her character ends
up as a prostitute after her boyfriends leave
her after sleeping with her. The movie was a
box office hit for repeatedly showing lovemaking
scenes, turning the actress into a new sensation
among moviegoers. Girlfriend, also released
in 2004, dealt with lesbianism and contained
a brief erotic scene between two women. There
were violent protests in sections of the country,
as the generally conservative Indian society,
and critics, decried the film. But the movie
was still playing and another lesbian-themed
film was said to be in the works.
Other recent films like Oops
and Boom have also caused a lot of controversy in India.
Oops explores the murky world of male strippers, which, says movie
critic Prathamesh Menon, is a concept so vague and unfamiliar to
the Indian audience that there was rioting in some cinema theaters
in an attempt to ban the film. Boom shows the three main female
leads strut through most of the two-hour film in little more than
bikinis and are frequently the target of crude sexual remarks. One
male lead asks a woman to perform oral sex under his desk as he
works (Menon, 2003). Menon says that elsewhere in the world that
might be considered relatively tame stuff, but not in India where
even smooching in public can still cause outrage.
For many years, Bollywood films
shied away from showing even a kiss, with scenes cutting away chastely
to shots of birds, bees or flowers. However, a 2003 release, Khwaish
(Desire), showed not less than 17 kissing scenes and portraying
a young couple who are anything but shy about discussing their sex
life. Murder and Andaaz, other recently released
films, have generated a lot of buzz over the actresses’ skimpy
clothing or kissing scenes rather than their acting abilities.
Taran Adarsh, a Bollywood critic,
explained this new phenomenon in movie making. “Sex sells.
And it works well if it comes with a good story. Cable TV has brought
in a lot of Western influences to Indian homes. People are more
accepting and more open now” (Bollywood finds . . ., Oct.
21, 2004). A Bollywood producer and upcoming director, Rashika Singh,
offers another explanation. She said filmmakers in India are increasingly
targeting the urban youth audience. “The younger viewers want
their idols to dance like Michael Jackson, swagger like Tom Cruise,
fight like Jackie Chan - and still croon to their beloved in Swiss
meadows, and deliver rhetorical dialogue with panache! It is like
having your Indian cake and licking the forbidden Western icing
too” (Menon 2003). One of India’s leading sociologists,
Shiv Vishwanathan, says the new face of Bollywood is a bit of art
imitating life. “It’s thanks to globalization,”
he said, referring to Western market-style economic path India switched
to in 1991, opening up to multinational firms, satellite TV and
easier international travel” (Bollywood finds . . ., Oct.
Social critics, however, worry about
the likely implications of the new trend in Bollywood filmmaking
for the Indian society. Generally, the Indian film industry has
not had a background in realism. It has consisted of escapist musicals
with common storylines of good vs. evil and boy meets girl. Typically,
the films have been family orientated and the plot is kept simple
so that even the rural villager can easily relate to it. The new
Hollywood-inspired shift in film style is seen to be a threat to
the values and culture of the Indian people.
Menon (2003), for example, says
that the current Bollywood formula has some cause for concern because
the transplantation of Western ideas has led to extreme vulgarity
with high sexual innuendo and unnecessary violence in films today.
The Film Federation of India, a regulatory body that presides over
film content, complains that the films made in the New Bollywood
are too Westernized and that they are degrading and diminishing
India's true cultural identity.
for concern is the often duplication of popular
Hollywood films in recent years. “If you
point to any new Bollywood release,” says
Menon, “you can bet that there existed
a Hollywood original somewhere down the line.
The film Koi Mil Gaya is a befuddled
remake of ET and other recent films
like Bhoot (Ghost) saw the emergence
of an Indian Exorcist and Raaz (Secret)
was taken from What Lies Beneath. This
highlights the worrying dependency of the industry
on its Hollywood counterpart
The other large Asian film industry,
Hong Kong, is seeing Hollywood influence also. Borrowing from Mission:
Impossible movies, Hong Kong production Downtown Torpedoes,
released several years ago, is the story of a team called ATM (Advanced
Tactical Mercenaries), who perform high-risk industrial theft "jobs".
Jordan Chan, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Theresa Lee, Ken Wong and Charlie
Yueng are in leading roles in this movie in which the emphasis is
on spy hi-jinks, not mushy love stories as with many Hong Kong productions.
Like Mission: Impossible movies,
there is a fair amount of double-crosses, hidden agents and other
plot twists. A review by a Hong Kong critic noted that Downtown
Torpedoes is “a stylish movie that shows that HK film-makers
can take some inspiration from the US without totally diluting their
product. It's not a classic, but compared to crud like Tokyo Raiders
or this movie's pseudo-sequel Skyline Cruisers, it's a
refreshing change” (Downtown Torpedoes, Film Review).
Hollywood’s influence on Asian
filmmakers, however, may not strictly be one way. An interesting
example is that of Hong Kong action film director John Woo. Feaster
(2002) writing about Woo’s work notes that this filmmaker
adopted American director Sam Peckinpah’s machismo, but also
combined it with his traditional Chinese sensibilities that showed
a deep appreciation for honor and loyalty and the willingness to
die for a friend. That cinematic style was hailed in Woo’s
films like Hard Boiled, The Killer and Bullet
in the Head exported to the West. Woo followed the same style
in the Hollywood production of his war film Windtalkers starring
Nicholas Cage and Christian Slater. Feaster says that through this
cinematic style “Woo brought something fresh and exciting
to American audiences while also recharging a genre that often slid
into cancerous nihilism in the hands of brutal action heroes like
Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwood and Arnold Schwarzenegger”
The resurgence of the Korean film industry in the late 1990s is
also attributed to integrating the Hollywood action-thriller approach
to the indigenous cinematic style. Throughout Korea's film history,
the melodrama has dominated popular film. In any given year, 50-70%
of the films produced in Korea are classified (rather broadly) as
melodramas. Popular movie stars are often best remembered for their
roles in heart wrenching tragedies. In recent years, however, Korean
cinema has reinvented itself, reclaiming its own domestic market
from Hollywood productions. Paquet (2000) says there are several
ways in which the films of today have tried to distance themselves
from their predecessors. Newer films tend to have a glossier feel
to them, and as the technical capabilities of the industry have
expanded, directors have started to employ sophisticated digital
imagery and special effects.
“Shiri (1999), for
example, shrewdly combines the Hollywood action blockbuster with
the Korean melodrama to result in a film which appeals to a wide
spectrum of viewers,” Paquet says. It was a film about a North
Korean spy preparing a coup in Seoul. The film was the first in
Korean history to sell more than 2 million tickets in Seoul alone.
It smashed the domestic box-office record previously held by Titanic
to become the most successful Korean film ever.
Citing another example, Paquet says
that director Lee Myung-se’s previous works have centered
on issues of love and marriage (e.g. My Love, My Bride,
1990 and First Love, 1993). However, in Nowhere to
Hide (1999), he takes a seeming change of course by choosing
the action genre. Action films, a hallmark of Hollywood, typically
feature a continuous level of high energy, stunts, chase scenes,
fights, escapes, rescues, non-stop motion, an unbroken storyline,
and a resourceful hero struggling against incredible odds to defeat
an evil villain. Paquet notes that many aspects of Nowhere to
Hide fit this description: it centers on a group of detectives
who struggle to catch a wanted assassin; the film features chase
scenes (one in which the detective is barefoot), fights (often notable
for their striking visuals and humor), disguises, killings, and
This success of Korean films has
attracted the attention of Hollywood. Films such as Shiri are
now distributed in the USA, and in 2001 Miramax even bought the
rights to an Americanized remake of the successful Korean film My
Wife is a Gangster. The 2003 suspense thriller Janghwa,
Hongnyeon (Tale of Two Sisters) was successful
as well, leading DreamWorks to pay $2 million for the rights to
a remake, topping the $1 million paid for the Japanese movie The
Ring (Korean films, 2004).
An interesting explanation of the
influence of Hollywood on Filipino movie industry was offered at
the 2003 Sangandan Film Festival in the Philippines. In a forum
on Hollywood’s influence on Filipino films, a film expert
said that “since local viewers get to see mostly American
productions, they are bearers of the USA’s cultural imprint,
and have been ‘subliminally’ programmed to prefer big
blockbusters to the more intimate and personal dramas that European
filmmakers prefer to produce” (Philippine Daily Inquirer,
July 21, 2003). It was further noted at the forum that after the
American occupation of the Philippines in the early part of the
20th century, most of the imported films came from the United States.
“This was colonizers’
way of holding up US-related ideals before our grandfathers’
eyes, so that, in due time, Filipino filmmakers aped American film
products in their own productions,” said a film expert (Philippine
Daily Inquirer, July 21, 2003). “Thus, the preference for
fair-skinned, aquiline-nosed stars, clear-cut conflicts between
true-blue heroes and dastardly villains, forthright storytelling,
‘moral lessons,’ ‘message’ films, and filmmaking
conventions that still characterize some of our movies today,”
the film expert added. This preference was said to make it difficult
for small local movies to be released or distributed in the country.
This also ups the ante when it comes to movie budgets, and this
is another factor that prevents independent companies or self-financed
filmmakers from making much headway in the local movie scene.
Hollywood’s influence is also
apparent on the fledgling Thai film industry that is beginning to
take off. Action is a critical element to the success of the 2003
release Beautiful Boxer. However, like Hong Kong Director
John Woo, Director Ekachai Uekrongtham of Beautiful Boxer adopts
the action-drama approach to making the film. Based on the true
story of Thailand's famed transgender kick boxer, Nong Thoom, Beautiful
Boxer is an incredible tale of one effeminate boy who fights
like a man so he can become a woman. Believing he is a girl trapped
in a boy's body since childhood, Parinya Charoenphol, who plays
Nong Thoom, sets out to master the most masculine and lethal sport
of Muaythai (Thai boxing) to earn a living and to achieve his ultimate
goal of total femininity.
Critics have described the film
as touching, funny and packed with breathtaking Thai kick boxing
sequences. Following its screening at the Bangkok Film Festival
on Jan. 20-Feb. 2, which drew the likes of Oliver Stone and Colin
Farrell from Hollywood, the film was widely expected to get international
distribution. A number of other recent Thai films were also said
to have been sold to U.S. distributors (Siam Chronicle, May 1, 2004).
Asian Values vs. Hollywood
Most academic debates since the New World Information Order movement
of the 1970s on the implications of the dominance of Western media
for non-Western countries have warned of imminent dangers to indigenous
cultures. The foregoing analysis of the reshaping of some of the
Asian film industries seems to lend some support to that view. Although
the success of the sex and nudity-oriented Bollywood films confirms
that there is a Westernized audience in India with an appetite for
such films, India is still largely a rural country and farmers and
villagers provide vital contribution to the economy of the film
industry. They cannot possibly understand and appreciate the values
and issues expressed by the New Bollywood. For now, enough films
are being produced in India to serve the traditionalists, but whether
that continues will depend on the box office success of such films.
Social critics in India are also
worried that by entering the mainstream adult movie market, the
uniqueness of Bollywood of providing elaborate family-oriented musical-dramas
will be lost. They also caution that apart from threatening traditional
Indian values, the industry will be more vulnerable to outside competition,
which in turn may damage Bollywood beyond repair.
The dilemma faced by Bollywood in
maintaining the economic viability of the industry on the one hand
and protecting and serving traditional Indian values on the other
is resulting in serious soul searching regarding the direction the
industry should take. One view comes from a highly successful new
Bollywood director, Ram Gopal Varma. The Asian edition of TIME magazine
in its cover story on Bollywood in October 2003 quoted Varma as
saying that “anyone who does not follow the West is gone”
(Perry, October 20, 2003). Varma also noted that he did not care
whether his movies served the needs of the rural, traditional Indian
population. Indian superstar Aamir Khan responded to that view by
warning that a wholesale rejection of song and dance might kill
the “color, fire and innocence” that defines Indian
cinema (Perry, October 20, 2003).
Another view comes from writer Pankaj
Mishra, who suggests incorporating the Hollywood style to filmmaking
without straying too far from Bollywood’s usual version of
the romantic triangle. That echoes the action-drama style adopted
by Hong Kong Director John Woo, as discussed earlier, and the Korean
and Thai filmmakers. Mishra cites the Kal Ho Na Ho (Tomorrow
May Never Come), released in 2003, as an example. The movie, set
entirely in New York, brings a new slickness to Bollywood dreams
of affluence and style – while singing, the characters combine
Hindi lyrics with the rhythms of disco, rap and gospel – but
it simultaneously reaffirms family through a gregarious cast of
brothers, sisters, parents, grandmothers and grandfathers. To Mishra,
such films are “becoming the echo chamber of middle-class
India as it tries to bend – without breaking – its old,
austere culture of underdevelopment” (Mishra, February 28,
Emerging Asian Movie Markets
and Implications for Hollywood
Research indicates that there are at least two important implications
of the new phenomenon gripping Asian film producers. First, Hollywood
may itself benefit from the increasing Hollywoodization, albeit
within local socio-cultural frameworks, of indigenous film industries
in Asia. MIT Professor Christina Klein notes that “Hollywood
today is going into the business of producing and distributing ‘foreign’
movies. This move derives from studio executives' suspicion that
Hollywood films may have reached the limits of their overseas appeal.
As evidence, they point to the growing popularity of locally-made
films around the world” (Klein, 2003).
Klein says that Hollywood is finding
ways to turn a profit on the desire of local audiences to see local
films; rather than trying to beat the competition, the studios are
joining it. In the last few years, Columbia, Warner Brothers, Disney/Buena
Vista, Miramax, and Universal have all created special overseas
divisions or partnerships to produce and distribute films in languages
other than English. Sony-owned Columbia Pictures’ Hong Kong-based
subsidiary, for example, has produced a number of films in Chinese.
Hollywood studios are also becoming important financiers and distributors
of Asian films. This trend has contributed to the success of Asian
filmmakers, such as Indian director Mira Nair, whose 2001 hit, Monsoon
Wedding, was distributed by Universal Studios in the United
In addition, the increasing globalization
of film industries is making it possible for “foreign”
movie stars to make their mark in America. Indian beauty queen and
film star Aishwarya Rai, for example, has appeared in her first
movie in English, Bride and Prejudice, which is scheduled
for distribution by Miramax in the United States later in 2004.
Klein says the Hong Kong film industry alone has contributed actors
like Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Chow Yun-fat; directors such as Tsui
Hark, Kirk Wong, and Ringo Lam; and martial arts choreographers
like Yuen Wo Ping, Yuen Cheung-yan, and Corey Yuen.
The second implication of the Hollywoodization
of Asian filmmaking is for the future of Hollywood itself. In view
of the increasing globalization of filmmaking, and China and India
projected to be larger movie markets than Europe, will Hollywood
remain immune to Asian influences on its own style of filmmaking?
The answers seems to be in the negative in view of the economic
factor. Klein says that from 1950s through the 1970s, Hollywood
earned about 30% of its money overseas. “That number is expected
to grow over time, with some industry figures predicting the foreign
share of box office earnings could rise to 80% within the next twenty
years. This means that Hollywood is becoming an export industry,
making movies primarily for people who live outside the US”
(Klein, 2003). Asia alone is expected to be responsible for as much
as 60% of Hollywood’s box-office revenue by then.
This economic reality is expected
to result in an increasing crossover of Asian cinematic style into
Hollywood. As Klein (2003) says, when scholars talk about global
cinema they usually mean the Hollywood blockbusters that perform
well in markets around the world -- films like Titanic or
Jurassic Park. But the integration of Hollywood and Asian
film industries is producing a different kind of global cinema:
films which contain material and stylistic elements from industries
on both sides of the Pacific. Hero, China's official submission
for the 2002 foreign language Academy Award, is one example of this
new global cinema. Menon (2003) says that an example of where the
globalization of both Eastern and Western film styles can be seen
to be a success is when Hollywood takes on the ideas of Bollywood.
“When Australian director Baz Lurman was filming Moulin Rouge,
he commented that his intention was to apply the 'Bollywood masala'
formula. When [Indian] director Shekhar Kapur shot Elizabeth,
he insisted that it have all the kinetic color of a Bollywood film.
Kapur was also the producer for the recent Bollywood-style romantic
comedy, The Guru, complete with dance numbers and dream
scenes. New releases like Bollywood Queen and Bride
and Prejudice also intend to apply this formula,” says
Perhaps a larger benefit from the
standpoint of humanity, rather than corporate interests, of moves
toward globalization of film industries may be greater understanding
and appreciation of world cultures. A new study by UCLA's Ronald
W. Burkle Center for International Relations says that growing Asian
competition for the Hollywood film industry may not be a bad thing.
Tom Plate, a professor at UCLA, noted that the increasing Asianization
of the film business could represent globalization at its most desirable.
“Exposing a broader sector of the U.S. audience to divergent
cultural and political perspectives could prove of enormous value.
Rather than experiencing a fearsome and reductive ‘clash of
civilizations,’ we would get a truly cosmopolitan world entertainment
media (e.g., more movies might even show serious problems being
solved without guns or bombs),” he says. Mass entertainment,
concludes the study, "will not in itself be adequate to overcome
inclinations toward hatred and violence. But it can help”
It is obvious from the foregoing that film industries in several
Asian countries are going through a process of reinventing themselves
to maintain their economic viability amidst the globalizing media
culture of the West, especially the United States. The question
is whether it is the cultural dependency theory or the well-established
production formula of Hollywood for commercial success that explains
the changes happening in Asian film industries. At the Global Fusion
2004 conference in St. Louis, USA, in late October 2004, one media
scholar cited the cultural dependency theory, or cultural imperialism
of the West, as the explanation for the changing Korean film industry.
In his paper, the scholar noted that as some Korean films are becoming
huge commercial successes by incorporating Hollywood-style themes
and production techniques, their appeal in America was on the rise,
which the scholar interpreted as “reverse cultural imperialism.”
Indeed, “cultural imperialism”
or its academic variant called “cultural dependency theory”
are terms often used by scholars in international communication
and cross-cultural communication to explain negative influences
of the West on the cultures and media industries of developing nations.
Some have even suggested that “cultural imperialism”
is slowly killing off indigenous cultures in some parts of the world.
These are extreme reactions based on misinterpretations of phrases
such as “cultural imperialism.” There is no doubt, as
Keohane and Nye, Jr. (September/October 1999, pp. 86-87) argue,
that ideological and material success of a country makes its culture
and ideology attractive internationally, especially if the country
also happens to be a large one and is dominant militarily and technologically
also. If this is how “cultural imperialism” is defined,
then it is obvious that by nature “cultural imperialism”
works through “appeal” of a culture since the culturally
imperialist country is not forcing anyone to adopt its culture.
Across the globe, academic books, research journals, information
and cultural products from the West have been valued as sources
of information and enjoyment even as people in developing countries
continue to cherish and enjoy their own cultures. This presents
“cultural imperialism” as a benign or welcome force
rather than a harmful one, contrary to how the critics interpret
it and weigh its effects globally.
So when a country
or its media industries choose to adopt what
appear to be the features of Western culture,
we have to presume that they are doing so for
reasons other than “cultural imperialism”
because they are not being forced to do so. As
we have said, cultural imperialism works by appeal
rather than by force. Singapore, for example,
carries BBC World Service on one of its FM radio
stations 24 hours a day because the country,
as an economic powerhouse in Asia, values the
importance of the English language in international
business and commerce and wants its population
to be fluent in English for its continued economic
By the same token, Asian filmmakers
have adopted the Hollywood commercial success formula – predicated
on the themes of sex, action, pleasure and individuality –
to regain commercial success for their films, whose earlier themes
of mushy love stories and family dramas have lost their appeal to
an audience with access to the titillating offerings of the West
through globalized television. The commercial success of Asian films
based on the Hollywood formula, such as India’s Jism or
Korea’s Shiri, underscores the point that it is the
tried-and-tested production formula that is being imported from
the West rather than “cultural imperialism” that is
being exported from the West to Asian film industries. This is consistent
with and reinforces the Elite-Popular-Specialized media evolution
theory, mentioned earlier in this article, which says that media
have to be packaged around a “popular” appeal in economically
modernizing societies with expanding numbers of media consumers.
An equally important point to note here is that there is a greater
likelihood of crossover of commercially successful production formulas
from East to West (rather than just from West to East) if the economic
viability of Hollywood depended on that than the likelihood of a
“reverse cultural imperialism.” This is because “cultural
imperialism” is predicated on the notion of appeal of the
dominant to the less dominant, whereas commercially successful media
production formulas move freely to fulfill economic needs. Social
critics in the developing world, therefore, need to ask themselves
whether the so-called cultural imperialism of the West needs to
be blamed as these countries’ media adopt new practices to
assure their economic survival.
Biggins, Ousa. (2004). “Cultural
Imperialism and Thai Women’s Portrayals on Mass
Media,” a paper presented at the International Conference
on Revisiting Globalization & Communication in the 2000s. August
5-6, 2004. Bangkok, Thailand.
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R. Rampal, PhD.
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