13.7 Cultural Imperialism – Understanding Media and Culture (2022)

Learning Objectives

  1. Describe how hegemony applies to different aspects of global culture.
  2. Identify the attributes of McDonaldization.
  3. Analyze the ways that local cultures respond to outside forces.

Cultural imperialism was around long before the United States became a world power. In its broadest strokes, imperialism describes the ways that one nation asserts its power over another. Just as imperial Britain economically ruled the American colonists, so did Britain strongly influence the culture of the colonies. The culture was still a mix of nationalities—many Dutch and Germans settled as well—but the ruling majority of ex-Britons led British culture to generally take over.

Today, cultural imperialism tends to describe the United States’ role as a cultural superpower throughout the world. American movie studios are generally much more successful than their foreign counterparts not only because of their business models but also because the concept of Hollywood has become one of the modern worldwide movie business’s defining traits. Multinational, nongovernmental corporations can now drive global culture. This is neither entirely good nor entirely bad. On one hand, foreign cultural institutions can adopt successful American business models, and corporations are largely willing to do whatever makes them the most money in a particular market—whether that means giving local people a shot at making movies, or making multicultural films such as 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire. However, cultural imperialism has potential negative effects as well. From a spread of Western ideals of beauty to the possible decline of local cultures around the world, cultural imperialism can have a quick and devastating effect.

Cultural Hegemony

To begin discussing the topic of cultural imperialism, it is important to look at the ideas of one of its founding theorists, Antonio Gramsci. Strongly influenced by the theories and writings of Karl Marx, Italian philosopher and critic Gramsci originated the idea of cultural hegemony to describe the power of one group over another. Unlike Marx, who believed that the workers of the world would eventually unite and overthrow capitalism, Gramsci instead argued that culture and the media exert such a powerful influence on society that they can actually influence workers to buy into a system that is not economically advantageous to them. This argument that media can influence culture and politics is typified in the notion of the American Dream. In this rags-to-riches tale, hard work and talent can lead to a successful life no matter where one starts. Of course, there is some truth to this, but it is by far the exception rather than the rule.

Marx’s ideas remained at the heart of Gramsci’s beliefs. According to Gramsci’s notion, the hegemons of capitalism—those who control the capital—can assert economic power, while the hegemons of culture can assert cultural power. This concept of culture is rooted in Marxist class struggle, in which one group is dominated by another and conflict arises. Gramsci’s concept of cultural hegemony is pertinent in the modern day not because of the likelihood of a local property-owning class oppressing the poor, but because of concern that rising globalization will permit one culture to so completely assert its power that it drives out all competitors.

Spreading American Tastes Through McDonaldization

A key danger of cultural imperialism is the possibility that American tastes will crowd out local cultures around the globe. The McDonaldization of the globe applies not just to its namesake, McDonald’s, with its franchises in seemingly every country, but to any industry that applies the technique of McDonald’s on a large scale. Coined by George Ritzer in his book The McDonaldization of Society (1993), the concept is rooted in the process of rationalization. With McDonaldization, four aspects of the business are taken to the extreme: efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control. These four things are four of the main aspects of free markets. Applying the concepts of an optimized financial market to cultural and human items such as food, McDonaldization enforces general standards and consistency throughout a global industry.

Figure 13.6

McDonald’s has opened up many culturally specific versions of its chain, all employing its famous Golden Arches.

Mike Mozart – McDonald’s – CC BY 2.0.

(Video) Mass media | Society and Culture | MCAT | Khan Academy

Unsurprisingly, McDonald’s is the prime example of this concept. Although the fast-food restaurant is somewhat different in every country—for example, Indian restaurants offer a pork-free, beef-free menu to accommodate regional religious practices—the same fundamental principles apply in a culturally specific way. The branding of the company is the same wherever it is; the “I’m lovin’ it” slogan is inescapable, and the Golden Arches are, according to Eric Schlosser in Fast Food Nation, “more widely recognized than the Christian cross (Schlosser, 2001).” Yet, more importantly, the business model of McDonald’s stays relatively the same from country to country. Although culturally specific variations exist, any McDonald’s in a particular area has basically the same menu as any other. In other words, wherever a consumer is likely to travel within a reasonable range, the menu options and the resulting product remain consistent.

McDonaldizing Media

Media works in an uncannily similar way to fast food. Just as the automation of fast food—from freeze-dried french fries to prewrapped salads—attempts to lower a product’s marginal costs, thus increasing profits, media outlets seek to achieve a certain degree of consistency that allows them to broadcast and sell the same product throughout the world with minimal changes. The idea that media actually spreads a culture, however, is controversial. In his book Cultural Imperialism, John Tomlinson argues that exported American culture is not necessarily imperialist because it does not push a cultural agenda; it seeks to make money from whatever cultural elements it can throughout the world. According to Tomlinson, “No one really disputes the dominant presence of Western multinational, and particularly American, media in the world: what is doubted is the cultural implications of this presence (Tomlinson, 2001).”

There are, of course, by-products of American cultural exports throughout the world. American cultural mores, such as the Western standard of beauty, have increasingly made it into global media. As early as 1987, Nicholas Kristof wrote in The New York Times about a young Chinese woman who was planning to have an operation to make her eyes look rounder, more like the eyes of Caucasian women. Western styles—“newfangled delights like nylon stockings, pierced ears and eye shadow”—also began to replace the austere blue tunics of Mao-era China. The pervasiveness of cultural influence is difficult to track, however, as the young Chinese woman says that she wanted to have the surgery not because of Western looks but because “she thinks they are pretty (Kristof, 1987).”

Cultural Imperialism, Resentment, and Terrorism

Figure 13.7

After September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush framed the issue of terrorism as a cultural conflict as much as a military one.

Wikimedia Commons – public domain.

(Video) Whoever Controls the Media, the Images, Controls the Culture | Min Kim | TEDxLehighU

Not everyone views the spread of American tastes as a negative occurrence. During the early 21st century, much of the United States’s foreign policy stemmed from the idea that spreading freedom, democracy, and free-market capitalism through cultural influence around the world could cause hostile countries such as Iraq to adopt American ways of living and join the United States in the fight against global terrorism and tyranny. Although this plan did not succeed as hoped, it raises the question of whether Americans should truly be concerned about spreading their cultural system if they believe that it is an ideal one.

Speaking after the attacks of September 11, 2001, then-President George W. Bush presented two simple ideas to the U.S. populace: “They [terrorists] hate our freedoms,” and “Go shopping (Bush, 2001).” These twin ideals of personal freedom and economic activity are often held up as the prime exports of American culture. However, the idea that other local beliefs need to change may threaten people of other cultures.

Freedom, Democracy, and Rock ’n’ Roll

The spread of culture works in mysterious ways. Hollywood probably does not actually have a master plan to export the American way of life around the globe and displace local culture, just as American music may not necessarily be a progenitor of democratic government and economic cooperation. Rather, local cultures respond to the outside culture of U.S. media and democracy in many different ways. First of all, media are often much more flexible than believed; the successful exportation of the film Titanic was not an accident in which everyone in the world suddenly wanted to experience movies like an American. Rather, the film’s producers had judged that it would succeed on a world stage just as on a domestic stage. Therefore, in some ways U.S. media have become more widespread, and also more worldwide in focus. It could even be argued that American cultural exports promote intercultural understanding; after all, to sell to a culture, a business must first understand that culture.

By contrast, some local cultures around the world have taken to Western-style business models so greatly that they have created their own hybrid cultures. One well-known example of this is India’s Bollywood film industry. Combining traditional Indian music and dance with American-style filmmaking, Bollywood studios release around 700 major films each year, three times the rate of the major Hollywood studios. India’s largest film industry mixes melodrama with musical interludes, lip-synced by actors but sung by pop stars. These pop songs are disseminated well before a movie’s release, both to build up hype and to enter multiple media markets. Although similar marketing tactics have been employed in the United States, Bollywood seems to have mastered the art of cross-media integration. The music and dance numbers are essentially cinematic forms of music videos, both promoting the soundtrack and adding variety to the film. The numbers also feature many different Indian national languages and a hybrid of Western dance music and Indian classical singing, a certain departure from conventional Western media (Corliss, 1996).

(Video) A Brief History of the Culture Wars

While cultural imperialism might cause resentment in many parts of the world, the idea that local cultures are helpless under the crushing power of American cultural imposition is clearly too simplistic to hold water. Instead, local cultures seem to adopt American-style media models, changing their methods to fit the corporate structures rather than just the aesthetics of U.S. media. These two economic and cultural aspects are clearly intertwined, but the idea of a foreign power unilaterally crushing a native culture does not seem to be entirely true.

Key Takeaways

  • Cultural hegemony refers to the power of the dominant culture to overshadow and even overtake local cultures.
  • McDonaldization is characterized by efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control. These four attributes—more than any specific cultural ideas—are the primary features of globalized American businesses.
  • Local cultures can respond to outside forces in many ways. In some circumstances, there may be a backlash against what can be seen as a hostile culture. However, cultures such as India have adopted American cultural and economic ideas to create a hybrid of foreign business models and local cultures.

Exercises

Please respond to the following short-answer writing prompts. Each response should be a minimum of one paragraph.

  1. Pick a media company that interests you, such as a magazine, a television station, or a record label. In what ways has this company undergone the process of McDonaldization throughout its history? Has this process made the company more efficient? How so? What, if anything, has been lost because of this process? Why?
  2. In what ways does the United States act as a cultural hegemon?
  3. How do local cultures respond to the influence of foreign culture? What are some examples of local cultures resisting the influence of foreign culture? What are some examples where local cultures have embraced foreign culture?

End-of-Chapter Assessment

Review Questions

  1. Section 1

    1. What are the three basic business models of media?
    2. Using the models you listed above, classify the following media industries: book publishing, television broadcasting, and live-event ticketing.
    3. What are the two ways that media companies make money?
  2. Section 2

    1. What is synergy, and how can media companies use it?
    2. Explain the purpose and influence of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
  3. Section 3

    1. What is the effect of digital communication in developing countries?
    2. How are citizens of developed countries who lack useful Internet access affected?
    3. What is the digital divide, and who is trying to close it? How?
  4. Section 4

    (Video) Hegemony: WTF? An introduction to Gramsci and cultural hegemony

    1. How does the information economy differ from the traditional economy?
    2. What are switching costs?
    3. How does vertical integration relate to globalized media?
  5. Section 5

    1. What effects has technology had on international economics?
    2. What is globalization, and how does it affect the media?
    3. How do the media increase profit margins in foreign countries?
  6. Section 6

    1. What is hegemony?
    2. What are the main traits of media McDonaldization?
    3. Name a positive and a negative way in which culture may respond to an outside force.

Critical Thinking Questions

  1. How do vertical integration, first copy costs, and the information economy relate to one another?
  2. How does the digital divide affect developed and developing countries differently? What predictions can you make about its effects in the future?
  3. How has the Internet changed the value of experience goods?
  4. Is the application of antitrust legislation to media companies positive or negative? How does having a larger, more efficient media company help society? How does it damage society?
  5. What is the effect of globalized media on world cultures? Do you think that the current trends will continue, or do you see local cultures reasserting their power? Give examples.

Career Connection

Media now rely heavily on synergy, or cross-platform media distribution. Because of this, one of the industry’s quickly expanding career fields employs people who manage the online outlets of a more traditional media outlet such as radio or television. Although such jobs used to require extensive technological knowledge, modern online project managers, online media editors, and web producers spend much of their time determining how best to display the content online.

In this activity, you will research a media outlet and then answer questions about the choices that the web producer, editor, or manager made regarding its content. Some possible websites to research include the following:

Now answer the following questions regarding the site that you picked:

  1. What sort of multimedia content does the site use that might relate to its main product?
  2. Is there anything that might not relate to its main product? What might its purpose be?
  3. How do the editorial decisions of the site reflect the influence of the Internet?
  4. Are there any online-only content sections of the site? How might these relate to the corporation’s main purpose?

References

Bush, President George W. address on terrorism before a joint meeting of Congress, New York Times, September 21, 2001, http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/21/us/nation-challenged-president-bush-s-address-terrorism-before-joint-meeting.html.

Corliss, Richard. “Hooray for Bollywood!” Time, September 16, 1996, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,985129,00.html.

Kristof, Nicholas D. “In China, Beauty Is a Big Western Nose,” New York Times, April 29, 1987, http://www.nytimes.com/1987/04/29/garden/in-china-beauty-is-a-big-western-nose.html.

(Video) Culture, Popular/Mass Culture I (ENG)

Schlosser, Eric, Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001), 4.

Tomlinson, John. Cultural Imperialism: A Critical Introduction (London: Continuum, 2001).

FAQs

What is cultural imperialism in media? ›

Cultural Imperialism Theory states that Western nations dominate the media around the world which in return has a powerful effect on Third World Cultures by imposing n them Western views and therefore destroying their native cultures. Theorists: Herb Schiller. Date: 1973.

What is cultural imperialism give an example? ›

Meaning of cultural imperialism in English. the fact of the culture of a large and powerful country, organization, etc. having a great influence on another less powerful country, etc: The brand has become a symbol of globalization and, to some, one of the most vivid examples of cultural imperialism.

What is the role of social media in cultural imperialism? ›

Because of the tons of information and news on social media, audiences will keep receiving messages from all kinds of culture; not just from U.S. Their interests on one single invasive culture will be dispersing to multi-cultures. It is the same for all audience from different countries.

Do you think globalization leads to cultural imperialism justify your answer? ›

Globalisation facilitates global communication and the spread of cultural perspectives through new media and technological advancements, and some argue that globalisation is therefore a tool of Cultural Imperialism (Tomlinson, 2001).

What is media imperialism select the best answer? ›

Media imperialism (sometimes referred to as cultural imperialism) is an area in the international political economy of communications research tradition that focuses on how "all Empires, in territorial or nonterritorial forms, rely upon communications technologies and mass media industries to expand and shore up their ...

What is the importance of cultural imperialism? ›

Cultural imperialism focuses on youth not only as a market but also for political reasons: to undercut a political threat in which personal rebellion could become political revolt against economic as well as cultural forms of control.

How does imperialism affect culture? ›

The suppression of native religions and their replacement by outside faiths is one example of this trend. In addition, societal attributes, including language, legal traditions, and family patterns, also are often forcibly changed through new legal codes and colonial policies.

What is cultural imperialism theory essay? ›

Cultural imperialism takes after the concept of imperialism, only that instead of economic, military or political dimension, we have culture as the tool in enforcing the will of a superior country to other, weaker nation-states.

How did cultural imperialism happen? ›

Cultural imperialism is the process and practice of promoting one culture over another. Often this occurs during colonization, where one nation overpowers another country, typically one that is economically disadvantaged and/or militarily weaker.

How does media affect our culture? ›

How Does Media Affect Culture? Learning about other cultures through the media can create some stereotypes which can be negative at times. The media plays an important role in educating the people and making them familiar with some cultures so as to avoid stereotypes.

Is media globalization a form of cultural imperialism? ›

Media globalisation is a form of cultural imperialism as the media is tied in with the cultural concepts which originate from the financial dealings of dependency.

Which of the following is an example of cultural imperialism? ›

The greatest example of cultural imperialism is the native tribe's ownership of casinos on their land granted by federal laws. Other influences were guns, the spreading of small pox, and the introduction of alcohol. In the early 1500's Hernando Cortez landed Spanish warships on the soil of what in now Mexico.

How can we prevent cultural imperialism? ›

Six Ways States Resist Cultural Diplomacy Hegemony
  1. Self-isolationism. ...
  2. Digital self-isolationism. ...
  3. Ban a particular foreign culture. ...
  4. Ban a particular product of foreign culture. ...
  5. Undermine culture without banning. ...
  6. Replace cultural products of another country with homemade ones.
Dec 12, 2019

How does media affect globalization of culture? ›

The media have an important impact on cultural globalization in two mutually interdependent ways: Firstly, the media provide an extensive transnational transmission of cultural products and, secondly, they contribute to the formation of communicative networks and social structures.

What is negative impact of cultural imperialism? ›

Cultural imperialism from the West imposes Western values on the third world countries through the media and their associated products, thus even destroying their native cultures.

What are the types of cultural imperialism? ›

Terms such as "media imperialism", "structural imperialism", "cultural dependency and domination", "cultural synchronization", "electronic colonialism", "ideological imperialism", and "economic imperialism" have all been used to describe the same basic notion of cultural imperialism.

Who started cultural imperialism? ›

The foremost western theorist of cultural imperialism in the West was Herbert Schiller. The concept was adopted and endorsed in the 1970s by both UNESCO and the Non-Aligned Movement.

What is the relationship between culture and imperialism? ›

In simple words, culture is the name of social norms, behaviors, and customs of society; imperialism is a strategy to enhance power by gaining more and more territory; colonialism, on the other hand, is a practice to establish colonies after occupying the land of a specific country.

When did cultural imperialism start? ›

The notion of cultural imperialism was introduced in 1970s. This term was conceptually defined in Culture and Imperialism (1993) [9] by Edward Said, who outlined a theoretical approach which he then used to analyze imperialism and its cultural manifestations.

How did colonization affect the culture and tradition of our country? ›

One impact of colonization is “pyschocultural marginality” or the loss of one's cultural identity along with social and personal disorganization. Such impact is produced when people are denied access to their traditional culture, values and norms leading to historical trauma and cultural alienation (Dalal, 2011).

What are the four reasons for imperialism? ›

The four major motives for imperialism are economic, strategic, religious and political. These motives helped great empires expand their territory and brought new cultures and languages to both the colonised countries and the countries colonising them.

What is cultural imperialism the benefits of trade? ›

Advantages of cultural imperialism. - Greater variety of commodities available. - New technologies are introduced. - Language skills may increase. - Economic development may take place as trade increases between two locations.

What is the purpose of a culture media? ›

Culture media are mediums that provide essential nutrients and minerals to support the growth of microorganisms in the laboratory. Microorganisms have varying nature, characteristics, habitat, and even nutritional requirements, thus it is impossible to culture them with one type of culture media.

What is the relationship between culture and media? ›

Culture in the developed world is spread through mass media channels. Just as society forms and is formed in part by messages in the mass media, so it goes with culture. Cultural products and their popularity can influence which media channels people prefer.

What is the impact of social media on culture? ›

2.1 Social Media Influences Human Behavior

The internet is shaping the users' culture, whereas social media has strongly influenced our shopping pattern, relationships, and education. This can alter the behaviours, beliefs, and even the basic health of people [6].

How does globalization affect the media and how media is affected by globalization? ›

The mass media are today seen as playing a key role in enhancing globalization, and facilitating cultural exchange and multiple flows of information and images between countries through international news broadcasts, television programming, new technologies, film, and music.

What is the negative impact of cultural imperialism on domestic culture? ›

Loss of Language

However due to cultural imperialism The western culture is the most desired lifestyle. As a result there has been and continuing to grow numbers of languages being lost, more and more people switching and forgetting all or most aspects of their original culture.

What is meant by imperialism in history? ›

What is imperialism in history? Imperialism is the state policy, practice, or advocacy of extending power and dominion, especially by direct territorial acquisition or by gaining political and economic control of other territories and peoples.

What is cultural imperialism in globalization? ›

The term cultural imperialism refers most broadly to the exercise of domination in cultural relationships in which the values, practices, and meanings of a powerful foreign culture are imposed upon one or more native cultures.

What is the impact of the new social media platform to the global media culture? ›

New social media have become increasingly popular components of our everyday lives in today's globalizing society. They provide a context where people across the world can communicate, exchange messages, share knowledge, and interact with each other regardless of the distance that separates them.

Does globalization of culture will not happen without media? ›

Globalization is generally a process that we experience every day. According to the Professor (Terhi Rantanen), “Practically, there is no globalization without media.” Media globalization has aided in both the production and distribution of information.

What are the advantages of global media cultures? ›

There are many advantages in global media. Now, people have easier access of television, radio, internet and in fact, they have access of others countries' satellite TV channels. With those all easy access in many regions western televisions shows became more popular.

How did imperialism change the world? ›

Imperialism adversely affected the colonies. Under foreign rule, native culture and industry were destroyed. Imported goods wiped out local craft industries. By using colonies as sources of raw materials and markets for manufactured goods, colonial powers held back the colonies from developing industries.

Was imperialism positive or negative? ›

It had more negative effects in the modern world today then positive effects. A positive effect is seen in document one called "Modern Progressive Nations," it shows how the larger nations gave to the smaller colonies. The nations built them roads, canals, and railways.

What are the lasting impacts of imperialism? ›

The long term effects of imperialism on the colonized people are political changes such as changing the government reflect upon European traditions, economic changes that made colonies create resources for factories, and cultural changes that made people convert their religion.

What is cultural imperialism in media and globalization? ›

According to Gray, using Beltran's definition, he says, cultural imperialism is “a process of social influence by which a nation imposes on other countries its set beliefs, values, knowledge and behavioral norms as well as its overall style of life”(p 129).

Which of the following is an example of cultural imperialism? ›

The greatest example of cultural imperialism is the native tribe's ownership of casinos on their land granted by federal laws. Other influences were guns, the spreading of small pox, and the introduction of alcohol. In the early 1500's Hernando Cortez landed Spanish warships on the soil of what in now Mexico.

What is media imperialism in contemporary world? ›

media imperialism shall be used in a broad and general manner to describe the. processes by which modern communication media have operated to create, maintain and expand systems of domination and dependence on a world scale.

What is cultural imperialism theory essay? ›

Cultural imperialism takes after the concept of imperialism, only that instead of economic, military or political dimension, we have culture as the tool in enforcing the will of a superior country to other, weaker nation-states.

How does media affect our culture? ›

How Does Media Affect Culture? Learning about other cultures through the media can create some stereotypes which can be negative at times. The media plays an important role in educating the people and making them familiar with some cultures so as to avoid stereotypes.

How did imperialism affect culture? ›

The suppression of native religions and their replacement by outside faiths is one example of this trend. In addition, societal attributes, including language, legal traditions, and family patterns, also are often forcibly changed through new legal codes and colonial policies.

What are the types of cultural imperialism? ›

Terms such as "media imperialism", "structural imperialism", "cultural dependency and domination", "cultural synchronization", "electronic colonialism", "ideological imperialism", and "economic imperialism" have all been used to describe the same basic notion of cultural imperialism.

How can we prevent cultural imperialism? ›

Six Ways States Resist Cultural Diplomacy Hegemony
  1. Self-isolationism. ...
  2. Digital self-isolationism. ...
  3. Ban a particular foreign culture. ...
  4. Ban a particular product of foreign culture. ...
  5. Undermine culture without banning. ...
  6. Replace cultural products of another country with homemade ones.
Dec 12, 2019

How did colonization affect the culture and tradition of our country? ›

One impact of colonization is “pyschocultural marginality” or the loss of one's cultural identity along with social and personal disorganization. Such impact is produced when people are denied access to their traditional culture, values and norms leading to historical trauma and cultural alienation (Dalal, 2011).

Who develop the cultural imperialism theory? ›

The foremost western theorist of cultural imperialism in the West was Herbert Schiller. The concept was adopted and endorsed in the 1970s by both UNESCO and the Non-Aligned Movement.

Is media globalization a form of cultural imperialism? ›

Media globalisation is a form of cultural imperialism as the media is tied in with the cultural concepts which originate from the financial dealings of dependency.

What is cultural imperialism how does it differ from cultural globalization? ›

In contrast to cultural imperialism, which encourages scholars to concentrate on cultural domination and cultural producers and on the power of the latter to impose their ideology on others, globalization of culture encourages researchers to focus on cultural resistance and cultural consumption as well as on the power ...

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