American Media Imperialism: The Role of Mass Media

Subject: Entertainment & Media
Pages: 9
Words: 2257
Reading time:
8 min
Study level: School

Introduction

The domination of one culture over the media market leads to the prevalence of its ideas, suppression of other cultures, and cultural hegemony. American culture popularization over the last century has raised serious concerns regarding its monopoly and raising the issue of imperialism. The terms “media imperialism” and “cultural imperialism” have similar roots and historical backgrounds (Boyd-Barrett, p. 14). The explanation for this connection logically implies that media is the technological means for communicating mass culture. The theory of American media imperialism has had different interpretations during the decades of its development. However, all theorists unanimously connect it to the economic dominance and mass culture industry in the post-war period.

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Main body

To estimate the role of American media dominance in the modern world, it is necessary to assess the threats it poses to individuals and other cultures. The primary concern of the scholars is the idea that American culture is not the product of the free market, but the elaborated strategy of imposing particular views beneficial to the government (Newman et al, p. 338). Besides the threat to the ways of thinking, American mass culture is the source of suppression of other cultures, either outside or within (indigenous culture) its borders. Imperialism can be the reason behind the non-recognition of the diversity of other nations and individual freedom. Media Imperialism is the source of cultural domination of one country over the others that imposes the threat to the variety of cultural heritage and individualism.

Definition of American Media Imperialism

A peculiar feature of many empires in history was their total dominance over the other suppressed nations manifested through culture, language, and religious imposition. In their traditional meaning, empires are not present in the modern world. Still, the same dominance can be realized today without the necessity of political invasion, due to the development of mass media technologies that help to spread the desired information and influence other cultures. Ampuja et al. define American imperialism as the “expansion of capitalism and the political, economic, and cultural relationships of domination between the Western countries and ‘peripheral’ Third World nations” (p. 31). Thus, modern imperialism is less a political rule and more the homogenization of mass culture at the expense of others.

American media and cultural imperialism are strongly associated with the influence of Western civilization on the ways how people around the world consume information. According to Ampuja et al., there are four dimensions in which American media dominance is manifested (p. 33). First of all, media imperialism relies on technological infrastructure, namely the means of communication. They are realized with the help of large multinational corporations that dominate the culture industry. The second dimension is the financial model of a media organization that explains the strong connection between American commercial media and the global market. In addition to this, the imperialistic vision is incorporated into the ways of media personnel training, implying the imposition of professional values that belong to Western civilization. The last dimension of media imperialism concerns the export of informational content.

American Media Imperialism: Historical Overview

Although the term ‘imperialism’ in its modern understanding does not regard the geographical and political empires of the past, its historical association with the colonial rule can be justified. The distinctive feature of American imperialism, as well as the term, is the fact that they both emerged after World War II during the period of geographical disintegration of major Western-dominated empires. The emerging countries of the third world were economically dependent on the Western “core” (Ampuja et al, p. 32). Formally independent, those countries needed the patronage of more powerful nations and were forced into submission. That is why American media imperialism is often recognized as neo-colonial hegemony.

Other historical prerequisites of imperialism refer to technological improvements that allowed the massive spread of American culture to other countries. Technology should be viewed in a broader context than the mere development of mass media. First of all, the technological breakthrough of the 20th century reshaped the ways people live, creating large sprawling cities with high population density around dominating industries. Thus, large homogeneous groups of people with similar educational and economic levels appeared that and later related to as the “masses.” Secondly, the development of media technologies allowed the culture to be brought into the masses when it was previously accessible only to the elite. These two factors created the perfect conditions for the dominance of one culture. The reason that this culture was American and none else can be found in the economic rise of the USA after World War II.

The United States was a leading economy and a dominant political force after the Second World War. The discussion of the threat of the American media dominance to other cultures and individuals within the country began around the 1960s (Ampuja, p. 33). This is the period where both the concepts of cultural and media imperialism were developed. According to Ampuja et al., these concerns were debated among scholars for several decades (p. 33). However, the new concept of ‘globalization’ replaced them in the 1990s (Pieterse, p. 92). Although the traditional understanding of media imperialism as a state morphology monopoly is not popular today, it remains unclear which culture would rule the media market in the global village today.

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Imperialism and Mass Culture

The rule of American imperialism became possible due to the development of mass production and the accessibility of culture to all groups of the population. The content that is shared with the masses critically differs from the elitist ‘high culture’ of the past. It is simplified and standardized to be understandable to people with minimal educational background. As such products do not require any reflection, the audience becomes passive consumers. Thus, people receive large amounts of low-quality content, such as sitcoms, action movies that are intended to simplify the ways they process information.

Culture Industry

Before the era of mass consumption, culture could not be treated as an industry, as it was unique and vibrant with local and individual features. The development of media technology reshaped the concept of the culture, turning it into ‘content.’ Thus today, the cultural development of the nation highly depends on the level of economy and industry. That is why the countries that have dominating economies are usually leading the media market.

Today, no country possesses such media impact on the global market as the USA. According to Mirrlees, the economic wealth of the US cultural market was assessed in 2012 as the largest in the world (p.3). The US pop culture spreads over the world and becomes recognizable in all the countries, proving the immense power of the country on the global media market. Such enormous corporations as Time Warner, the Walt Disney Company, Warner Brothers, Viacom, News Corporation, NBC Universal, and Comcast promote their products far outside the United States. Hollywood movies, American reality shows, pop stars, and fashion brands are recognized around the globe.

The significance of the culture industry and its worldwide domination to the American nation is compared to the ways of European colonies of the past. Mirlees argues that because the US “does not now fit the profile of empires of old, it does not mean that it is not an empire” (p. 55). The primary tool of media imperialism is the spread of mass culture. That is why the so-called anti-mass culture trend has emerged as the opposition to this process. This tendency of ‘high culture’ puts great emphasis on local and indigenous heritage as well as the creative freedom of individuals.

Imposition of Ideas

The historical experience of all vast empires has proved that this geopolitical form is unsustainable and suppressive for other cultures. That is why American cultural imperialism provokes so much discussion. Its primary evident goal is to popularize the American culture around the globe, which is unfair regarding the heritage of other nations. However, this principle is implemented with the help of media infrastructure, and this new concept, media imperialism, raises even more concern. The point is that these technical means of implicit influence on the ways how people think may lead to the development of technocracy. Through the media, the government may translate necessary points of view through the characters of a favorite sitcom, for example, and impose them on the population.

Mass culture in the modern world has the potential to form public opinion, setting trends and marginalizing unnecessary ideas. Properly trained media personnel can make propaganda unnoticeable, yet effective. Mirrlees explains that democratic values of “citizenship, public inclusion, and participation are sidelined by corporate values such as individual self-interest, rampant consumerism, and exclusionary forms of pay-to-belong brand loyalty” (p. 55). However, it should not be necessarily promoted by the government, as often it is the marketing initiative of the corporations. Nevertheless, its harm to individual freedom remains in both cases.

The motivation to dominate the thinking of populations is explained by the desire to promote conformity and obedience, which are comfortable for the government. Specific strategies are developed to prevent people from seeing the flaws in society and encourage the idealized perception of the world. According to Newman et al., false consciousness is promoted among the populations from the lower economical to “possess representations of reality that conceal or obscure their subordination, exploitation, and domination” (p. 328). Thus the method of false consciousness shapes the national or corporate ideology among the masses. The illustration of the way how this strategy works can be found in the brief history of American comics. The periods of the extreme popularity of these short illustrated magazines were popular among the working class who lived in poverty. The stories of superheroes who had supernatural powers distracted people from everyday hardship.

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Technology of Consumerism

The philosophy of consumerism has spread through the US society and all others influenced by the American media imperialism, creating a false perception of the world and substituting humanistic values. Multinational corporations homogenize societies around the world through the promotion of consumerist ideology. McDonaldization is the theory of mass consumption that explains how “the principles of the fast-food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society as well as the rest of the world” (Pieterse, p. 51). Such a tendency takes place not only in the food industry, but also in fashion, media, and other spheres.

The promotion of brand ideology is another means of consumerism technology that is based on creating indoctrinating brand culture. This strategy promotes unreasonable devotion to certain companies shaping the population’s preferences based on blind belief in a particular logo. It is the methodology of creating a symbolic association of a brand with a specific lifestyle that is valued more than the product’s practical qualities. This strategy has an immense impact on consumer behavior.

American Media Imperialism Today

The modern media market has transformed beyond recognition in recent decades as the Internet media made the emergence of the new decentered global network possible. Although the developed governments can still use the technocracy strategies, they become more expensive and complicated than the use of television and printed media for this purpose. Cyberspace gives virtual freedom literally to anyone, so small companies, and even separate people can be heard worldwide. Keltie claims the audience of mass media has transformed recently, becoming more active (p. 13). The ways how this population receives information imply that modern media products should be more interactive. The distinctive feature of cyberspace is that today media market consists not only of media corporations. Instead, each brand becomes a media resource today advertising their products through official websites and increasing their web presence with the help of social media.

Nevertheless, the fact that the US does not have so much political influence on global media trends does not exclude the presence of American media imperialism. Large corporations spend immense sums on online marketing strategies, promoting consumerism and brand ideology. Ampuja et al. claim that “the global media market is still rather asymmetrical and dominated by corporations from the core industrialized nations” (p. 34). American corporations still rule this dynamic market using their extensive economic influence, so American media imperialism persists.

Although the Americans are still dominating the global media market, they are no more solitary leaders of the industry. Recent years have been marked by the increasing media presence of Eastern corporations, promoting Asian culture, brands, and ideology (Pieterse, p. 138). This cultural and informational expansion began slowly beginning with the popularity of Eastern cuisine or martial arts, but now it is rapidly escalating involving musical, fashion, and filmmaking industries. Although American media imperialism would still rule the global village, it would not be as homogeneous as before, because the presence of Japan, Korea, and China would be significant.

Conclusion

American media imperialism takes its roots from the post-war period that was associated with the extensive growth of the US economic and military influence in the world, especially in third-world countries. The expansion of American media influence has shaped American values and promoted US-based corporations around the globe. The development of mass media technologies made it possible to expand the American culture industry and transformed the global market, making it pro-American. This dominance brought harm to local cultures reducing diversity and eliminating a variety of cultural heritage. Media imperialism is a dangerous tool in the hands of technocratic governments as it can promote propaganda, create a false consciousness, and strengthen conformism in society. The era of the Internet has transformed the global media market, but multinational corporations still rule it. However, today, this market is not exclusively dominated by Americans, as Asian corporations also have economic potential sufficient to share the influence.

References

  1. Ampuja, Marko, et al. “Historicizing and Theorizing Media and Cultural Imperialism.” Media Imperialism: Continuity and Change, edited by Oliver Boyd-Barrett and Tanner Mirrlees, Rowman & Littlefield, 2019, pp. 31-43.
  2. Boyd-Barrett, Oliver. “Media and Cultural Imperialism.” Media Imperialism: Continuity and Change, edited by Oliver Boyd-Barrett and Tanner Mirrlees, Rowman & Littlefield, 2019, pp. 11–30.
  3. Keltie, Emma.The Culture Industry and Participatory Audiences. Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.
  4. Mirrlees, Tanner. Hearts and Mines: the US Empires Culture Industry. UBC Press, 2016.
  5. Newman, Benjamin J., et al. “False Consciousness or Class Awareness? Local Income Inequality, Personal Economic Position, and Belief in American Meritocracy.” American Journal of Political Science, vol. 59, no. 2, 2014, pp. 326-340.
  6. Pieterse, Jan Nederveen. Globalization and Culture: Global Mélange. 2nd ed., Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2019.