The concept of media and cultural imperialism was made prominent by a number of Latin American thinkers including Antonio Pasquali, Luis Ramiro Beltran, Fernando Reyes Matta, and Mario Kaplun. In addition, Dallas Smythe, Herbert Schiller, Oliver Boyd-Barrett, and Armand Mattelart have been instrumental to the development of this theory.
According to Tomlinson, the argument that links cultural globalization to cultural imperialism is as follows: “globalization is either just the latest term for, or the latest stage in, a process with a long history, a history more or less co-extensive with the history of Western imperialism. It is simply the global working through of a process of domination in which the West draws all cultures into its ambit.
Adherents of the media imperialism tradition held that a small group of Western countries not only controlled the international media trade but used it to transmit their particular cultural and economic values, particularly individualism and consumerism, to large numbers of developing nations around the world. Boyd-Barrett (1997:119) writes that the country which is affected by media influence either adopts this influence as a deliberate commercial or political strategy, or simply absorbs this influence unreflectively as the result of the contract. According to Herbert Schiller (1976), ‘The concept of cultural imperialism today best describes the sum of the processes by which a society is brought into the modern world system and how is dominating stratum is attracted, pressured, forced, and sometimes bribed into shaping social institutions to correspond to, or even promote, the value and structures of the dominating center of the system.’
Two Models of Cultural Imperialism
Boyd-Barrett provides a useful distinction, between the “Schiller Model” of cultural imperialism and the generic model. The generic model, developed in Europe (and heavily influenced by Boyd-Barrett himself) integrates time/space considerations, so is more widely applicable than the Schiller Model. It acknowledges the “multidimensionality” of media forms and degrees of dependence and imperialism – so it is not as important if the focus is on the third-world of the developed world. The model can be used to analyze, for instance, the domination of American television in the UK.
Cultural imperialism extrapolates from very widely accepted models of centre-periphery flows and relationships, and from equally compelling evidence on historical patterns of domination – for example European colonialism.
Contributions to Cultural Imperialism
- Stuart Hall argues that the global mass culture is actually predominantly American culture. Hall looks at the global cultural sphere as being “dominated by the visual and graphic arts. . .dominated by television and by film, and by the image, imagery, and styles of mass advertising.”
- Edward Said writes that Europe has constructed its identity by “relegating and confining the non-European to a secondary racial, cultural, ontological status.”
- According to Herbert Schiller, globalization is a process whereby all global cultures are inexorably drawn into the sphere of influence of one single ‘capitalist culture’. Schiller also connects the capitalist culture argument with the “Americanization” thesis – the diffusion of “homogenized North Atlantic cultural slop.”
Criticizm of Cultural Imperialism
Much of the discourse on media and cultural imperialism focuses on production, distribution, and content of global media, as opposed to their reception (Ang, 1996; Tomlinson, 1991). Chaffee (1992) observes that promoting the idea of the spread of global media resulting in homogenization have rarely tested their theory empirically. Most theories that have been tested through ethnographic studies of media consumption normally arrive at conclusions contrary to what most media and cultural imperialists believe. There is an over-emphasis on content analysis in much of this discourse, which neglects the importance of semiotics and audience reception studies.
Tomlinson, John (1997) Cultural Globalization and Cultural Imperialism, pp. 170-190 in Ali Mohammadi (ed.) International Communication and Globalization. London: Sage.