Feeling nostalgic over a world built on reruns
As I reflect on my first international media and communications class of the semester, there is one thing that resonates and funnily enough shouldn’t have been the only thing I took away from the class: the class’ profound knowledge and obsession of the US TV classic Friends. Many classmates have watched the show and many can recall a specific episode, but what really got me thinking was how countless episodes of an American TV show can shape my perspective towards, and create a love for, all things iconic that make up the American identity from a global perspective.
O’Shaughnessy & Stadler in their text ‘Globalisation’ Media and Society (2008) introduce the term cultural imperialism which describes how one culture spreads its values and ideas culturally to another -such as through the media with the most obvious example being through the global reach of Hollywood films and US television – hello Friends.
But what possible value and ideas could a television show like Friends spread into the mind of a typical Australian university student? Appadurai in his text ‘Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy (1996) discusses the concept of an imagined world derived from a “synchronic warehouse of cultural scenarios” in which images and narratives of media lead to constructed landscapes of what is happening across the globe.
In other words, the further away someone is from the direct experience of New York’s metropolitan life, the more likely they would rely on media and its (generally clichéd and stereotyped) representations to construct an imagined world of what this life may be like to the point that the lines between what is realistic and fictional becomes blurred.
Appadurai refers to this as ‘constituting narratives of the other’ – I do it to Disney loving, Nike wearing, McDonald eating America and America does it to me – am I really an outback living, Kangaroo riding, shrimp eating Aussie with a strange accent?
But before I hail a yellow taxi, buy a bagel and eat a hotdog at a baseball game lets further explore the implications of such imagined worlds created by the media.
Criticised for being a new form of dependency in which the traditional cultures are destroyed through the intrusion of Western values, there has always been the fear of ‘cultural absorption’ when it comes to cultural imperialism.
Such a fear surrounds the “bottomless appetite in the Asian world for all things Western” as Appadurai suggests using the Filipino affinity for American pop music as an example. He describes how Philippine renditions of American pop songs are more widespread and faithful to their originals than in the United States today – creating a nation of make believe Americans.
But the American nation cannot be the one to blame, while cultural values (and music) of the Western world have been heavily influential, Appadurai notes that the rest of their lives are not in complete synchrony with the “referential world that first gave birth to these songs”. In fact cultural influences usually become indigenised one way or another and communication is a two-way process of exchange, meaning media content isn’t passively absorbed without resistance, negotiation and the contextualisation of the message to the users own culture.
Here’s an example.