Monday, November 28, 2005

Week 9 Resou, Evalu & Analy

This week my wife and I traveled to the Northwest for my cousin's wedding, and as I was reading John Storey's book, Inventing Popular Culture, I saw pieces of it coming alive all around me.

Storey writes a convincing manifesto on the development of the phenomenon of Pop Culture, describing its evolution from the old modernist dichotomy of high and low art/culture to today's postmodern leveling of the cultural playing field and blurring of the high/low distinctions.

What intrigued me the most from Storey, for the sake of this project on Global Media and Culture, was his chapter on Pop Culture as Global Culture. He makes the same point that was discussed last week from Pieterse (in fact, Storey quoted Pieterse several times)--that rather than destroying local cultures and Americanizing everything into a homogeneous mass, globalization is more accurately providing for the blending of cultures into unique and never-before-seen hybrids: "Globalization offers the possibility of cultural mixing on a scale never before known. This can of course produce resistance to difference, but it can also produce the fusing of different cultures and the making of new and exciting forms of cultural hybridity" (Storey 117).

This is what I witnessed last week as I drove through Vancouver, B.C., observing both trappings of contemporary Canadian culture and remnants of its British heritage; totem poles, museums and community centers representing its Native past and present; and restaurants featuring food from a hundred different nations world-wide.

This is also what I witnessed on a much more personal level through the celebration of the marriage of my west-coast American cousin and her Guatemalan husband. The wedding was a fairly typical North-American wedding, but the groom gave his vows in his native tongue. The reception was a mixture of Guatemalan marimba music, dancing, many international foods and drinks, US traditions. The couple was from the very beginning intentionally mixing their two very disparate cultures into one special hybrid that maintained some unique flavors of both while exploring new frontiers that could only be discovered together.

Storey said it well when he concluded, "Perhaps there will never be a global culture shared horizontally by all peoples of the globe; local circumstances, including local traditions, may always preclude it. But is that the kind of global culture worth working towards? Better, I think, to build a world culture that is not a monoculture, marked only by hierarchical distinctions, but a world culture which values plurality, in which diversity and difference exist in horizontal relations...." (Storey 119-120).

Some US MNCs seem to globalize with such capitalistic aggression that their intent appears to be total global Americanization, and many of us "enlightened," intentional Jesus-followers show in our actions and our attitudes that such cultural domination is what we fear. I think the things we have read the last few weeks serve to address our fears that the US will wipe-out other local cultures and expose our fears as unfounded.

The question we are still left to ask is what our response is. What is our part to play? As the cultures of the world are hybridized by globalization what should Jesus-followers stand for? I believe we should stand for open, even-handed cultural mixing that honors all the cultures that enter the mix. We should still be on the look out for the powers and structures that would discriminate or marginalize on the basis of race, class, or any other distinction. We also can ground ourselves in the unshakable core of our faith, so we do not get nervous or defensive around the increasing plurality of religions and philosophies.

Media can play a role as well. As we have discussed a number of times before, one of mass-media's most effective uses is that of advocacy. Also, as technology gets cheaper and information pathways are increasingly opened to all, mediums such as the internet can be used by local cultures to join in the global conversations and add their voices to the mix. We as Jesus-followers can work to be just in the ways we use media, and create bold, beautiful works of Popular Art that embody and evoke the best values we hope to add to the global cultural discussion.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Week 8 Resou, Evalu & Analy

This is our last week working with Held, McGrew, Goldblatt & Perraton's Global Transformations text (although, there is a really good chapter later on "Globalization, Culture & the Fate of Nations" that I think I may bring into the discussion in the next week or so). Here are some thoughts I have on their chapter on"Corporate Power and Global Production Networks":

The chapter begins... "Aside from global finance, perhaps the commonest image of economic globalization is that of the multinational corporation: huge corporate empires which straddle the globe with annual turnovers, matching the entire GNP of many nations" (Held 236). I began alluding to this when I was interacting with their historical surveys of global influence and political empires (see week 6). Today's global landscape is no longer dominated by such large, territorial, military/political empires like ancient Rome or 19th-Century Great Britain. The new empire is the Multinational Corporation (MNC). These companies span the globe, manufacturing, marketing and distributing their products all over the world. The expansiveness and pervasiveness of the influence of MNCs makes their impact much greater than their own profit-margins. MNCs function as influencing powers on the global level.
"...MNCs are not simply 'national firms with international operations' which wander the globe in search of maximum profits.... MNCs and global production networks are critical to the organization, location and distribution of productive power in the contemporary world economy" (Held 282). Where MNCs choose to do business can make or break the economies of entire nations. Where MNCs choose to make their products or services available, they impact not only the economy, but the society and culture as well.

And no nation on earth has done the MNC-thing quite like the United States: "US multinationals continued to expand on the basis of their technological superiority across a range of sectors" (Held 243). This, in effect, makes the US a dominant, and even colonial power in the world, not through military conquest and territorial occupation (although recent activities in the Middle East are worth discussing in that light), but through economic and cultural presence via US MNCs.

In addition to Held et al's Global Transformations, we've been reading a new book this week: Globalization & Culture:Global Melange, by Jan Nederveen Pieterse. At one point in his book, Pieterse discusses three paradigms of globalization: "Clash of Civilizations," McDonaldization," and "Hybridization," all of which I thought aptly describe the ways I've seen impact of globalization in recent history. The second of those, however, is the one that most appropriately applies to MNCs and my group's topic of Global Media as a whole. "McDonaldization is a variation on a theme: on the classical theme of universalism and its modern forms of modernization and the global spread of capitalist relations. ...These are variations on the theme of cultural imperialism, in the form of consumerist universalism or global media influence. ...Modernization and Americanization are the latest versions of westernization. If colonialism delivered Europeanization, neocolonialism under U.S. hegemony delivers Americanization." (Pieterse 49). Through its fast food, its media, and the impacts of other MNCs, the United States has been exporting one thing more than anything else: its culture. A professor in a Theology and Pop Culture class I took two years ago said the Popular Culture is America's biggest export. We need to be aware of that as Americans. As Americans who are first and foremost followers of Jesus, we need to be aware of the impact our culture is having on others. We need to be careful about the ways we choose to support US cultural dominance, and savvy about the ways we can subvert it.

I was interested, however, to read Held et al's analysis of the USA's diminishing dominance: "The USA clearly remains the largest overseas investor and its foreign FDI stock has continued to grow in absolute terms. But its share of global FDI has fallen, from around 50 per cent in 1960, to around 25 per cent today" (Held 248). As more and more nations get into the globalization game, the less extreme will be the USA's global cultural presence. Of course, we still need to be wary of a relatively small clique of Developed nations hoarding the pie and leaving few or no pieces for the Developing world. But nevertheless, there is hope that globalization, as unstoppable a force as it seems to be, may not ultimately result in a universal US/Western global culture.

Pieterse thought the same, and suggests that what we are headed for is Hybridization in this post-modern, post-colonial era. Instead of completely distinct cultures clashing, or all cultures being subjected to the dominance of one, he sees a hybrid coming, where distinct local cultures will be enhanced while interacting more freely and openly with every other local culture, creating an ongoing, dynamic global culture that is integrative and representative of the whole (Pieterse 52-55). I think that is the sort of future we as Christians can confidently work toward and look forward to, because it is one in which the Kingdom of God can be proclaimed without being combatant toward any peoples and without destroying any cultures. The Kingdom has come to fight evil, and destroy the power of Hell... not peoples and cultures. To the people of the world we can proclaim justice and freedom in Christ, and from the cultures of the world we can call forth a beautifully rich palette of new worship to God.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Week 7 bonus

Here's some other brainstorming on my part of potential ways to phrase our alternative values, or our responses/tasks/uses of Global Media for Jesus followers:

Intead of self-promotion - Raising awareness on a mass scale of the plight of the poor through media advocacy, and creatively and artistically moving audiences to action.

Instead of separation - Engagement as "Roaring Lambs" within the media industries, producing quality, innovative media Art... be salt and light.

Instead of ignorance & isolation - Engagement through Media Literacy (and study of Media Ecology) and theological reflection, in order to know how media functions, what it does, and how God is already at work within it. (see also the Media & Family group)

Instead of seeking profits or selfish gain - Making liberating media technologies available to those whose voices, skills and gifts have been ignored. (see also Global Technology group)

Instead of creating only for our local community - Provide mass media resources, free of charge whenever possible, for the churches worldwide that have less access to such resources.

Instead of getting News/information from only one "pet" source - Get News/info from multiple sources, so as to have a broader picture of the world and what's happening in it, and not merely one view sponsored by a limited set of corporate agendas.

Instead of making copycat products - Creative artistic innovation, including educating ourselves in good style, aesthetics, and effective techniques... so our products are not behind the curve but on the leading edge.

Instead of making the typical accusations - Be aware of what forces really control the media (i.e. conservative corporate America more so than liberal culture)... also acknowledging we are not merely passive victims because in this market consumers have a great amount of control.

Instead of reinforcing negative stereotypes & enforcing the status quo - Focus not on the powerful, rich, beautiful or famous, but rather use media to tell the stories of the marginalized and the "least of these."

Does anyone else have an "Instead of..." phrase of their own to add to this?

Week 7 Resou, Evalu & Analy

This week we were looking at the chapters in Held's (et al) Global Transformations on Globalization of Trade, and of Finance. The latter of those chapters had lees to offer my area of interest, but there were some thoughts from the chapter on Trade that are worth interacting with.

One major force in the growth of globalization has been increasingly free trade world-wide. "Trade has revolutionized the prospects of all industrial sectors - today few industries rely purely on domestic markets or domestically produces components and raw materials" (Held 149). The Media industry is no exception, particularly in the area of market. The market for media productions is becoming more and more global, as illustrated by the growing mass distribution of books in translation, films, television programs and music to many if not every corner of the globe. Films, for example, produced by companies in the US (but often filmed in other countries, using crew labor from those nations) are no longer released exclusively to a domestic audience first, but are often premiered simultaneously in several countries (e.g. The Matrix, Lord of the Rings). Media is produced for global market.

However, even though I think there has been some within other regional areas (not to mention the rising popularity of "world music), when it comes to media, the US is still by far the largest producer by numbers and scope of reach. The authors of the book said, "Of course, this competition can take various forms such that global markets may often reflect oligopolistic rather than perfectly competitive conditions, with a few major producers dominating a trading sector" (Held 150). Such is certainly the case with media corporations. Worldwide, more and more media producers and outlets are owned by fewer and fewer corporate entities. I made reference to an article that touches on that two weeks ago (see resource #9, The New Global Media, by McChesney). I hope to more clearly boil down that information and map it soon.

Another intriguing discussion in the chapter was on the topic of national protection. As I expected, the US has always been very big on protecting its own trade and domestic product. A pair of tables in the chapter chart tariff rates. On the first covering tariff rates from 1820-1931, the US was by far the highest from 1875 on, with a rate in 1931 of 53% (Held 158). Though it all evened out to a much lower and much more level playing field in the latter 20th Century, the US rate in 1985 of 3.5% was still the highest in the world. Even though our nation has always been a proponent of freedom in the forms of both democratic politics and free-enterprise capitalism, we still have maintained a culture of "protecting our own." Our unbalanced protection policies have probably contributed to our world-wide dominance in certain areas of exportation, among them our popular culture media (likely our biggest export currently). I wonder if any of this dominance will every change since the global state of economics have made nations more dependent on each other. "By the late twentieth century institutional constraints, as well as economic costs, have severely limited the scope for national protectionism" (Held 187).

These observations may not find direct ways of influencing our wiki, but they are at least informative as background. I think there is likely to be more directly useful information in the next chapter on global corporate practices, and in the later chapter on the globalization of culture (and cultural products such as film).

OK, shifting focus... I have some thoughts from work in class last week to post here for consideration of inclusion on our wiki project.

I was spurred on by Bolger's lectures the last several class sessions on Jesus practices in the Gospels to think specifically about certain practices that might speak directly to the subject of cultural transformation in the arena of Global Media.

First, Jesus' practice of caring and providing for the "least of these," as described in his parable about the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25, and expressed through his multiple healings of the poor and needy. The questions pertaining to Global Media that I believe this Jesus-practice forces us to ask are: "How does Global Media oppress those in need?" "How might it liberate them provide for them?"

Secondly, I think of the theme throughout the Gospels, but particularity Luke, of Jesus sharing table-fellowship (interacting intimately) with sinners and outcasts of the society. A good example of this is in the story of Zaccheus in Luke 19. The main question I believe this Jesus-practice raises for us within the context of Global Media and Christian involvement is: "Is isolationism or combatant separatism really the best response for Jesus-followers?"

Finally, Jesus' teachings about being "salt and light" in the world (see Matthew 5:13-14) force me to consider such questions as: "If Jesus-followers boycott participation in the realms of media, how will we ever be a positive presence of 'salt and light'?"

Monday, November 07, 2005

Week 6 Resou, Evalu & Analy

We've been reading Global Transformations: Politics, Economics and Culture by Held, McGrew, Goldblatt & Perraton. Here are some thoughts from the first couple chapters of the book.

Their historical description of the emergence of territorial nation-states and the "rules" that governed their interactions with each other was interesting to me. One thing that struck me was how the Westphalian model that developed from 1648 into the 18th and 19th centuries seemed to set up the global 'society of states' in such a way as to easily allow the global market to be dominated by one (or a few) overpowering nation or economy. All nations were seen as "equal before the law," and yet because the understanding was that differences between nations would be "settled by force" the wealthiest or largest nations could easily dominate the global economic landscape by sheer show of power. It's clear how that model set up the global colonial domination of
Europe as a whole and Britain in particular in the 19th Century. The developing understanding of the free sovereignty of each individual nation somewhat ensured that empires in the model of Rome would no longer exist, but the "principle of effective power" (essentially that might makes right... survival of the fittest) meant that new empires of global economic presence and influence like Great Britain's in the 1800's (on which the sun never set) were free to flourish, to the detriment of weaker, poorer nations.

The similarities between the evolving and pervasive global dominance of
England in the 19th century and the current state of United States global influence are uncanny to me. As territorial or political imperialism diminished, global domination of trade routes, precious natural resources, and socio-economic systems became the new model of influence. "Powerful national economic interests were often able to retain hegemonic positions over former colonial territories through the replacement of 'a visible presence of rule' with the 'invisible government' of banks, companies and international organizations" (Held et al, 45). In a somewhat Westphalian way, the sovereignty of each nation is recognized more now than ever and yet the United States has been so dominant on the global landscape... mostly in those same "invisible" ways... through pervasive financial systems, internationally influential corporations, and organized associations of nations in which the U. S. can so easily enforce its own national interest.

From a Global Media perspective the thing that intrigued me the most was the effectiveness of
England's implementation of speedy global communications. The connecting of their colonies with a submarine cable telegraph system must have been the first electronic global media. The ways that helped them cement their influence globally via quick communication and global dissemination of British-dominated information is a fascinating historical counterpart to the United States' pervasive use of global electronic media for leveraging cultural influence through its number one worldwide export: Popular Culture.