Making Sense of Self in a Global Cultural Economy

As we find ourselves moving towards an increasingly digitized society, there is an undeniable cultural phenomenon that is taking over the United States and the rest of the world. While some argue that this represents unification among the countries of the world over, there are others that fear that this process is proving to be more divisive than ever. Regardless of which camp the reader may fall into, this change that is being experienced through social media websites, like YouTube, has become a force unlike any other that the world has seen. The process at the heart of this cultural revolution, as well as several crucial media and cultural studies readings, is simply known as globalization.
While the goal of pieces, such as Croteau and Hoynes’ seminal text “Media in a Changing Global Culture”, is to define the process of globalization, it is certainly not an easy task. Croteau and Hoynes do best to define globalization by establishing its effects and its influence on the global community. One of the first ideas addressed in this essay, which others have noted in their own works, is the process of globalization as defined in the age of the Internet. While it may seem like a simple statement, their dissection of the internet explores the removal of the physical confines of both time, in the case of e-mail, which is immediate, as opposed to snail mail, and space, such as the geographical locations we used to be confined to, They also discuss how the globalization process has opened up the means of communication and sharing, as well as blending, cultures that would otherwise have remained unknown to one another.
However, Croteau and Hoynes also feel the need to address the political implications and faults of this global community. One of the most important ideas at the heart of this piece returns to the idea of hegemony on a global scale. It would be foolish to ignore the issue of capital, both cultural and monetary. The authors note that the process of globalization seems to overlook this factor, but as it exists today, cultures with the most monetary value, such as the United States, tend to be dominant forces on the global stage. This effectively negates most of the positive “cultural sharing” that made globalization such an appealing prospect in the first place.
Barbara Klinger addresses this same issue, albeit through a different approach, in her piece “Contraband Cinema: Piracy, Titanic, and Central Asia.” While she acknowledges the ethical and legal quandaries of piracy, she looks at as an alternative form of distribution which allows the cultural capital to exist outside of its culture of production. Furthermore, Klinger suggests a reading of how these texts, particularly Titanic, indicate American cultural values to transnational audiences. At this point, Klinger recalls the issue of alternate readings and how each society read the film differently based on their cultural values and/or expectations. Most importantly, Klnger encourages a reading of Titanic that forces the American reader outside of his or her pre-constructed understanding of the film. As in the case of Afghanistan, she sees popularized Western media as a form of subversiveness. Although she is never able to reconcile the American understanding of piracy as an “illegitimate” form of distribution and the Afghani view of it as the only legitimate form of consumption as well as a political act, she raises these issues that suggest a fracturing of the global community. At the same time, she suggests a lowest common denominator reading, indicated by Titanic’s popularity worldwide. In the end, the film’s popularity in Afghanistan may be for a variety of reasons, many of which seem to be inherently political, but through Klinger’s reading she describes a “culture of anticipation” that came alive through Titanic’s piracy.
Thussu returns to the roots of globalization as a product of Western influence, being peddled to the rest of the world in “Mapping Global Media Flow and Contra-Flow” but prefers to problematize the relationship. Rather than accept these established relationships, the article looks at concrete evidence which supports the claim that globalization, while previously one way, has opened itself up to a culture of resistance. The aptly titled contra-flow suggests a resistance to the Western influence on the global cultural economy. Thussu’s claims of Western hegemonic ideals are strongly grounded in facts and figures, even accounting for the article’s bulk, but as the issue of contra-flow surfaces, the text turns to a piece on examples. Through an examination of several other countries, notably Mexico and India, who have worked to create their own localized products that have made their way into the global market, Thussu makes her claim that a power struggle as well as a cultural shift is beginning to find a voice in a predominantly Westernized world.
“Disjuncture and Difference in Global Economy” attempts to make sense of the aforementioned disparities between certain cultural readings of cross-cultural texts. What Appadurai privileges in this particular text is the contextualization of certain readings. Even though globalization is still a relatively recent phenomenon, the people who are taking part in the process have their own history. In fact, they have an obligation to their own history to account for it when it comes to an understanding of a particular global text. The author accounts for a number of ways of reading as well as representation by immersing the audience in a new language. Once again, the question of language is crucial to the study of various cultures, an issue that Appadurai does not take lightly. The rest of the article addresses issues of sociology and cultural studies, their ever-changing relationships in a world that is constantly in a state of flux. One such relationship that the author attempts to make sense of is the nation and the state’s relationships with one another. This is a particularly difficult task, but Appadurai attempts to piece together how the two seem to be at odds with each other, while being incapable of existing without one another. This is just one of the many issues of disjunction and discord in an increasingly globalized world. However, the piece ends on a helpful note. After spending several pages problematizing, the piece offers hope for where we go next and what needs to take place in order for global cultural exchanges to truly succeed.
Jenkins however, does the most comprehensive and accessible discussion of globalization. The author once again returns to his particular field of interest, media convergence with an element of fan studies. He uses particular examples of pop culture phenomenon, such as Pokemon and Yugi-Oh, that originated from other cultures but have found their way into the American pop culture consciousness. Although Jenkins is entertaining in his dissection of the appropriation of images and their ability to elicit various readings, most of this material is familiar territory, both to the class and those familiar with Jenkins’ work. However, the piece makes interesting use of its language, most notably the term “pop cosmopolitanism.” Jenkins uses this term to discuss how people have come to use popular culture to make sense of themselves and their own identity. As opposed to the other articles, this piece is more focused on the individual. Granted, Jenkins makes use of generalizations about an entire generation in order to make some sort of sense of this trend, but it is a much more individual heavy interpretation of some of these aspects of globalization. While “Pop Cosmopolitanism” is one of the shorter pieces and, as previously mentioned it finds itself re-stating some of the previous arguments, it brings a unique perspective. This is evidenced in Jenkins discussion of the media imperialism argument where he divides into four categories, but feels the need to discuss the psychological implications of this process that few, if any, of the other authors did in their work. In the end, it is not only Jenkins unparalleled attention to detail, but his example of how these concepts of globalization and trans-national cultural capital by using Japanese pop culture was alarmingly effective.
The question of one’s place in the world, whether it be an individual or an entire culture, is never easy to answer. In fact, it is seemingly impossible to answer. However, this does not mean that we should stop trying. Through a better understanding of how the world works, on a cultural level and an economic level, we are doing our best. While we may not have any definitive answers, the very fact that we are able to see and position ourselves in this global cultural shift awakens an incomparable optimism for whatever comes next in the modern world.


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