VI Globalization, Migration, and Mobility

Globalization, Migration, and Mobility

Multilayered Identities and Coexistence of Preferences for National and US Television

Joseph Straubhaar, Vanessa de Macedo Higgins Joyce, Melissa Santillana, and Luiz Guilherme Duarte

Global Flows of Television

Since the early 1970s, there has been considerable debate about the nature and meaning of international flows of television. Studies in the early 1970s showed that many countries imported most of their television, most of it from the US—beginning a strong debate about the one-way flow of television (Nordenstreng & Varis, 1974). Studies in the era showed the US as an imperial power in media, also dominating flows of film (Guback, 1984), news (Boyd-Barrett, 1980), music (Laing, 1986), and comics (Dorfman & Mattelart, 1972). Cultural imperialism was a strong argument, predicting an ever-increasing cultural domination of the developing and socialist worlds by the West, particularly the US (Schiller, 1969). That included increasing one-way media flows, penetration and ownership of cultural industries, and cultivating audiences into a consumer-oriented global paradigm by an increased reliance on advertising in television systems (Boyd-Barrett, 1977). Another related theoretical view of these phenomena, developed in Latin America, was that they reflected an economic and cultural dependence by developing countries there on the US (Beltran & Fox de Cardona, 1980; Fox, 1975).

However, subsequent research showed that a number of countries were beginning to produce much of their own programming, such as Brazil (Straubhaar, 1984), Egypt (Abu-Lughod, 1993), India (Agrawal, Joshi, & Sinha, 1986), and Mexico (Fernandez & Paxman, 2000). Some studies began to show that national television was also more popular than US imports (Antola & Rogers, 1984). One of the theories developed to explain this preference for national programming was cultural proximity—that audiences would tend to prefer television programs that were most relevant and culturally similar to them, when countries could afford to produce them (Straubhaar, 1991). A similar, converse view, based in media economics, was that audiences would tend to reject cultural products that were too different or dissimilar, the theory of the cultural discount (Hoskins & Minis, 1988).

Many of those emerging major producing countries also exported television to their neighboring regions. Brazil and Mexico began to dominate television trade within Latin America (Roncagliolo, 1996). Egypt dominated television flows within the Middle East (Amin, 1996). Hong Kong was then a major producer for much of the rest of Asia (To & Lau, 1995; Wilkins, 1998).These studies initiated a major round of research and theorization about the regionalization of television (Sinclair, Jacka, & Cunningham, 1996).Together these findings challenged one of the major tenets of cultural imperialism and dependency theories, that developing and non-Western countries would continue to depend on the US and Europe for most of their television programming.

However, many audiences continued to watch some US television, such as movies, cartoons,and action adventure series, programs that could not economically be produced in most developing countries, but which had loyal audiences cultivated during the long history of US cultural exports (Straubhaar, 2007). An even stronger argument for continued US presence was developed by Todd Gitlin, who argued that that same long history of US cultural penetration had made US culture the second culture of many people in the world (Gitlin, 1998). Kesearch in Europe showed that while national programming was most preferred, US programming (not regional European programming) was the most frequent second choice (Buonanno, 2008). Furthermore, empirical audience research, conducted along with cultural proximity theory, showed that upper middle class and elite audiences often preferred foreign culture from the US or Europe, while middle, lower middle, and working classes tended to prefer national programs (Straubhaar, 1991).That fits one of the predictions of both cultural imperialism and dependency theories, that local and national elites would tend to be drawn into the cultures of former colonial powers in Europe or the US (Dos Santos, 1973).

These diverse tendencies are further reinforced by technological developments. Cheaper, more portable and easier to use waves of first transistor and now digitally based production technology have enabled more groups in more countries in the world to produce more of their own programming, reinforcing local and national bases of television (Straubhaar, 2007). However, first satellite/cable and now internet distribution technologies have also made global expansion easier for international television channels like CNN and HBO (Chalaby, 2005), or more recently streaming services, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+ (Lobato, 2018), bringing large amounts of imported programming to many places and those people who can afford satellite, cable, or internet-based television. This reinforces the class base of television flows, since many people either cannot afford these new forms of television, or as in the case of broadband internet, may simply not have access (Straubhaar, Castro, Duarte, & Spence, 2019).

So in terms of global and regional television flows, as well as generally rising national production in many parts of the world (Straubhaar 2007), an argument can be made for a complex multiplicity of flows that seem to correspond to complex arrangements of national identities that have been cultivated in most parts of the world by governments (Anderson, 1983), the ability of national producers to create a wide variety of genres, influence over time from global cultural powers, and the varied interests of social classes that may have been quite differently internationalized.

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