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Political Economy: Cultural Imperialism in Broadcasting

By:   •  June 6, 2013  •  Essay  •  3,341 Words (14 Pages)  •  1,773 Views

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When the word culture is heard, the first thing that comes to mind is our traditional clothes, food, dance and also all other traditional culture that we practice in Malaysia. But what is actually the definition of culture? According to Bates and Plog (1976), "Culture is a system of shared beliefs, values, customs, behaviors, and artifacts that the members of a society use to cope with their world and with one another, and that are transmitted from generation to generation through learning." What Bates and Plog wanted to say here is that culture is actually passed on from one generation to another generation through a learning process. Culture is not something we develop on our own but it is a practice that is inherited from the people before us. This practice can be from values, behaviors, and also beliefs. This means that culture is also not static and changes through generations.

Cultural imperialism alone has many definitions. Herbert Schiller (1976) defined it as "The sum of the processes by which a society is brought into the modern world system, and how its dominating stratum is attracted, pressured, forced, and sometimes bribed into shaping social institutions to correspond to, or even to promote, the values and structures of the dominant center of the system." John Tomlinson (2002), author of the book, Cultural Imperialism: A critical introduction, defines the term as "the use of political and economic power to exalt and spread the values and habits of a foreign culture at the expense of a native culture." In other words, it can be said that cultural imperialism means one culture taking over or dominating another culture. Culture imperialism can take many forms from a common manner to lifestyle.

The word cultural imperialism came to be known in the 1960's. Other words that mean the same as cultural imperialism is "media imperialism", "cultural synchronization", and "ideological imperialism". John Tomlinson also mentioned that cultural imperialism is also a spread of modernity which is true where it can truly be seen in Malaysia itself. It has also dominated other Asian countries such as Japan, Korea, and India moreover in the way of dressing. Japan is known as a country that has a level of patriotism in their hearts. However they could not curb the Western influence mainly in office attires where they adapt that in their society. Then men wear suits and ties while the women wear three piece office wear too. This is also practiced almost all over the globe.

As we can see, the development of the Malaysian mass media has evolved in the past decade. Our industry is starting on to a new era with adapting the new technologies from the West. However, it is also because of this that cultural imperialism is invading our country; which is through the media. Mainly, the influence of the Western culture is from the advertising industry which bombards the society with so much information. However, the broadcasting media is also one of the main medium that influences the Malaysian society. With the era of globalization now occurring, it is impossible for not only Malaysians but also the world to curb this cultural imperialism by the Westerners. Moreover with the privatization of television broadcasting like Astro, the level of cultural imperialism injected to us is higher. Besides that, the economic growth also plays an important role in contributing towards cultural imperialism besides mass media itself.

Current Trends in Malaysian Broadcasting

We now live in a world with no boundaries. This is due to the technology nowadays that are getting more and more sophisticated. Ten years ago, we could never even imagined that things we saw in sci-fi movies would actually be true in real life. Just say for example Apple's most popular and sophisticated technology which is the i-phone and i-pad. Once upon a time, we only saw touch screen computers on science fiction movies but now, we can see it and also experience it ourselves. Who would have ever thought that something so advanced 10 years back could be a reality now?

This can also be applied to the broadcasting media. In the world today, we can see so much technology being applied on screen that sometimes we can't believe it ourselves that there is such an advanced technology and more remarkable about it, it looks real. Let's take an example the Avatar. It looks as though the world of Avatar is really factual. The movie Avatar by James Cameron is one of the highest grossed movies in history using about 70% of the Computer Generated Imaginary technology (CGI). Besides using CGI, Avatar also uses another technology which is 3D.

Due to the increase usage of technology nowadays, Malaysia also does not want to be left out. Malaysia is going forward in keeping pace with the technology. Even though it might not be as classy as in the United States or in the West, we are moving to a new era where we can be equally sophisticated like them. One good example that can be mentioned here is a local company KRU. KRU started their steps in making movies using this kind of technology. Among the movies that KRU produced using this technology is the film Cicak Man and also Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa. Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa is Malaysians first epic film and was the most nominated film in the 24th Malaysian Film Festival.

High definition (HD) television programs are also starting to be aired in Malaysia. This was started by the private broadcast media Astro which has a specific channel to watch this channel. For those who have a big screen high definition television set, they can subscribe to this channel to enjoy this service. Besides that, it is believed that in the next few years, the usage of the analogue television transmission will eventually be outdated. The first city which switched off the analogue television transmission was Berlin. Analogue transmission is actually referred to as traditional broadcast programme transmitted over airwaves for public reception on a suitably tuned device. Now, video and audio is delivered in so many different ways that this medium will no longer be used. It is heard that RTM will also turn off this analogue television transmission and use a digital transmission.

Issues in Malaysian Broadcasting

As consumers, we are not good decision makers. We let the media make the decisions for us sometimes. This is where advertising comes in and also product placement. So with the Western movies bombarding the Malaysian entertainment industry, it is quite impossible not to follow what is shown. Being in Malaysia, a country where we receive numerous inputs and information from the West, it is impossible not to be influenced by them. Mostly, we tend to receive these information's and these inputs from the media. The influence of the media is so strong that it is hard to curb what is being injected by the media to the society. It is said that the broadcasting media is one of the most influential compared to the other media. This is what cultural imperialism means in the context of mass communications where a culture of one country is injected to another country. Basically, the culture which is dominating Malaysia is, of course, the Westerner culture or Americanization.

As mentioned above, it is through broadcasting where the society is influenced the most. Movies such as Twilight, The Godfather, and Harold and Kumar are examples of only some movies that influence the Malaysian society. While the examples for television dramas and comedy are such as Gossip Girl, Sex in The City, and also Friends which are also one of the top rating television series not only in United States but also in Malaysia. The portrayal of the Western culture in these media is so strong until we unconsciously adapt it to our culture. Moreover a majority of households in Malaysia owns a television set plus with the service of Astro, watching these types of stories is only at the tip of their fingers. We are imperialized from the most common manner to the lifestyle we live. This can be seen clearly in the way we are living our lives right now. It is portrayed in they we speak, the way we dress and also the way we talk.

The content of the movies and television dramas shown can influence the society in many ways. It can not only be by the attitude and behaviour of the society but also the lifestyle of the Malaysian society. Let's look upon the contents of the movies that can influence the attitude and behaviour of the Malaysian society. Let's say for example, the typical American movie where a son or daughter has fights with their parents. These types of scenes always happen in Western movies like 10 Things I Hate About You, She's All That and many more. Long gone are the days where parents scold their children, their children will just be quiet and admit their wrongdoing. Now, we can see that what is portrayed in those scenes are played back by the children of Malaysia. Besides that, Malaysians are known for their politeness and respect for the elderly but with the influence of the typical American movies shown on television or in the movies, children nowadays are starting to follow what is portrayed in the movies. They no longer respect their elderly and also the Malaysian politeness that we were so famous of, is no longer embedded in our life.

Besides attitude and behaviour, other areas that are influenced by what is portrayed in these stories are the way we dress. This is the most obvious cultural imperialism done by the Westerners.


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