Glocalization Gone Bad

The globalization theory helps us understand how interconnected the world is. While not new it still provides useful insight for IC practitioners, especially people working in global corporate marketing and advertising. Take for example, a KFC ad from Australia that aired a few years ago.

The ad was created by the Australian ad team and intended only to air in Australia and nowhere else. A little background: the Australian and West Indies cricket teams have a long history and strong rivalry. When I was living in Australia and talking to a friend who is the news director of Channel 7 about race relations in the US, he was telling me about the ad. He explained to me that Australia doesn’t have the same history of race issues like the US does given their lack of slavery, segregation, etc.

The ad shows a white guy in his Australian jersey in the stands surrounded by West Indies fans. Paraphrasing, he says “Need some help when in an awkward situation?” Then pulls out a bucket of KFC chicken and all the West Indies fans start dancing and having fun with him. Believe it or not, it did not cause much of a stink in Australia. However, due to the power of the internet and YouTube, Americans found it and got very upset (rightfully so by our standards). The ad was pulled from Australian TV and KFC had to issue apologies.

The ad is as well as an interesting discussion from the Today show are below.

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Globalization is Not Over

When I think about globalization I think about K-pop star Taeyang’s song, “Wedding Dress.”  I was introduced to this song during my junior year of college when my Pakistani roommates grabbed my Chinese roommate and I and excitedly shared Taeyang’s YouTube video with us.  This song, which incorporates both English and Korean lyrics, also incorporates the familiar tune most of us in the US and much of the Western world know as “Here Comes the Bride” or “Wedding March,” which you can hear distinctly at the 3:20 time mark. Interestingly enough, this song is not American as some might think but was actually derived from the “Bridal Chorus” of German composer Richard Wagner’s famous opera Lohengrin, first performed in 1850.

But how did we move from this: 

To this: 

To this?

I would argue that the only way to truly understand the evolution of this tune into an iconic part of popular culture and media consumption across the globe is through the concepts and theories of globalization. However, not only can you see globalization at work in the production of Taeyang’s song, but also in making that midnight conversation possible in the first place.

After all, without the movement of people across borders and the technology to enable the transnational transportation of ideas, I would not have been born in America to two immigrants from South Korea and El Salvador and then twenty-some years later have the surreal experience of sitting on my apartment floor with my roommate from Nanjing, China, YouTubing and learning about Korean popular culture from my Pakistani roommates.

Recently, some have argued that globalization is now in a state of retreat, leaving behind problems it has caused but cannot actually effectively resolve. However, though this may be true, my personal experience has led me to conclude that globalization is far from over.

Some may argue that experiences like the aforementioned are only accessible for the global elite – and I would say, for the most part, absolutely. After all international students in the US tend to be from the upper socioeconomic levels of their societies and the DC metropolitan area is host to an incredible amount of financial, educational, technological, and cultural resources that I, myself, have been privileged to be able to access.

There are still others that are still quite concerned with globalization and see it as a threat to their own national cultures. Witness the ongoing conflict between Netflix and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. While concerns over nationalism and identity are certainly understandable, it would be more productive to explore how globalization and its effects can be utilized as an opportunity for public diplomacy and nation branding rather than try to hold back a powerful and seemingly inevitable force.

Better yet, why not explore the ways that globalization can be used for building a more peaceful world? The lighthearted conversations my roommates and I had about K-pop paved the way for more serious conversations about Muslim-Christian relations, ethnic tensions in Pakistan and China, and educational equality and access for women in South Asia and the Middle East.

Globalization may be in retreat but it is far from over. In order to be able to address and explore its resulting challenges and opportunities, practitioners of international communication must continue to strive for a comprehensive understanding of globalization’s underlying theory, current applicability, and future implications.

Globalization and IC

Whether one is pro globalization or a staunch skeptic, we can’t ignore that globalization and communication technology are inextricably linked. As Elizabeth Hanson mentioned in her work, “The globalizing processes…are the product of technological innovation, market forces, political change and consumer choices—combining and mutually reinforcing each other (p173).” Improvements in communication technology have allowed firms to grow, coordinate, produce at a distance and tap into markets all over the world. Because communication has been an essential ingredient in globalization, there are many facets that practitioners can understand about it and the debate to add context to the field of international communication.

First, it is important to recognize an argument from those who see globalization as a second imperialism, or westernization campaign. Media outlets were not immune to the trend of consolidation and vertical integration that created conglomerates and multinational corporations, such as the recent proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable. This consolidation is not just happening within countries. Because there is a concentration of media and news producers in wealthier countries, critics of globalization cite that states exporting an influx of their cultural products and media could not only affect local culture, but also frame world views in a decidedly Western way. For example, before Al Jeezera came onto the scene in the mid 90’s, there were only three Western news agencies– AP, AFP and Reuters that dominated international news flow. However, at the same time, international communication practitioners should understand that globalization is not static, but a moving process. As economies become more intertwined and create more multinational corporations, including media outlets, the producers of media and communication may become even more “global.”  An example is the Academy Award nominated movie “Babel,” a co-production of companies based in the US, Mexico and France. Similarly, in the “Ugly Betty” case study, Jade Miller points out, that the companies in the case study did not have a “Colombian” identity. They were “companies with global concerns before they are domestic companies” (p 209).

Globalization has also illustrated that a greater access to global products doesn’t necessarily have a open armed response with consumers. In some cases, it’s noted that globalization can promote individuals to cling to their local culture and identity. Media is no different, as Miller points out in her article that cultural proximity can occur where people tend to prefer things that they relate to. What an international communication practitioner can take away from this is that his or her message should include some aspect of culturally specificity in order for it to take root.

Globalization: Imperialism 2.0 vs. the formation of a global culture

As discussed in class last week, debates still exist as to whether globalization is “imperialism 2.0 or simply the formation of a new ‘global culture’.” One the one hand, we have the theorists who believe globalization encompasses continued western hegemony over the developing world. The other camp claims that as globalization continues, national cultures will decline, resulting in a new global culture. In response to these two claims, many theorists believe that globalization actually promotes stronger individuality of cultures, and that achieving a ‘global culture’ is an unattainable myth.

As critically thinking practitioners of international communication, its important for us to understand the arguments along the spectrum of globalization theory. By holding the current debates in juxtaposition, we remove ourselves from the binary good/bad labels of globalization, and can apply the varying theories to our areas of expertise. For example, practitioners working in the development field need to understand how forces of globalization could aid in economic growth, while also taking into consideration the notion of cultural imperialism that often accompanies global north/south development interactions. Similarly, IC practitioners working in journalism need to understand the role of globalization in media imperialism and propaganda.

Media’s Influence on Nationalism

Media has certainly played and continues to play a role in catalyzing and sustaining nationalism. However the size of its role and the scope of its influence tends to ebb and flow. A case in point is the way the US media handled reporting during and in the aftermath of 9/11.  In his chapter, “What’s Unusual About Covering Politics As Usual,” Michael Schudson argues that there are three instances when US journalists instinctively give up the effort to be neutral in their reporting: 1) moments of tragedy, 2) moments of public danger, and 3) threats to national security. September 11th combined all three of these situations and thus, Schudson asserts, journalists moved into what Daniel Hallin has termed a “sphere of consensus.”

Journalists limited criticism of national leadership and embraced a “consensual we.” Anchors on Fox News started donning American flag pins, though ABC News prohibited its reporters from wearing these pins on air citing the need to maintain “journalistic credibility.”  Two-thirds of the 142 local TV stations that responded substantively to a survey sent out on October 16, 2001 indicated that they used on-air “patriotic symbols” in the aftermath of 9/11, according to results presented by Jennifer L. Lambe and Ralph J. Begleiter at the Broadcast Education Association Convention in April 2002. However, this “sphere of consensus” eventually dissolved and the US media’s influence on nationalism went back to those familiar and oftentimes unconscious reminders of nationhood, described by Michael Billig as “banal nationalism.”

New media adds a fascinating dimension to this phenomenon since it can be used as a tool of nationalism by everyday people. Take the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan.  From March 18-April 10th of this year, hundreds of university students protested the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA) agreement with China by occupying the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan’s legislature. Their main concerns were with the agreement itself which they saw as threatening Taiwan’s freedom and democracy by, in their words, “binding [Taiwan’s] economy and society irrevocably closer to China,” and the legislative maneuver that the Kuomintang Party or KMT (which is currently in power) used to bypass an agreement with their opposition (Democratic Progressive Party or DPP) to review each section of the pact and instead move it out of committee to a full vote – a move that they saw as unilateral and thus, “authoritarian and undemocratic.”

However, what started out as a hundred students protesters grew rapidly into a movement that drew between 350,000 to more than half a million protesters to the streets of Taiwan outside the Presidential Office Building on March 30th and engaged overseas Taiwanese students and diaspora communities in rallies all over the world, including in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, England, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Ireland, Scotland, Spain, Switzerland, and the US.  How did the Sunflower Movement gain such traction?  The organizers were quite strategic and successful in their use of new media. Along with their use of Facebook and Twitter, they utilized Ustream to broadcast live coverage of their protests to the world and shape their message without having to go through mainstream media. They created a Reddit Ask Me Anything Forum where they reached out to the public and answered hundreds of questions the online community posed to them. They used hackfoldr.org to set up a public document that hosted volunteer sheets, lists and an online donation form for needed supplies, English/Mandarin press releases, and live transcription and centralized information. They drew inspiration from the viral “I Am a Ukrainian” Youtube video to create their own “‘I’m a Taiwanese’ Young Generation Guarding Taiwan Democracy” video and posted powerful pictures of the violent March 23rd riot police crack down on Facebook and Tumblr.

Though the students ended the occupation on April 10 after obtaining a promise from Legislature Speaker Wang Jin-pyng to hold off discussions over the CSSTA until the legislature passes a law to oversee cross-strait negotiations/agreements, it is likely the CSSTA will eventually be passed.  It remains to be seen whether the Sunflower Movement will ultimately lead to policy changes.  However, it has reinvigorated Taiwanese civil society, aroused significant interest from national and international mainstream media (albeit an interest which has since died down internationally), and inspired activists/dissidents beyond its borders (for instance, Hong Kong students produced a Youtube video showing scenes of solidarity with the Sunflower Movement to the tune of John Lennon’s “Imagine” and stated in the information section that the Taiwanese students had given them “hope.”) Ultimately, these achievements were possible through the Sunflower Movement’s creative and strategic use of new media, which in turn, offers a compelling example of the power of new media to inspire and cultivate nationalism.

Old Media, New Media, Still #Americans

Somewhere between a shower and my first cup of coffee I checked my phone to scroll through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and various news apps. I’m willing to wager that most people in my apartment building also checked in with their devices to see what was happening in the world.

It has happened time and again—new technology slowly supplants outdated gadgets and ways of doing. As the song goes, TV killed the radio star. News media and broadcast communication are also not immune to the evolution of innovation. But while new media technology is slowly replacing traditional forms or forcing a change in media systems, it still has not eliminated the role of sustaining a sense of nationalism.

The concept of nationalism, as Silvio Waisbord explains, is a way to provide unity and identity while asserting differences of other groups. The scholar Benedict Anderson saw the consumption of print media as creating a shared experience, or common public culture, across a region. For Anderson, what constitutes nationalism is a collection of daily rituals versus a collective identity.

New media technology has created an expansion in both the variety and volume of virtual interaction possible. As users continue to embrace technology with open arms (Apple sold more than 10 million iphone6 in its first weekend), media will persist to pattern our lives. Like the technology itself, the frequency and how we consume it may be in a different form, but as a group, we are changing our habits so a sense of nationalism is kept in tact. Our morning paper is now our daily feeds. We incorporate innovations into normal, or banal, social processes.

Besides the rituals with usage, the content of new media itself also continues to promote a collective identity. Michael Skey discusses how the media are critical in setting “acceptable limits,” or setting the parameters on mourning, celebration and reflection. It provides the forum and framework for how events are witnessed and debated. This is still the backbone of new media. We continue to learn what is relevant and appropriate through cultural references, symbols and stories. We can literally see now what is “trending” among our fellow Americans. The hashtag campaigns of #wherewereyou, which promoted a 9/11 memorial and national dialogue and #istayedbecause, which discussed domestic violence on the heels of the Ray Rice elevator scandal are prime examples. Be it a watch or a chip embedded into an armpit, people will still consume and seek media to gather information and interpret their environment, bringing people “under the same cultural roof (Waisbord).”

Nationalism in Media

In today’s world, media continues to play a huge role in sustaining nationalism. While media technology is moving away from the traditional forms of communication such as print news and radio/TV, the internet and social media still help form ideas of nationalism.

Take CNN.com, for example. When you go to the site you have two options: the US version, or the International version. As a US-based news outlet, CNN gives its readers the “Us or them” option. As we discussed in class, take the Fox News logo, with its ever-present American flag waving in the corner. Social media can be used to sustain nationalism as well. On Facebook or Twitter, we are likely to find groups of follow users we have interests with: often related to our ideas of nationalism. The internet is probably the biggest form of “mass” communication yet. While traditional media is limited by signal strength, geography, airwave availability, etc, the internet can be reached by anyone anywhere. There are of course countries that restrict access to certain sites or social networks, but even that can be bypassed with technology masking your IP Address. While you can probably argue that the internet is more niche focused than general such as traditional news, its ability to reach the masses is much greater than any traditional news outlet.

The internet also can work to create cross-boundary nationalism much greater than traditional outlets. If you are a citizen abroad, depending on where you are located, getting a copy of the New York Times every day, or even weekly, may be very difficult. However assuming you have internet access, you could continue to read your nation’s news or connect with groups that share your common ideas.

While I focused mostly on news media, which is my interest, other forms of media play roles in nationalism as well. The entertainment world is dominated by Hollywood, where the movies shown across the globe mostly focus on the American way of life. Music is often a very powerful way of forming nationalism. Take country music in America, for example, which is full of American nationalism (As Toby Keith once eloquently wrote, “We’ll stick a boot in your ass, it’s the American way”