13.7 Cultural Imperialism: Understanding Media and Culture (2023)

learning goals

  1. Describe how hegemony affects different aspects of global culture.
  2. Identify the attributes of McDonaldization.
  3. Analyze how local cultures respond to external forces.

cultural imperialismexisted long before the United States became a world power. In its broadest sense, imperialism describes the way in which one nation asserts its power over another. Just as Imperial Britain dominated American colonists economically, Britain greatly influenced the culture of the colonies. The culture was still a mix of nationalities (many Dutch and Germans also settled), but the ex-British ruling majority meant that British culture prevailed in general.

Today, cultural imperialism tends to describe the United States' role as a cultural superpower around the world. American movie studios are generally much more successful than their foreign counterparts, not just because of their business models, but also because the Hollywood concept has become one of the defining characteristics of the modern global film business. Multinational non-governmental corporations can now drive global culture. This is neither very good nor very bad. On the one hand, foreign cultural institutions can adopt successful American business models, and companies are willing to do anything that makes them more money in a given market, whether it be giving locals a chance to make films or multicultural films like 2008.millionaire. However, cultural imperialism also has potentially negative effects. From the proliferation of Western ideals of beauty to the potential demise of local cultures around the world, cultural imperialism can have swift and devastating effects.

hegemonia cultural

To begin discussing the question of cultural imperialism, it is important to look at the ideas of one of its founding theorists, Antonio Gramsci. Heavily influenced by the theories and writings of Karl Marx, the Italian philosopher and critic Gramsci developed the idea of ​​cultural hegemony to describe the power of one group over another. Unlike Marx, who believed that the workers of the world would eventually unite and overthrow capitalism, Gramsci argued that culture and media exert such a powerful influence on society that they can actually turn workers on themselves to participate. economically advantageous for them. This argument that the media can influence culture and politics is typical of the American dream. In this rags-to-riches story, hard work and talent can lead to a successful life, no matter where it starts. There is some truth to this, of course, but it is far more the exception than the rule.

Marx's ideas remained at the core of Gramsci's beliefs. According to Gramsci's idea, thehegemonicof capitalism – those who control capital – can assert economic power, while cultural hegemonies can assert cultural power. This concept of culture has its roots in the Marxist class struggle, in which one group is dominated by another and conflicts arise. Gramsci's concept of cultural hegemony is relevant today, not because of the likelihood of a local owning class oppressing the poor, but because of the concern that increasing globalization will allow a culture to assert its power so fully that it will drive out all competitors.

Spreading the American Flavor Through McDonaldization

A major danger of cultural imperialism is the possibility of American tastes crowding out local cultures around the world. HeMcDonaldizationof the world applies not just to its namesake McDonald's, with branches in seemingly every country, but to all industries that make extensive use of McDonald's technology. Coined by George Ritzer in his bookThe McDonaldization of Society(1993) roots the concept in the rationalization process. McDonald's takes four aspects of the business to extremes: efficiency, predictability, predictability and control. These four things are four of the main aspects of free markets. By applying the concepts of an optimized financial market to cultural and human goods like food, McDonaldization imposes common standards and uniformity on a global industry.

Figure 13.6

McDonald's opened many culturally specific versions of its chain, all using its famous golden arches.

mike mozart-mc donalds– CC POR 2.0.

(Video) Cultural Imperialism Theory

Not surprisingly, McDonald's is the best example of this concept. While the fast food restaurant is slightly different in each country (for example, Indian restaurants offer a menu without pork or beef to accommodate regional religious practices), the same basic principles apply in culture-specific ways. The company brand is the same everywhere; The catchphrase "I love it" is inevitable, and Golden Arches are all the rage, according to Eric Schlosser.FAST FOOD NATION, "better known than the Christian Cross (Schlosser, 2001)". More importantly, McDonald's business model remains relatively the same from country to country. While there are culture-specific variations, every McDonald's in a given area has basically the same menu as every other. In other words, whenever a consumer is likely to travel within a reasonable range, menu options and the resulting product will remain consistent.

McDonaldizing the media

The media works eerily similar to fast food. Just as the automation of fast food, from freeze-dried French fries to pre-packaged salads, seeks to reduce the marginal cost of a product and therefore increase profits, media companies seek a degree of consistency that allows them to deliver, ship and sell the same product everywhere. the world with minimal changes. However, the notion that the media actually disseminate a culture is controversial. in your bookcultural imperialism, argues John Tomlinson, that exported American culture is not necessarily imperialist because it does not promote a cultural agenda; tries to monetize all kinds of cultural items around the world. According to Tomlinson, "Nobody really disputes the dominant presence of Western, and particularly American, multinational media in the world: what is disputed are the cultural implications of that presence (Tomlinson, 2001)."

Of course, there are byproducts of American cultural exports around the world. American cultural mores, like the Western standard of beauty, have increasingly become global media. Already in 1987, Nicholas Kristof enrolledThe New York Times diesabout a young Chinese woman who was planning an operation to make her eyes look rounder, more like Caucasian women's eyes. Western styles, "delicious novelties like nylon stockings, pierced ears and eye shadows," also began to replace the austere blue robes of Mao-era China. However, the spread of cultural influence is difficult to trace, as the young Chinese woman says that she did not want the surgery because of her Western appearance, but because "she thinks she is beautiful" (Kristof, 1987).

Cultural imperialism, resentment and terrorism

Figure 13.7

After September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush presented the issue of terrorism as a cultural and military conflict.

Wikimedia Commons- public domain.

(Video) Stuart Hall - Race, Gender, Class in the Media

Not everyone sees the spread of the American flavor as a negative event. In the early 21st century, much of US foreign policy grew out of the idea that the spread of freedom, democracy, and free market capitalism through cultural influence around the world could galvanize hostile countries like Iraq to adopt American Ways of Life and join the United States. United in the fight against global terrorism and tyranny. Even if that plan didn't work out as hoped, it raises the question of whether Americans should really bother to publicize their cultural system if they think it's ideal.

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, then-President George W. Bush presented the American people with two simple ideas: "They [terrorists] hate our freedoms" and "Go shopping (Bush, 2001)". These twin ideals of personal freedom and economic activity are often presented as the most important exports of American culture. However, the idea that other local beliefs need to be changed can be a threat to people from other cultures.

Freedom, Democracy and Rock'n'Roll

The diffusion of culture works in mysterious ways. Hollywood probably doesn't have a master plan for exporting the American way of life around the world and supplanting local culture, any more than American music need be a harbinger of democratic government and economic cooperation. Rather, local cultures respond in many different ways to the foreign culture of American media and democracy. First, the media are often much more flexible than you might think; the successful export of the movieTitanicIt was no coincidence that suddenly everyone in the world wanted to watch movies like an American. Instead, the film's producers judged that it would be as successful on the world stage as it was on the national stage. So, in a way, American media is more widespread and also more globally oriented. It could even be argued that American cultural exports promote cross-cultural understanding; After all, for a company to sell to a culture, it must first understand that culture.

On the other hand, some local cultures around the world have embraced Western business models so much that they have created their own hybrid cultures. A well-known example of this is the Indian Bollywood film industry. Combining traditional Indian music and dance with American cinema, Bollywood studios release around 700 major films a year, three times as many as major Hollywood studios. India's biggest film industry mixes melodrama with musical interludes, dubbed by actors but sung by pop stars. These pop songs circulate long before a movie is released to generate hype and penetrate various media markets. While similar marketing tactics have been employed in the US, Bollywood appears to have mastered the art of cross-media integration. The song and dance numbers are essentially cinematic forms of music videos, both to promote the soundtrack and to add variety to the film. The numbers also feature many different Indian vernaculars and a mix of Western dance music and classical Indian singing, something that is different from mainstream Western media (Corliss, 1996).

(Video) Globalization and culture

While cultural imperialism may inspire resentment in many parts of the world, the idea that local cultures are helpless at the mercy of the overwhelming power of American cultural imposition is clearly all too easy to sustain. Instead, local cultures seem to be embracing American-style media models and changing their methods to suit corporate structures rather than just American media aesthetics. These two economic and cultural aspects are clearly intertwined, but the idea that a foreign power unilaterally destroys a native culture does not seem entirely correct.

The central theses

  • Cultural hegemony refers to the dominant culture's power to eclipse and even surpass local cultures.
  • McDonaldization is characterized by efficiency, predictability, predictability and control. These four attributes are, more than specific cultural ideas, the main characteristics of globalized American companies.
  • Local cultures can respond to external forces in a variety of ways. In some circumstances, there may be a backlash against what might be seen as a hostile culture. However, cultures like India have adopted American cultural and economic ideas to create a blend of foreign business models and local cultures.


Respond to the following prompts to write short answers. Each answer must be at least one paragraph long.

  1. Choose a media company that interests you, eg. B. a magazine, television station or record company. How did this company go through the McDonaldization process throughout its history? Has this process made the company more efficient? As? What, if anything, was lost through this process? Why?
  2. How does the United States act as a hegemonic cultural power?
  3. How do local cultures react to the influence of foreign cultures? What are some examples of local cultures resisting the influence of foreign cultures? What are some examples of local cultures adopting foreign cultures?

Review at the end of the chapter.

review questions

  1. Part 1

    1. What are the three basic media business models?
    2. Using the models above, classify the following media industries: book publishing, television broadcasting, and live event box office.
    3. What are two ways media companies make money?
  2. Section 2

    1. What is synergy and how can media companies use it?
    2. Explain the purpose and impact of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
  3. Section 3

    1. How does digital communication affect developing countries?
    2. How are citizens of developed countries who do not have useful access to the Internet affected?
    3. What is the digital divide and who is trying to close it? As?
  4. Section 4

    (Video) How the media shapes the way we view the world - BBC REEL

    1. How is the information economy different from the traditional economy?
    2. What are switching costs?
    3. How is vertical integration related to globalized media?
  5. Section 5

    1. What is the impact of technology on the international economy?
    2. What is globalization and how does it affect the media?
    3. How does the media increase profit margins abroad?
  6. Section 6

    1. What is hegemony?
    2. What are the main characteristics of the McDonaldization of the media?
    3. Name one positive and one negative way in which culture can respond to an external force.

critical thinking questions

  1. How are vertical integration, first copy costs, and information economics related?
  2. How does the digital divide affect developed and developing countries differently? What predictions can you make about the impact going forward?
  3. How has the Internet changed the value of experience goods?
  4. Is the application of antitrust law to media companies positive or negative? How does having a bigger and more efficient media company help society? How is this bad for society?
  5. How does globalized media affect the cultures of the world? Do you think current trends will continue or do you see local cultures reasserting their power? Give examples.

professional connection

Media now relies heavily on synergies or media distribution across platforms. For this reason, one of the fastest growing professions in the sector employs employees who manage the online channels of a more traditional media company, such as radio or television. While these jobs required extensive technological knowledge, modern online project managers, online media publishers, and web producers spend much of their time determining the best way to display content online.

In this activity, you will research a media company and answer questions about the decisions the producer, editor or web manager made regarding content. Some possible search locations include the following:

Now answer the following questions about your chosen website:

  1. What type of media content does the site use that could relate to its core product?
  2. Is there anything that is unrelated to the main product? What could your purpose be?
  3. How do site editorial choices reflect the influence of the Internet?
  4. Are there areas of the site that are only available online? How can this relate to the main purpose of society?


Bush, President George W.'s speech on terrorism to a joint session of Congress,New York Times, 21.09.2001,http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/21/us/nation-challenged-president-bush-s-address-terrorism-before-joint-meeting.html.

Korliss, Richard. "Viva para Bollywood!"Tempo, September 16, 1996,http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,985129,00.html.

Kristof, Nicholas D. "In China, beauty is a big western nose",New York Times, 29. April 1987,http://www.nytimes.com/1987/04/29/garden/in-china-beauty-is-a-big-western-nose.html.

(Video) Media and Globalization

Castelos, Eric.Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of American Food(Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001), 4.

Tomlinson, John.Cultural imperialism: a critical introduction(London: Continuum, 2001).


What is the connection between cultural imperialism and the media? ›

Media is one of the most prominent and visible forms of global communication. Although Cultural Imperialism theory also focuses on governmental and economic systems, it is more concerned with the assimilation of media, like literature, film, television, Internet, and music, today.

What does cultural imperialism mean in media? ›

Cultural Imperialism Theory states that Western nations dominate the media around the world which in return has a powerful effect on Third World Cultures by imposing n them Western views and therefore destroying their native cultures. Theorists: Herb Schiller. Date: 1973.

What is the role of social media in cultural imperialism? ›

Abstract. Social media is not only mode of transmission of information and interaction but also a source of penetration of cultures from dominant countries to under developing countries. It is an act of overall imperialism but urban areas are more under influence of cultural imperialism.

What is Herbert Schiller media imperialism theory? ›

Schiller argued that the United States emerged following the Second World War as a new kind of empire without formal territorial colonies. Rather, its systems of mass communication were used to impose its influence around the globe.

What is the relationship between media and culture? ›

Culture in the developed world is spread through mass media channels. Just as society forms and is formed in part by messages in the mass media, so it goes with culture. Cultural products and their popularity can influence which media channels people prefer.

What are some examples of media imperialism? ›

The large spread of news channels like BBC and CNN, Hollywood movies, Disney, etc. is a perfect example of media imperialism. This imposition of western media on poorer and less powerful nations can thus result in a loss of identity, create a one-way flow of media and even widen the class structure.

What is cultural imperialism in simple words? ›

The term cultural imperialism refers most broadly to the exercise of domination in cultural relationships in which the values, practices, and meanings of a powerful foreign culture are imposed upon one or more native cultures.

What are the 3 types of culture media? ›

Types of Culture Media
  • Liquid media.
  • Solid media.
  • Semisolid media.

What are the 3 cultural reasons for imperialism? ›

Three factors fueled American Imperialism.
  • Economic competition among industrial nations.
  • Political and military competition, including the creation of a strong naval force.
  • A belief in the racial and cultural superiority of people of Anglo-Saxon descent.

What is the role of media in culture? ›

The media plays a very important role in ensuring that societal norms, ideologies and customs are disseminated. Socialization has been made possible and much simpler because of the media. Through socialization, different societies are able to share languages, traditions, customs, roles and values.

What are the effects of media in our culture? ›

Social media also has influenced youth in negative ways. Kids might be affected and manipulated by some sites in which there is inappropriate information. The ugly part of social media is that there is tons of unnecessary information shared by people and also bullying and harassment on social media has been increased.

What is the role of media in cultural transmission? ›

The media is a popular way by which people learn about the culture around them, and social media is increasingly becoming popular as well. The process of enculturation results in intercultural competence, which is the main goal of cultural transmission.

What is the impact of media imperialism? ›

Critics suggest that this dominance has led to important events getting little attention, and biased information and inaccuracy within news stories. The theory of Media imperialism suggests that smaller countries are losing their identity due to the dominance of media (generally television) from larger nations.

Who proposed the cultural imperialism theory? ›

The foremost western theorist of cultural imperialism in the West was Herbert Schiller.

What are the four 4 types of imperialism? ›

TEHRAN Today there are at least four types of imperialism in the world, military, political, economic, and cultural. In the past the imperialistic countries used military and political imperialism to establish themselves, and then initiated economic and cultural imperialism.

What is the difference between media and cultural imperialism? ›

Definition. Cultural imperialism is the promotion and imposition of a politically powerful culture over a less powerful nation while media imperialism is the over-concentration of mass media from larger nations, negatively affecting less powerful nations.

Is Netflix an example of cultural imperialism? ›

As a global corporation, Netflix is at the heart of the geopolitical debates about global media flows. For some commentators, this makes Netflix an arch example of media globali- sation, “the perfect representation of American cultural imperialism” (Tardieu, quoted in Erbland, 2017).

What is an example of US cultural imperialism? ›

A prime example of American cultural imperialism would be the expansion of the Disney brand in foreign nations. Since its establishment in the United States, Disney has now expanded to locations such as Latin America, the Middle East, Russia, India and China.


1. Whoever Controls the Media, the Images, Controls the Culture | Min Kim | TEDxLehighU
(TEDx Talks)
(Marvin Cabañero)
3. Hegemony: WTF? An introduction to Gramsci and cultural hegemony
(Tom Nicholas)
4. How Culture Drives Behaviours | Julien S. Bourrelle | TEDxTrondheim
(TEDx Talks)
(Kenneth Orillaneda)
6. How the Nuclear Family Broke Down
(The Atlantic)
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